When it comes to efficiently managing data in SharePoint, utilizing lists is a fundamental aspect of the platform. SharePoint lists offer a versatile and customizable way to organize, store, and collaborate on various types of information. However, to ensure optimal performance and maintain data integrity, it is essential to follow best practices when working with SharePoint lists. In this article, we will explore a set of best practices that will help you maximize the potential of SharePoint lists, improve data organization, and enhance collaboration within your organization. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced user, these best practices will guide you in creating and managing SharePoint lists effectively.
What is SharePoint List?
A SharePoint list is a web-based collaboration and document management platform. It is a container for organizing and storing the data or information within a SharePoint site. A SharePoint list resembles a table or spreadsheet with rows and columns, where each row represents an individual item and each column represents a specific attribute or piece of information associated with that item.
SharePoint lists offer a wide range of functionalities and can be customized to fit various business needs:
Users can create, edit, and delete list items, as well as collaborate and share information with others.
Lists can be used for a variety of purposes, such as tracking tasks, managing contacts, documenting issues, collecting feedback, or storing project data.
They provide a structured and organized way to store and access information, making it easier to search, filter, and analyze data within the SharePoint environment.
Supports versioning, workflows, alerts, and permissions.
SharePoint List: Best Practices for Efficient Data Organization and Collaboration
By following best practices, you can enhance organization, data accuracy, and team productivity. This article presents essential guidelines to help you leverage the full potential of SharePoint lists and achieve optimal results in your organization.
Best Practice 1. Use Modern Lists
When you create a new list in SharePoint Online, it will automatically use the modern list experience, which has a sleeker and more interactive design than the classic list experience. Modern lists also have more capabilities and options to customize and manage your list data, such as changing the appearance of columns based on conditions, editing multiple items at once, filtering and sorting your list data using a sidebar, highlighting items that need your attention, and so on.
If you prefer to use the classic list experience, which has a more traditional and familiar look and feel, you can change the list settings to switch back to it. Using the SharePoint admin center, you can also change the default list experience for your entire site collection or tenant.
Best Practice 2: Plan the Structure of the SharePoint List
Before you start creating a new list in SharePoint Online, you should think about what you want to achieve with your list, who will use it and how, what kind of information you want to store and display in your list, what columns and views you need to organize and present your data effectively, what metadata you need to classify and filter your data, and so on.
You should also try to keep your list simple and manageable by avoiding unnecessary columns or views, limiting the number of items or rows in your list, using lookup columns or managed metadata instead of repeating values across multiple lists or columns, etc. You can use tools such as Excel or Visio to sketch out your list structure and test it before creating it in SharePoint Online.
Best Practice 3: Use Metadata and Views to organize your SharePoint Lists
Metadata and views are two powerful features that can help you organize and display your list data in SharePoint. Let’s see what they are and how they work.
Metadata are tags or labels that describe the properties or characteristics of your list of items. For example, if you have a list of tasks, you can use metadata such as due date, priority, status, and assigned to describe each task. Metadata can help you find, filter, sort, and group your list items based on their attributes. You can also use metadata to apply conditional formatting or column formatting to your list of items to make them more visually appealing or informative.
Views are filters or sorts that show a subset of your list data based on certain criteria. For example, if you have a list of tasks, you can create a view that shows only the tasks that are due today, or a view that sorts the tasks by priority. Views can help you focus on the most relevant or important data in your list. You can also use views to customize the layout, style, and columns of your list data to suit your preferences.
You can use metadata and views to group, filter, sort, and format your list data according to your needs. For example, you can use metadata such as status to group your tasks by their completion status (such as not started, in progress, or completed). You can then use views to filter your tasks by their due date (such as today, tomorrow, or next week) or sort them by their priority (such as high, medium, or low). You can also use metadata such as priority to apply conditional formatting or column formatting to your tasks to make them stand out with different colors or icons.
Using metadata and views, you can organize and display your list data in meaningful and efficient ways. This can help you improve your productivity, collaboration, and decision-making with SharePoint lists.
Best Practice 4: Use Content Types to Define Reusable Metadata
You should use content types to define reusable sets of metadata and behaviors for different types of list items. Content types allow you to manage the metadata and actions for each type of item in a centralized way. You can also use content types to inherit metadata and behaviors from parent content types or site content types.
