How to Use SharePoint

SharePoint is more versatile than you think

The Home Page of a SharePoint Site, including different widgets

We've examined what SharePoint is, now let's take a look at a couple of common uses. SharePoint is a platform for collaboration with other members of a team. These are often corporate teams, but they don't have to be. Some non-business-related applications for SharePoint include:

  • Sports teams could use the calendar to post a game schedule, and a Document Library to hold game videos.
  • Book clubs could post links to the next week's book while writing groups could host critique submissions and comments.
  • Volunteer groups planning a restoration project can create a plan with tasks and a timeline.
  • A neighborhood running a yard sale could post announcements on new participants, or list items and prices in a shared Excel file in a Document Library.

Of course, the above are all possible with other apps and services, but SharePoint brings them all together in a single place, with a web interface usable across Windows, macOS, and Linux; Android and iOS apps are also available. Furthermore, Microsoft Office apps can grab files directly from SharePoint, making download and upload a snap.

In the following sections, we'll create a new SharePoint space, then walk through the steps for a couple of common functions: sharing files, creating simple web pages, and adding functional widgets to those pages.

How to Create a SharePoint Site

You'll need a couple of things before you're able to actually create your Site:

  • Firstly, you'll need access to an Office 365 account, but not just any account. It will need to be a business account, as SharePoint isn't included in consumer accounts.
  • You'll also need to be an admin to create a Site yourself. If you're not, you can always ask your friendly neighborhood admin to create one for you.

Creating a SharePoint Site is a simple matter of doing the following:

  1. Log into Office 365 as an administrator, then select SharePoint from the app menu in the top left.

    Access SharePoint as an Admin to Create a Site
  2. In the page menu, select the + Create Site button.

  3. Select Team Site in the dialog that follows. (Communication Sites are mostly just for publishing announcements and other content.)

  4. Choose a starting design for your site. This will fill it in with some starter content – don't worry, you can always adjust these later.

  5. Provide the details of your site, including its name and description.

  6. Select Finish to complete your setup. SharePoint will be working in the background to create the Site, but you'll see its progress throughout.

    Out of the Box Features of a New SharePoint Site

Now that you have a space set up, you'll have some functionality available right out of the box (shown above), including:

File sharing using a Document Library is still a very common use for SharePoint Sites. Let's look at how to do that.

How to Use SharePoint Document Libraries

Document Libraries contain folders and files and operate as you'd expect. To use the Document Library:

  1. Select the Documents link in the left-hand navigation.

  2. Select the + New button to add new items, such as folders or Microsoft Office files. Alternately, you can drag and drop other files into the current folder of the Library; they don't need to be Office files.

    Adding an Office Document to SharePoint
  3. Select an Office file to open it in the appropriate web app. Selecting a non-Office File will do one of three things:

    • Open it for preview if it's a web-friendly format like an image or PDF;
    • Open in a relevant app if you're using Windows (which knows how to talk to SharePoint);
    • Download it to your machine, where you can open it with the relevant program.
  4. While modern web apps allow you to edit a file with a colleague simultaneously, you do still have the ability to "check out" a file. Choose file(s) by selecting in the left-most checkmark column, then select the overflow menu to the right. The Check-Out option prevents anyone from saving a new version of the file while you're working on it; other users can still download a copy and work on it, but they can't create a new version until you've saved it and "checked it in" again.

    Check Out a File to Prevent Overwriting

How to Create SharePoint Site Pages

SharePoint's Site Pages allow you to create web pages with text and graphic information. The main difference is only members of your Site will be able to see them when they're logged in, making it a little private intranet. To create new pages in your SharePoint Site:

  1. Select Pages from the left-hand navigation.

  2. From the top menu bar, select + New, then select from among the page types:

    • Wiki Pages are self-explanatory.
    • Site Pages are blank pages you can build up from just a title.
    • Web Part Pages provide some pre-defined layouts designed to let you drop in all sorts of gadgets, dashboard-style.
    Site Page Types in SharePoint
  3. Once created, the page will open for you to start editing. You can start by giving it a name. Additional content comes in the form of Web Parts, which we'll get into below.

    Naming A New SharePoint Page
  4. Select Publish to make your changes available to colleagues.

  5. Your pages are available from within the Pages list in the left-hand navigation.

  6. You can existing pages by viewing them, then select the Edit button in the menu.

    Enter Edit Mode by Clicking the Button on the Right

How to Add Web Parts to SharePoint Pages

One of the great features of SharePoint is the Web Parts you can embed into your pages. Even when you want to add plain ol' text and graphics, you actually need to add a Web Part first to hold it; these widgets can include things like News feeds, a directory of team members, or lists of recent activity in the Site. If you created a page in the above steps, add a Web Part to it by doing the following:

  1. Select a page, then put it into Edit mode as described above.

  2. You can add Web Parts to a page in locations where the Plus (+) sign appears. Select this button when it shows up, and a pop-up menu will show you a list of available Web Parts. You can browse the entire list, or search by keyword.

    Adding a Web Part to a SharePoint Page
  3. Once you select a Web Part, it will be inserted into the page for you.

  4. At this point, you'll need to configure the Web Part. For something like the Image Gallery pictured below, select the Add Images button to select the pictures you want to show.

    Add Images to a New Image Gallery Web Part
  5. Select Publish to make your changes available to colleagues.

While the home page is created automatically for you, it's still a Page just like any other, and you can fill it with Web Parts to your heart's content.

Installing and Using the Tasks App

Things start getting really interesting when you add Apps to your Site. These go beyond the functionality of Web Parts and include things like blogs or a custom list, which is like a small database. We'll take a look at the Tasks app, which allows you to set up to-dos for your team members, assign them, and track their completion. To add Tasks to your SharePoint Site:

  1. On the Home Page of the Site, select the + New button, then select App.

  2. This will display a page with a selection of available apps. Select the one you want.

    SharePoint Offers a Variety of Apps
  3. It will now appear in the Site Contents screen, which you can see by selecting it in the left-hand navigation. You may need to do a configuration like some of the Web Parts, but with Tasks, it's all ready for you to start delegating.

    The Tasks App Is Now Available in Site Contents

SharePoint has many more features than those listed here. But using only these you can create very functional and collaborative sites for friends and colleagues.