One of the main selling points of SharePoint is the ability to push content management down to the End User instead of having a dedicated IT staff or Information Management Team manages sites and content. From my perspective, this is also one of its biggest downfalls.

The single greatest problem of a beginning End User is not having an understanding of how to structure a library or list so that it can be part of a centrally managed site structure, built for reusability with document templates attached. Forget about site design. Forget about user interface. They are told to start by adding columns to a library/list to make the information searchable and manageable through metadata, when most End Users do not have a clear understanding of what that is (metadata) much less how to  structure it.

Allowing contributors of content the power to control the Information Architecture of a site or list/library assumes they have the understanding and knowledge of how to structure information so that it is robust, reusable, modular and accessible to all users of that content. This places too much burden on the End User, who is usually an untrained content contributor who just wants to contribute and consume information.

Understanding Content Types is essential when managing a quickly growing site through an expandable, controllable infrastructure. More than in other installments of SharePoint 101: Tricks and Traps, you must be able to put Site Columns and Content Types into your own context to get an understanding of how powerful they are. With each problem statement in this installment, try to rephrase the problem so that it relates directly to a situation in your SharePoint environment.

This section of Tricks and Traps starts with an overview of Site Columns and how they relate to Content Types.  From the overview, we will move into common scenarios using Site Columns to create Content Types. We will end with a series of links to Microsoft’s Knowledge Base, focusing on their in-depth descriptions and examples of Content Types.

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Introduction to Site Columns

Newly created libraries and lists consist of default columns. These columns are the document or list properties/attributes that are set by default when a list or library is created. You can think of metadata as the aggregate list of these properties. 

Default Document Columns

There are 17 default properties (attributes) associated with an item in a document library. To see the default properties, choose View: Modify this view from the View menu in any newly created document library. You will see the following list:
  1. Type (icon linked to document)
  2. Name (linked to document with edit menu)
  3. Modified (date)
  4. Modified By (person)
  5. Checked Out To (person)
  6. Check In Comment (text)
  7. Content Type
  8. Copy Source (link)
  9. Created (date)
  10. Created By (person)
  11. Edit (link to edit item)
  12. File Size (kb)
  13. ID (unique identifier)
  14. Name (for use in forms)
  15. Name (linked to document)
  16. Title (text)
  17. Version (number)
These properties are the default metadata for any document uploaded, created or published to the library. Stop for a second and think about that… every document knows these 17 things about itself. This is the foundation of the metadata structure for any document within SharePoint.

Core Document Columns

There are additional attributes/properties that can be carried by documents within a SharePoint library. These properties are not available by default, but can be added to the metadata structure of the library and are called “Core Document Columns”. They are listed in the Site Column Gallery for site and site collection administrators. The twenty Core Document Columns are a small subset of all the site columns available in a default SharePoint installation.The Core Document Columns can be found under Site Actions -> Site Settings, Galleries: Site columns:
  1. Author
  2. Category
  4. Contributor
  5. Coverage
  6. Date
  7. Date Modified
  8. Date Picture Taken
  9. Format
  10. Keywords
  11. Last Printed
  12. Publisher
  13. Relation
  14. Resource Identifier
  15. Resource Type
  16. Revision
  17. Rights Management
  18. Source
  19. Subject
  20. Version
Custom Site ColumnsSharePoint offers the ability to create customized site columns when the default document library columns and the Core Document Columns are not what is needed to identify a document.As an example, if you create a Technical Publications “Specifications Library” there might be a need to associate a specific product with every document. There is no such thing as a default “Product” column in SharePoint. By creating the Product site column and making it mandatory (required) in the Specifications library, when a document is inserted into the library, the document will know what project it is related to.

Introduction to Content Types

Individual site columns can be made much more useful when they are grouped together to create an entire metadata structure. This grouping of site columns is called a Content Type.

Overview of Content Types

A Content Type is a reusable grouping of site columns that can be utilized by a list or library. This makes it possible to maintain a consistent metadata structure for all documents or items of that type in a Site Collection.

A Content Type can carry a workflow,  an Information Management Policy and a document template along with the site columns. Whenever the Content Type is associated with a library or list, all of the functionality built into the customization of that Content Type will be available to that library or list.

Using an example from the Site Collection Administration Workshop, let’s take a look at a customized Content Type.The Site Collection Administrator needs a method for accepting new site creation requests, new library requests and requests for help with site planning. All three of these requests have five things in common:
  1. Requester Name
  2. Requester Email
  3. Time Frame
  4. Priority of this Request
A Content Type can be created to manage all of these columns as a single group of metadata that can be applied to any list that needs it. In our case, all request lists need to have this customized Request Content Type associated with it.

Using a single Content Type in multiple lists allows for consistency in the data structure. The consistency adds to the ability to find those list items through a search across the metadata. “Find me all list items that have a Priority of ‘High’ that were requested by ‘Mark Miller or Bob Mixon’”.

An added benefit of using a Content Type in multiple locations is maintainability. Any changes to the parent Content Type can be passed down to any list that is using that Content Type.One of the things missing from the Request Content Type described above is the ‘Status’ of the request (Open, In progress, Completed, Denied). Adding a Status column to the Request Content Type will now create that column in any list that is utilizing our customized Content Type.


Site columns and Content Types are the foundation of Information Architecture planning in SharePoint
. Too much duplication of effort is typically done because of lack of planning before starting to build the infrastructure of a Site Collection.Utilizing site columns and Content Types takes additional effort in the upfront time spent when setting up a SharePoint Site Collection, but the investment of time at the beginning will pay huge dividends during the management and maintenance phase of your SharePoint implementation.