For example, you can create a Sales Contract content type and associate it with a document library that your team uses. Then, any time someone wants to create a sales proposal, they just choose Sales Contract from the New Document menu. A document content type like this Sales Contract might have these attributes:
The template for the document.
Columns associated with the content, where each column represents an item of metadata. For example, the following list shows some frequently used document metadata:
Purchase order number
and so on…
A requirement to automatically display the Document Information Panel and collect required information every time a user creates a new file of this type.
Information Management settings that spell out the retention policy, whether it can be audited, and so on.
By using content types, you can ensure that all the sales proposals have consistent content and metadata across your site. You can also update the content type settings in one place and have them apply to all the documents that use that content type.
Best Practice 5: Ensure the quality and accuracy of SharePoint List Using Validation columns
You should use validation and calculated columns to ensure the quality and accuracy of your list data. Validation columns allow you to specify rules or formulas that check the validity of the data entered in a column or an item. Calculated columns allow you to create new columns that display values based on calculations or formulas applied to other columns.
For example, you can create a Discount column that calculates the discount amount based on the Price and Quantity columns. The formula for the Discount column could be:
This formula returns 10% of the price if the quantity is 10 or more, otherwise, it returns zero.
You can also create a validation rule for the Price column that ensures that the price is not negative. The formula for the validation rule could be:
This formula returns true if the price is zero or positive, otherwise, it returns false. If the validation rule returns false, the user cannot save the item and will see an error message.
By using validation and calculated columns, you can improve the consistency and accuracy of your list data and prevent errors or invalid entries.
Best Practice 6: Manage and Review the Changes Using Versioning and Approval
You should use versioning and approval to manage and review the changes made to your list of items. Versioning allows you to store multiple versions of each item and restore previous versions if needed. The approval allows you to require approval from one or more users before an item becomes visible to others.
For example, you can create a Tasks list that stores tasks for your project. You can enable versioning for the list to see the changes made to each task and who made them. You can also enable content approval for the list to ensure that only completed tasks are marked as done. The approval process can be done manually by users who have approver permissions, or automatically by using a workflow.
By using versioning and approval, you can monitor the progress and quality of your list items and prevent incomplete or incorrect content from being marked as done.
Best Practice 7: Automate the List Using Alerts and Flows
You should use alerts and flows to automate and streamline your list processes and workflows. Alerts allow you to receive notifications when changes occur in your list or items. Flows allow you to create workflows that perform actions or tasks based on triggers or conditions in your list or items.
Suppose you have a list of tasks that need to be completed by different team members. You want to receive an email notification when a new task is added or when a task is marked as completed. You also want to create a flow that automatically assigns a due date and a priority level to each task based on its category.
To do this, you can follow these steps:
STEP 1: Go to your list and click on the Automate button in the top right corner.
STEP 2: Select Create an alert from the drop-down menu.
STEP 3: Give your alert a name and choose the criteria for triggering the alert. For example, you can select All changes to get notified of any changes in the list, or New items are added to get notified only when a new task is added.
STEP 4: Choose how often you want to receive the alert and who should receive it. You can enter your own email address or select other users or groups from your organization.
STEP 5: Click Create to save your alert.
STEP 6: Go back to the Automate button and select Power Automate from the drop-down menu.
STEP 7: Click on Create a flow and choose a template or start from blank. For this example, we will use the template When an item is created or modified, complete a custom action.
STEP 8: Edit the flow details and name it as you wish. You will see a trigger that says When an item is created or modified. This means that the flow will run whenever a new task is added or an existing task is changed in your list.
STEP 9: Next, you will see an action that says Condition. This allows you to set up different branches for your flow based on certain conditions. For example, you can check the value of the category column in your list and perform different actions accordingly.
STEP 10: To add a condition, click on Choose a value and select Category from the dynamic content panel. Then, click on is equal to and enter a value for your category. For example, you can enter Urgent as one of the possible values.
STEP 11: To add an action for this branch, click on Add an action under the If Yes section. You can choose from various actions such as sending an email, updating an item, creating a file, etc. For this example, we will use the action Update item to update the due date and priority columns in our list.
STEP 12: To configure the action, click on Site Address and select the site where your list is located. Then, click on List Name and select your list name. Next, click on Id and select ID from the dynamic content panel. This will ensure that the flow updates the same item that triggered it.
