5 tips for writing compelling Discussion List posts

Discussion lists allow us to connect with one another and react to the content being posted. While the announcement is nice for one-way communication, the features that go along with the Discussion List, such as the ability to connect them to, and post directly from Outlook, make this a standout in terms of collaboration and communication. The list is designed to post news and other bits of information to share with your colleagues. I don’t know about you though but sometimes reading through an announcement or discussion list is like trying to solve anagrams or crossword puzzles, and I thought it might be helpful to write up a couple of tips to help make our collaboration even better.

Here are some tips on making sure that your posts get read:

  1. Create a great descriptive title. “Idea” is not a good title. “Help” is not a good title. The title of the post shows up in nice, large letters, so use them to your advantage. You have 75 characters to get our attention. Use them well!
  2. Forget the salutation. The first 75 characters of your post appear in the preview, so make them count! Between 75 characters in the title and 75 characters in the preview, you have 150 characters to get us to click on your discussion item. I know that we’ve trained ourselves that we need to open emails and letters with Dear Team, but in a discussion list it’s somewhat redundant as only our colleagues are reading it. You don’t start ever web page with “Dear Reader” so no need to do it here either.
  3. Use separate discussion items to split your content. While we would love to read your prose, let’s be honest: we’re all very busy. Please help us by keeping discussion items short and to the point. If you have a lot to tell us, either break up the content with very easy to see headers, or you might be able to split your content into multiple discussion items so we can pick and choose which is most relevant. I fall into this trap all the time. I can get long winded trying to provide some context behind what we’re doing. In the end though, sorry to say, the longer the post, the less likely it gets read.
  4. Keep your message short by using links to expanded content. This may be redundant, but it’s a slight twist on the above note. If your content needs to be long, such as when you need to provide instructions or describe a detailed process, consider creating a web page or word document with all the details and linking to that source, so that we can get to the message quickly, and then if we need more information, we can go to the link.
  5. Create meaningful hyperlinks. SharePoint has the ability to insert hyperlinks through the INSERT tab. You can add meaningful text that’s linked to additional content. Type your meaningful text first, and then highlight your sentence and use the INSERT Link feature to hyperlink it to your content. Because links are not too easy to see on SharePoint, feel free to highlight and link the entire sentence. You also don’t necessarily need to use the words “click here” or “visit this site” to show people you’ve linked something. Just linking the sentence gets the point across that there’s something more to click on.

I hope these five tips will get you started with writing compelling content for your discussion lists and will make your collaboration more meaningful.


Stripping underscores on a page

​​When creating a new page, the title is the same as the file name.
As of this date, there currently is no way to split file name from page title.
It’s important that we do not include spaces in a file name, and that we instead use underscores.
Unfortunately, with underscores, we have a strange looking page title that includes underscores, which we can strip using a content editor web part.

This is what the title of this page would look like without the underscores stripped:

Page Head with Underscores

Check out the page, and place in EDIT mode.

In the footer of the page, or at the bottom of your site content, insert a Content Editor webpart.

You can find the Content Editor web part under the Media and Content category.

Insert Content Editor Web Part

Click on the little triangle in the top right hand corner of the web part, and choose Edit Web Part.

In the Content Link box, copy and paste the following:


Content Editor Javascript Strip Underscores

Under the Appearance drop down, choose Chrome Style of NONE.
Then click OK and SAVE the page.

Content Editor Chrome None

Adding Excel file information to the header and footer

Adding file information to the header and footer of an Excel file can be done as follows:

  • Under the page layout tab
    • click the little arrow under print titles to expand your page setup window
  • Under the header/footer tab, pick custom header or custom footer
    • For each section, click the information you want to show.
    • To figure out what information each option provides, just click on the buttons.
      • In the center section, I added the word “Page” in front of the options
      • In the right section, I added the words “Last printed: ” in front of the date field.

Excel Header and Footer

Create a calculated field to show due dates first

When viewing task lists ordered by due date, often the tasks with no due dates appear at the top of the list, while the items that have a due date appear at the bottom. Sorting the list in descending order doesn’t help either, because then your items that are due soon will appear in the middle of the list.

There doesn’t appear to be an out of the box setting that will display items with a due date first, followed by those without one, so we get around this by using a calculated field column within the list settings.

