Content Types – Introduction

Content Types are ubiquitous within SharePoint. Content Types are more or less column groupings with certain default settings depending on the type of list or library you create. By default, you’re using Content Types because everything within SharePoint is driven by Content Types.

For example, a Contact Content Type contains fields such as Last Name, First Name, Company, Job Title, Address, Phone, Email Address, Web Page and a number of additional fields.

A Document Library Content Type includes fields such as the document name, a friendly title, the creator, last modified, and includes the link to the document itself.

Content Types creating at top-level sites, like site columns, will be available to that site’s subsites as well. A Content Type can only exist within a Site Collection or at the Tenant level.

Be default, most users won’t even know about Content Types, and this is by design. Out of the box, Lists and Libraries come with the “Allow the Management of Content Types” feature switched to the OFF position.

To turn on this ability, navigate to the list in question, choose the LIST tab, then List Settings, and Advanced Settings. Set the “Allow Management of Content Types” to YES and you will be able to modify or hide fields.

Be judicious with this feature and test it first before you put a lot of data into your lists. Document Libraries for example lose a few features when you turn on the ability to manage content types, however you need this feature turned on when you are working with templates, so it’s something where you need to make a conscious decision as to when you will use the content types on document libraries and when you don’t.

Applying Content Types can save you quite a bit of time, because all the column configurations have already been applied. Also, it’s nice to know that any changes you make to your Content Types within your site lists, they will only affect the current list or library, meaning that the default settings on the Content Types will remain intact for when you want to apply them to another list at a later time.


Site Columns

Besides List and Library Columns, SharePoint also gives us the option to create Site Columns. What are they and when and how would we use them?

In a nutshell, Site Columns are columns we create on a site, they are not specific to a list, and the site columns are available to its subsites.

Site Columns Site Map

To illustrate this map a little more:

Each of your department sites can be considered a “Top Site” and thus any site columns you create within your main department sites can be reused throughout any subsites you create.

However, our main division site is also a “Top Site” and thus all of the department sites underneath it are subsites of the divisional top site. Therefore, any site columns created at the division level, will be available to all department and committee sites, as well as their subsites. This is where SharePoint can get pretty powerful, and one reasons it’s important that the departmental site owners learn about SharePoint and work with your SharePoint Administrator to think through the overall departmental and division-wide data needs.

Creating a site column Site Columns Setup

While a number of site columns should probably be created at the divisional level, not all of the site columns would be of use to everyone, in which case they are best to live at your own department top site level.

To create a Site Column, you need to go to Site Settings (under the gear), and within the Web Designer Galleries section.

Advantages of Site Columns

They can be reused by multiple lists and libraries within a site and its subsites. They can help “normalize” data by having the column configurations centrally managed, which can make it easier to update data as needed, such as departmental name changes. You don’t need to hunt for the lists containing these types of columns. They are updated in one central location within either your department top sites, or at the division level.

Disadvantages of Site Columns

There is a bit of a learning curve to setting these up. They are not as intuitive to create as list/library columns and you need full control access to set them up. They also require some additional thought as to divisional data architecture each time they are set up.

List and Library Columns

These are the most popular types of columns. They are easy to create and you don’t need to put a lot of thought into it.

Site Columns

You can create columns directly from the Ribbon in the LIST or LIBRARY tab, available in all lists and libraries.

Create Column feature in Ribbon

The person creating the list or library can then choose from a list of column types to help control the information that’s to be populated in the list. Review the posts about column types from a few weeks ago to learn more about each column type and how to use them.

Advantages of list/library columns

They are easy to create, and once you become more familiar with column types, you will more easily be able to set up your lists with the data you want to capture.

Disadvantages of list/library columns

The advantage is also the disadvantage in this case. It’s often easier to create a column than it is to think through whether the list column is really the better option, or whether site columns or content types might be the better way to go.

Any edits that you make on a list column will have to be made on other list columns containing the same data. Imagine if you had a list column called “Department” and given that our division has a tendency to change at least one department name per year, you would have to change each of the list columns within your site each time a department name is changed.

In cases such as this, you would want to move these types of lists over to a Site Column.

Columns, Site Columns, or Content Types?

This will be another 3-part series, to explain columns, site columns, and content types – three similar, but quite different features of SharePoint.

The difference lies mostly in reusability. When you’re developing your SharePoint site, think about columns or types of data that you would want to reuse throughout your site, or even data you might find useful for the whole division.

