Accessing and Organizing Data in SharePoint

Mismanagement of data can affect your productivity – which can inevitably affect your organization’s bottom line.

With SharePoint, you can access and organize your data and workflow in a way that is both logical and efficient. You’ll do this by using Content Types and Lookup Columns.

Understanding Content Types

Content Types are any piece of data or metadata that you want to store, display, list, search, query, or set access rights to. They can consist of anything – a word document, a contract, a web article, an update, video, audio, a forum topic, a page, a picture…you get the point, right? Any piece of data that can be viewed and comprehended can be a content type.

Using Content Types

Content Types are typically deployed by putting them into a list or a library. Once you have customized the content type, you can make it available to the designated library or list. All of the functionality built

into each content type will be available to each library or list that the content type is associated with.

Using a single Content Type in multiple lists allows for consistency in the data structure, since the user will not have to manually re-create a piece of content every time they want to apply it to a project.

This consistency adds to the ability to find those list items through a search across the metadata. For example — you can do a search of list items that have a priority of “High”, that were requested by a certain individual or individuals.

Content Types are also grouped and organized by belonging to a parent Content Type. For example, a document Content Type would belong to a document parent Content Type group. Changes to the parent Content Type will then be passed down to any list that uses that Content Type.

Understanding Lookup Columns

Lookup Columns provide a reusable model for content definition.

You define a Lookup Column at the site level, independent of any actual list or content type. Because they consistently retain the same definition, they also alleviate the job of reproducing the column in each list that you create.

Lookup Columns also help you ensure consistency of metadata across sites and lists. When you create a column, users can then add that column to any list and it will retain the attributes that have been assigned to it, wherever it appears. Users will then be able to search for it by referencing any of its attributes.

Using Lookup Columns

Lookup Columns are similar to Content Types because they can be added to sites and lists, and that they can be customized so they are centrally managed. Yet unlike Content Types, the information in Lookup Columns is focused to a single definition of data as opposed to encapsulating multiple definitions of data.

For example — we can create Lookup Columns to give the user a list of options to choose from. The Lookup Column then restricts the user to choosing one of the options.

Lookup Columns are useful because they can easily be managed without special permissions and they can store an unlimited amount of options.


In summary, Content Types usually deliver a set or collection of properties that help associate an item with a group of similar items that also share the same properties, whereas Lookup Columns give your data specific descriptive traits that can be searched.

For example – a Content Type definition could be a project’s scope, such as city, county, region, etc.  Defining a “region” or a “city” content type definition for a project would also provide a collection of properties – such as region contact info, regulatory requirements, associated projects or contractors.

A Lookup Column could then be used to specify the working state of a project – such as Phase I, II, or III.

You can use Content Types and Lookup Columns to enhance the definitions and property descriptions of your content. These reusable items provide consistency in your sites, and also to associate items with other items for workflows, searching and more.

Whenever possible, you should reuse these definitions across the whole application, as well as other applications if you can customize them to do so. This eliminates the need to re-type your code every time you want to apply it, and guarantees that there will be no typing errors at runtime.

Utilizing these tools can decrease rework and ensure consistency of metadata across sites and lists. The extra investment of time in the beginning will help you immensely with the management and maintenance of your SharePoint site.


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