Click on the List tab, then on List Settings

SharePoint: List Settings

Scroll to the middle of the page and add a new column. Give that column a name, such as HasDueDate

Choose for this column to be a calculated field and use the following formula in the formula field:

=IF(ISBLANK([Due Date]),”No”,”Yes”)

Calculated field: hasduedate

Save the column.

Sorting your list to include this new HasDueDate column.

The next step is to add this field to the sorting options on your list view.

SharePoint: Modify View

Scroll to the middle of the page, where the sorting options are, and choose HasDueDate from the first column option; then set that to descending order (you want “Yes” to come before “No”).

In the second sort column, choose Due Date in ascending order.

Now your list will always sort with the due dates first, in ascending order.

Standard and friendly date views

This tip applies mostly to task lists, but also applies to document libraries.

It is standard for SharePoint Online to present dates in a friendly format, such as Sunday, or February 15, Yesterday or Tomorrow.
SharePoint: friendly dates

Some people prefer to just see the dates themselves and don’t like seeing the friendly dates.

SharePoint: standard date

Here’s how you go about changing that.

Go to click on the LIST tab and click on list settings (in a library you would go to the library tab and then library settings.)

SharePoint: List Settings

Scroll to about the middle of the page to where the list of columns are, and click on the date field you want to change.

About midway down the settings screen you will see Display Format.

SharePoint: Standard / Friendly Date option

Change this setting as you need to, to set it to Standard or Friendly format.

Then choose SAVE

Adding a new color scheme to your site

This tutorial contains the steps for adding a color scheme to your team site. Our custom color just happens to be called DSA Hokie.

Web Designer Galleries

  1. To add the DSA Hokie color scheme, first go to the gear and choose Site Settings
  2. Under Web Designer Galleries, choose Composed Looks
  3. Click on new item

Complete the information as follows:

  • Title: DSA Hokie
  • Name: DSA Hokie
  • Master Page URL: /sites/dsa/base_public/_catalogs/masterpage/seattle.master
    • replace dsa/base_public with your site’s URL
  • Theme URL: /sites/dsa/_catalogs/theme/15/DSA_Hokie.spcolor
  • Image URL:
  • Font Scheme URL:
  • Display Order: 5

Composed Looks List

Now that you have created the color palette, now add it to your site.

  1. Go to the gear, then choose Change the Look
  2. Choose DSA Hokie, then Try it out
  3. Once you see the preview, then choose Yes, keep it

Using XSL to reformat information in a list

I first discovered the use of XSL formatting when we were trying to make links in a links app open in a new window. It’s funny how SharePoint lets you open other links in a new tab, but for some reason the app that’s geared specifically for the creation of links won’t open those links in a new tab.

Using XSL allows you to step away from always displaying your content in a spreadsheet-like list, and can help display your content in a more user-friendly way.

While working with XSL files is an advanced skill, and definitely not for the faint of heart, the toughest part of the process is making sure that you have the correct field names. The field name that is shown on the List View is not always the name of the field that SharePoint uses to display the fields. Therefore you need to find the actual SharePoint field name. To find that field name, go to the List Settings for the list you’re looking to display and then right-click on the name of the column you’re looking for. Copy the link and paste it in a notepad window. Your web address will look something like this.

The field name in this case is Company, and so you would use @Company in the XSL file to reference it.

For hyperlinks, the field actually has 2 components: the URL and the description. So for a field such as Web Page (below), you would need @WebPage as well as @WebPage.desc


When creating XSL files, it’s best to work from an existing file. When you need to create new fields, use syntax similar to that shown here.

Sample XSL Code

Then, to use those new fields in your page, use syntax such as this:

Sample XSL Code Use

The disable-output-escaping=”yes” portion of the code is invaluable. It will make sure that descriptions or text fields appear with HTML code intact. This means that links will work, as will ampersands (&) and other such characters. If you do not include that code, you would end up with HTML code showing on the page.

Handling spaces in field names with XSL

If your field name has spaces or other characters, you’ll end up with a field name that looks like this: Field=Buildings%5Fx002d%5FResLife

It looks a little messy but it’s just SharePoint’s way of handing these characters in field names. In order to work with this kind of a field name, replace the %5F with an underscore. A space will then look like _x0020_ and a hyphen will look like _x002d_ as shown in the image below.

Sample XSL Fields Spaces