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7 ways to preview a document in SharePoint

Posted on December 3, 2019

As you maintain thousands of documents in SharePoint document libraries, it is inadvertent that you might open documents just for the sake of knowing what the document is all about. Would not it be nice to save some time and see the contents of a document without clicking on each one? With this post, I would like to list a few options for you to preview a document in SharePoint.

Option 1: Document Information Panel

The first option is to use the Document Information Panel that is part of every SharePoint document library and list. To access it, click on a checkbox next to a file, then little “i” in a circle, and you will now see a small window that shows you contents of the file. What is great about this option is that you can scroll through the whole document in this small window and see (if you have a sound vision) what the document is all about.

preview a document in SharePoint

By the way, you might want to reference this post for a list of file types supported for previewing files.

Option 2: Tiles View

Another option is to use the Tiles view. By default, the documents are displayed as a list in a document library. But you can also change the view to Tiles. It will then show you the small thumbnails of each file, which is essentially a snapshot (preview) of the first page of each file. Unlike the previous option, you do not need to click on each file separately, all the docs are there, in front of you.

7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint2 E1567087290726


Option 3: Preview command

Another way to preview a document in SharePoint. If you right-click on the document and choose Preview from the list of commands, it will open a document in the Preview (View Only mode).

preview a document in SharePoint

You can then edit the document if you wish or scroll through the whole thing…


Option 4: Hover over the document

I discovered this trick by accident while I was writing this post. No kidding! There is another way for you to “preview” the document in SharePoint.

  1. Hover over the document with your mouse cursor. You will get to see the text from inside of a document appearing in the pop-up! preview a document in SharePoint
  2. What’s interesting, you can “adjust” the preview text if you click the three dots (ellipsis) as shown in the image below 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint5
  3. And then once you click Edit “At a glance” 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint6
  4. …You can add or delete sections as necessary! 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint7 E1567105260250
  5. For now, this seems to only work with Word documents only (not Excel, PowerPoint or PDFs)

Option 5: Thumbnail Column

I picked this next tip from an Office 365 consultant, James Mallalieu, who shared the trick on his Twitter account. It is pretty cool! Essentially what you can do is add a custom metadata column called Thumbnail, and it will automatically display the thumbnail image of the file. Here are the steps:

  1. From the Document Library, click Add column and choose any column type (does not matter), say Single line of text 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint10
  2. At the Column creation screen, type the word Thumbnail, then click Save 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint11
  3. Take a look at your library now. :-)  Yeah, I know, I had the same reaction. You end up with small thumbnails of each document. It does not generate a thumbnail for Excel, but works fine with Word, PDFs, and mainly images. preview a document in SharePoint

Option 6: Dynamic Preview via File Viewer Web Part

No baby, we are not done yet. I have another neat trick for you! This one is courtesy of Lightning Tools, which is where I discovered this little hidden gem.

  1. Create a new page on your SharePoint site 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint13
  2. Break your page into two sections (columns) 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint14
  3. Add a Document Library to the left side of the screen 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint15
  4. Add File Viewer Web Part to the right side of the screen 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint16
  5. Next, on the screen that pops up asking you to embed a file to view in the File Viewer Web Part, click Cancel 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint17
  6. Click the Pencil Icon on the sidebar of a File Viewer Web Part 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint18
  7. On the pop-up on the right-hand side, click three dots (ellipsis) and then Connect to source 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint19
  8. Then, choose the document library you added to the page on the left-hand-side and click Publish to publish the page 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint20
  9. Now, as you click on a given file in the library on the left, it dynamically renders you a preview of the document on the right! Mazel Tov, we did it! 7wayspreviewdocumentsharepoint21

Option 7: Open a document in the browser

If you found any of the above options mentally or physically challenging, then the least you can do is click on the document. As we know it, it will open up a document for editing in the browser (by default). While this is not technically a “preview” of a document, the default browser experience allows you for a quick way to see the contents of it compared to opening the document in the desktop app (which takes way longer to do). And yes, you can save even more time opening up (previewing) the document, if you follow instructions in this blog post.


About Me

I’m Greg Zelfond, a U.S. based SharePoint consultant, and I provide affordable out-of-the-box SharePoint consulting, training, and configuration assistance to small and medium-sized businesses all over the world.

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