STEP 13: Next, click on Due Date and select an expression from the dynamic content panel. You can use various functions and operators to calculate a date based on the current date or other values. For example, you can use addDays(utcNow(), 3) to set the due date as three days from today.
STEP 14: Next, click on Priority and enter a value for your priority level. For example, you can enter High as one of the possible values.
STEP 15: Repeat these steps for other branches of your condition based on different values of your category column. For example, you can have another branch for tasks with category Normal and set their due date as seven days from today and their priority as Medium.
STEP 16: Click Save to save your flow.
Now, whenever a new task is added or an existing task is modified in your list, you will receive an alert email and your flow will run to assign a due date and priority level based on the category of the task.
Best Practice 8: Collaborate and Communicate with co-authoring and Comments
You should collaborate and communicate with others on your list of items with co-authoring and comments. Co-authoring lets you edit the same item at the same time as others and see their changes as they happen. Comments let you add feedback or notes to an item or a column value.
For example, suppose you have a list of projects that need to be completed by different teams. You want to collaborate and communicate with your team members on the project details and status. You can use co-authoring and comments to do that:
To co-author an item, open the item in Quick Edit mode or in the form. Make sure you have edit permission for the item. You can see who else is editing the item and their changes in real-time. You can also chat with them using Teams or Skype.
To comment on an item or a column value, open the item in the form. Click the comment icon next to the item or the column value. Type your comment and mention someone if you want to notify them. Click Post to save your comment. You can also reply to or delete comments.
Best Practice 9: Manage Access and Security with Permissions and Sharing
You should manage who can see or change your list and items with permissions and sharing.
Permissions let you give or take away access levels for users or groups on your list or items. For example, you can give full control to the owner of the list, edit permission to the members of the team, and view permission to the visitors of the site.
To set permissions in SharePoint, you need to first break the inheritance from the parent site, and then assign unique permissions to the list or library. Here are the steps to do that:
STEP 1: Go to the list or library and open it.
STEP 2: Select Settings and then Library settings or List settings.
STEP 3: On the Settings page, under Permissions and Management, select Permissions for this list or Permissions for this document library.
STEP 4: On the Permissions page, click Stop Inheriting Permissions. This will create a copy of the parent permissions for this list or library.
STEP 5: To change the permission level for a user or group, select the checkbox next to their name, and then click Edit User Permissions. Choose a permission level from the list, and then click OK.
STEP 6: To add a new user or group, click Grant Permissions, and then enter their name or email address in the Users/Groups box. Choose a permission level from the list, and then click OK.
Sharing lets you send your list or items to specific users or groups via email or link. For example, you can share your list with a colleague who needs to review it or share an item with a customer who needs to approve it.
Best Practice 10: Evaluate and Enhance Performance and Impact with Analytics and Insights
You should evaluate and enhance how well your list works and what it achieves with analytics and insights. Analytics lets you see statistics and reports on the usage and activity of your list or items. For example, you can see how many views, likes, comments, or shares your list or items have received over time. Insights let you find out trends and patterns in your list data using artificial intelligence. For example, you can see which items are most popular, most urgent, or most overdue on your list.
To access analytics and insights in SharePoint, you need to first enable them for your site. Here are the steps to do that:
STEP 1: Go to the site where you want to enable analytics and insights.
STEP 2: Click Settings, and then click Site Settings.
STEP 3: Under Site Collection Administration, click Site Collection features.
STEP 4: Activate the Reporting feature.
After you enable analytics and insights, you can view two types of reports: Most Popular Items and Popularity Trends.
STEP 1: To view the Most Popular Items report for a list or library, go to the list or library and open it.
Click Settings and then click List Settings or Library Settings.
Under Permissions and Management, click Permissions for this list or Permissions for this document library.
On the Permissions page, click Most Popular Items. You can select the usage event and the time period for which you want to view statistics.
STEP 2: To view the Popularity Trends report for an item, a site, or a site collection, go to the item, site, or site collection for which you want to view the report.
Click the ellipsis (…) next to the item or on the ribbon, and then click Popularity Trends. You can download an Excel report that shows usage statistics for different time periods.
SharePoint lists are powerful tools for organizing and managing structured data within the SharePoint environment. By following best practices, you can maximize the potential of SharePoint lists and optimize data management and collaboration.