Defining document types and metadata in an EDRMS

Learn what steps you must take to go from analyzing documents to defining metadata that can be used to index and categorize documents, and then later on to search and retrieve documents.

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Document types

Document types describe the document’s content in electronic form (such as an image) and the information associated with the document. You can use document types to index and categorize documents in an EDRMS.

Indexing information in documents is commonly referred to as metadata. Metadata describes things such as the type of document, the creation date of the document, the filing date of the document, etc. Metadata could also include an image of the document.

The purpose of indexing is to facilitate document search and retrieval at a later stage.

How to define document types

Defining document types is a 3-step process:

  1. Determine what the main activities are that an organization or department carries out. These activities will become the document groups. For example, a department could be in charge of ensuring that systems remain up and running, so Operations could be defined as a document group.
  2. For each document group (activity), determine what types of paper documents are used on a daily basis. These types will become the document types. For example, part of keeping systems up and running is filing incident reports, but also implementing changes. So Incident Reports and Change Requests can be defined as document types.
  3. For each document type, identify the metadata that is required to index and categorize the document type in the EDRMS.

How to define metadata

Metadata is used to describe a document, but more importantly to be able to search for and retrieve the document at a later stage. So when defining metadata for a document, you need to look at the information that would not only be useful for categorizing and indexing, but also for searching and retrieving the document.

Mandatory fields on documents are always good candidates to start with when defining metadata. And all documents will contain standard metadata fields such as date created, author, date modified, modified by, etc. The latter are essential for auditing purposes.

The trick to finding other useful fields is to analyze a document and think ahead about what a user would enter to be able to find the document. That data (or those fields) should become your main candidates for metadata.

In addition, think about what kind of data would make a search more efficient. Ask yourself questions such as: Is it more efficient to search on a combination of two fields such as address and zip code or should I separate these two fields for efficient searching?

It is also important to consider other documents a document could be linked to and create a reference number metadata field to link documents to each other.

In some cases, documents may need to be attached as “additional information” to other documents. Such documents could be images, sound recordings, video, notes, etc. You could create a separate Additional Information document type for such documents and then use the reference number metadata field to link these “additional” documents to other documents.

How does this translate to EDRM in SharePoint?

In SharePoint, content types are used to define document types, while site columns are used to define metadata. Content types and site columns in SharePoint will be discussed in greater detail in future articles.

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