How do I Co-Author Documents with Office 2013 and SharePoint

Note: Co-authoring is an out-of-the-box function of Microsoft Word 2013. In other words, Word is the one making co-Authoring available, not SharePoint. Co-authoring is not available in Excel. For users to co-author documents, those documents must be stored in SharePoint. 

In traditional collaboration, documents are shared via email attachments. Tracking versions and edits from multiple authors is difficult and time-consuming for users. Email systems have to contend with storing multiple copies of the same document, not to mention increased network traffic as documents are sent repeatedly.

The use of SharePoint to store documents for collaboration has reduced these problems by providing consistent access to up-to-date versions of documents, the ability to track earlier versions, and centralized management. Storing a single document, instead of many attachments, also reduces network and storage overhead.

But this solution hasn’t been perfect. When one author has a document open, other authors can’t work on it. If someone forgets to close a document or check it in, other users may be locked out indefinitely, a situation that often requires a call to the IT department.

Co-authoring in SharePoint 2013 addresses these issues by making it possible for multiple users to work on a document, at any time, without interfering with each other's changes. This approach streamlines many common document-collaboration scenarios. For example:

  • Two or more authors work on different parts of a composite document. While one author works on his section of the document, another author can work on hers, without either interrupting the other's work.

  • Several authors work on a composite slide show. Each author can add slides to the presentation and edit them, instead of working in isolation and trying to merge several documents and make them consistent all at the same time.

  • A document is sent out to several experts and stakeholders, each of whom provides some edits or additions. No user’s edits are lost, because they are all working on a central, server-stored document.

Understanding the end-user experience of co-authoring in SharePoint 2013
Co-authoring is easy to use from the end user’s point of view. When a user wants to work on a document in Word, he or she merely opens it from SharePoint, as usual. If another user already has the document open, both users can edit the document at the same time. 

When a user saves a document, other current users are notified that there are new edits. Those users can refresh their views immediately to see the changes or continue their work and refresh later to see the latest edits. The authors can see one another’s work, and everyone knows who is working on the document. SharePoint versioning and tracking tools protect the document so that authors can roll back unwanted changes. When Lync is available, users can see the online status of fellow co-authors and start instant messaging conversations without leaving the document.

Important planning considerations for co-authoring in SharePoint 
There are several factors that administrators will want to consider when planning how to use co-authoring in their environment.

Co-authoring functionality in SharePoint is designed to be easy to set up and requires minimal effort to manage. But, there are several things to consider when you set up and manage co-authoring:

  • Permissions – For multiple users to be able to edit the same document, users need edit permissions for the document library where that document is stored. The simplest way to guarantee that this is to give all users access to the SharePoint site where documents are stored. In cases in which only a subset of users should have permission to co-author documents in a particular library, SharePoint permissions can be used to manage access.

  • Versioning – SharePoint Server versioning keeps track of changes to documents while they are being edited, and even stores earlier versions for reference. By default, this feature is turned off in SharePoint. SharePoint supports two kinds of versioning, major and minor.

  • Number of version – The number of document versions retained affects storage requirements on the server. This number can be tuned in the document library settings to limit the number of versions retained. To avoid using unnecessary disk space, we recommend that an administrator set the maximum number of versions retained to a reasonable number on document libraries. 

  • Versioning period – The versioning period determines how often SharePoint products will create a version of a Word document that is being co-authored. Setting this period to a low value will capture versions more often, for more detailed version tracking, but may require more server storage. This value can be altered by adjusting the coAuthoringVersionPeriod property on the server.

  • Check out – When a user checks out a document for editing, the document is locked for editing by that user. This prevents co-authoring. Do not enable the Require Check Out feature in document libraries in which co-authoring will be used. By default, Require Check Out is not enabled in SharePoint 2013. Users should not check out documents manually when co-authoring is being used.


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