In the next three posts I will go through these three topics in more depth, but here are some basic differences:


These columns are created at the list or library level. To recap: lists and libraries are more or less “Excel spreadsheets on the web”. We create a list or a library and then we can add columns to the list/library to which we can add any kind of data we wish.

Site Columns

These are reusable columns that can be used in a number of different lists on the site. You can create these in the “Site Settings” portion of your website, or from within a “list setting” screen. As you are creating your new lists, think about whether you would want to use this same information in other lists. Team Members or Locations (for those departments who have multiple locations), for example, might be good candidates. And for those who have sub-departments, a site column containing those names might also be helpful.

As you create lists and you find you are reusing data from another list, consider turning that column into a site column and repopulating the data within both lists.

Content Types

Content Types takes site columns to another level. It’s essentially a grouping of columns that will be reused over and over again. For example, if we used SharePoint to handle invoices, we could group the site columns Invoice#, Customer, and Related Product together into an “Invoice Content Type” or in the case of our division, we implemented a “Department Contact List” Content Type that can now be used throughout the entire site collection, and all of the lists would contain similar structures, making it easier to manage.

Word: Deleting whole words at a time

This tip comes from WordRibbonTips:

While editing documents, it is not uncommon to delete words, phrases, and the like. Different people take different approaches to the task. For instance, some people just select the text and press Delete, while others may simply hold down the Delete or Backspace keys until the unwanted characters disappear.

If you are in the latter group, and you spend a lot of time pressing Delete or Backspace, you may be interested in a handy shortcut provided by Word. All you need to do is hold down the Ctrl key to speed up your deletions. Using Ctrl+Delete deletes text from the insertion point to the end of the next word. For instance, if you wanted to delete four words to the right, simply press Ctrl+Delete four times. Likewise, Ctrl+Backspace deletes words to the left of the insertion point.

An interesting use of these shortcut keys is to speed up editing tasks, not just mass deletions. For instance, let’s say you wanted to change the word “sidestep” to “sideways.” Normally you would find some way to simply delete “step” and type “ways.”

This could involve pressing Delete or Backspace four times to get rid of the unwanted portion of the word. You can make your edit faster if you just position the insertion point at the beginning of “step,” press Ctrl+Delete once, and then type “ways.”

Excel: How to identify duplicate values but not delete them

One of my favorite features within Excel is to be able to delete duplicates from a list. I will write a post on that feature in the near future. Sometimes, however, you just want to know if there are duplicates. Not necessarily delete them.

The conditional formatting feature within Excel is the solution for this one.
Living under the HOME tab, the conditional formatting is pretty powerful and can provide all sorts of color coding for your needs. In this case, we choose Conditional Formatting, then Highlight Cells Rules, then Duplicate Values. You choose the color, and voila, you have instant recognition of duplicate values.

Excel - duplicate values

Discussion Board workaround for Custom Views

Community Sites have some great features including the categories and the ability to sort and filter on that information. I had recorded a tutorial on how to create custom views a while back, but it only let you choose the Category name from the filter dropdown.

Given our propensity for changing department names, creating custom views using the category field wasn’t really the most useful. The Category ID would have been so much more helpful. However, Microsoft in its infinite wisdom [note the sarcasm] decided not to provide the Category ID as an additional column within the Category Lookup column, and because it’s a sealed column (which means you cannot modify it), there was no way of attaching the Category ID to the Category column within the Discussion List.

So here is my puzzle: How do I get the Category ID into the Discussion List without making the modifications to fields I cannot change?

Because the Category column in the discussion list is a required field, and because it’s tied behind the scenes to a number of things, I couldn’t just replace it with a new lookup column to which I could tie the Category ID.

I knew the answer had to involve SharePoint Designer and Workflows one way or another.

After a little trial and error, I found a solution that worked.

In the discussion list, add a column called CatID or CategoryID – something obvious. Make sure you uncheck Add to Content Types. Whether it’s a text field or a number field may or may not matter.

From within SharePoint Designer, create a list workflow that looks at the Category in the Discussion List, compares it to the Category Name in the Categories list, and returns the ID field from the Categories list and updates the CatID or CategoryID field.

Set that workflow to run on all types: manual, any time a new item is added, and any time an item is changed.

So why go through all that trouble?

The reason we need this workaround is so that you can create custom views and instead of using the Category Name to filter by, you can use the Category ID, so that when department names are changed your custom views will still work. Without that Category ID, you would have needed to adjust your custom views anytime the Category Names are updated. I consider that to not be a great user experience, and so decided you would appreciate it being fixed.