Using SharePoint Online

Oxford University’s SharePoint Online is provided "out-of-the-box" from Microsoft, with very little customisation. This means that you can refer to Microsoft’s support website, and other external help websites, without finding that bespoke changes make their advice inapplicable. We are therefore focusing here on general introductions to SharePoint Online features, with links to find out more from the Microsoft website and other useful sites..

On this page:

Site Types

There are two site types available in SharePoint Online. During site provisioning you will be able to select the site type you want, depending on the purpose of your site

Team Sites

A Team site is used for collaboration. Members of a work group or project team can work together on content such as project deliverables and track status documents.

More information about Team sites can be found on this Microsoft support page

A Basic Guide to Team Sites in SharePoint Online [external blog, accessed November 2020]

Communication Sites

A Communications site is used to broadcast your message, tell a story, share content with others, or showcase services or people. A communications site would typically have fewer content authors and more content readers and is therefore ideal for one-way information sharing, such as an intranet or for sharing policies and procedures.

There are 3 designs of communications site to choose from:

  1. Topic: to share information such as news and events
  2. Showcase: to use photos or images to showcase a team or event
  3. Blank: to create your own design

Here are some useful links to help you plan and create your comms site:

Document Libraries

Libraries are file repositories, secure places to store files where you and your co-workers can find them easily, work on them together, and access them from any device at any time. For example, you can use a document library on a site in SharePoint to store all files related to a specific project or a specific client.

SharePoint Online has four different type of documents libraries:

  1. Document library: to store documents
  2. Picture library: to store pictures in Teams sites, and in Comms sites when the “Team and Collaboration” site features have been enabled by a site administrator
  3. Site assets library: to store images, graphics and other common elements used in your site
  4. Site pages library: to store HTML and Active Content pages in your site

With libraries users can:

  • Create folders to separate and organise files within the library
  • Check documents out to make sure that only one person can edit them at any given time
  • Keep different versions of files, and see the versioning history of documents
  • Assign metadata, such as public/internal/confidential sensitivity to a document, or to record which meeting a document was reviewed at

Find out more about Libraries on the Microsoft support website

Find out how to create document libraries on the Microsoft support website


A SharePoint Online list is a collection of data that users can share with their site members. Microsoft Lists help users organise, collaborate, and share information. Using lists, users can, for example, create and share lists that help people track issues, routines, contacts, inventory and more. Any web part in SharePoint that holds content is a SharePoint list.

Users can start using lists from the Microsoft Lists app, Microsoft Teams, or SharePoint using a template, Excel file, or from scratch.

More information on how to create lists on the Microsoft support website

Find out more about the difference between SharePoint Libraries and Lists [external blog, accessed October 2020]

Take our e-learning training for Site Owners on CoSy, which includes a section on lists in SharePoint Online.

Apps and Web Parts

Apps are additional applications that can be added to SharePoint Online site pages to help users customise their sites with specific functionality or to display information.

Examples of Apps include custom lists, calendars, notebooks, document libraries.

Web Parts provide ways to display output or content on SharePoint Online site pages. Web parts work like building blocks to help customise your layout and shape your site.

More information on how Web Parts interact with pages and sites [external blog, accessed October 2020]

More about Web parts on the Microsoft support website

Creating Apps in SharePoint Online on the Microsoft support website

What is the difference between libraries, web parts and lists?

  • Lists: A collection of columns containing information with defined types, either used for a specific purpose, such as calendars, links or contacts, or for data-gathering purposes, such as custom lists
  • Libraries: A data container for documents in your site, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF or other common document formats along with metadata associated with each item
  • Web parts: Elements you include in your site to display content from the above, or to help inform your users' journey through the site with images, links, live data or other content

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