The Beauty of Custom Lists

I like custom lists. I use them all the time. I think they are a bit of an
underutilized gem in SharePoint. Perhaps it is the developer mind which usually
thinks custom request requires a custom solution. With a custom list you do get
a custom solution, just without the mess of doing it yourself. When I say custom list I am referring to the option on the Create page in a
SharePoint site. This is how you get to it:

  1. WSS: Select Documents and Lists in your top navigation bar.
    Portal: Select Edit Page within the area of your choice; Select
    Manage Content under the Actions menu.
  2. Select Create.
  3. Scroll down the page to Custom Lists.

Select Custom List or
Custom List in Datasheet View.
Or direct URL:

Custom List: http://site.com/_layouts/1033/new.aspx?ListTemplate=100&ListBaseType=0

Custom List in Datasheet View: http://site.com/_layouts/1033/new.aspx?ListTemplate=120&ListBaseType=0

From here you enter a name and description and are presented with an empty list
with only one Title column. This Title column works like any SharePoint list,
you are pretty much stuck with it unless you do some fancy footwork. You can
rename it, but you can’t change the column type (so it will remain a single line
text entry). Luckily, in most cases you need a column to this effect so it isn’t
much of a bother. If that default title column is going to give you grief, I suggest you check out
Yazan Khasawneh’s blog post about removing it:
Fixing SharePoint Lists Columns.

Here are some ideas of how Custom Lists can be used to meet requests and
requirements of SharePoint end users. These instructions can apply to either WSS
or portal sites, but keep in mind that for the permissions to work for a list in
portal, you have to adjust the area permissions, so be sure to place your list
in an area that can have adjusted permissions. Skip to the end of this article
for more info and tips.
Contents

» Frequently Asked Questions
» Anonymous (or as close as you can get) Submit Info list
» Picture or File Info and Thumbnail List
» A Form that is, but isn’t
» Additional Ideas
» SharePoint Portal Considerations
» Additional Resources


Download The Templates

<!–» FAQ, Anonymous Info and Thumbnail list for the STS site definition (WSS)
» FAQ, Anonymous Info and Thumbnail list for the SPSTOC site definition (Portal)
I have temporarily disabled the templates. New ones will be posted soon. Please contact me if you want the templates now.
» How to use the SPSTOC list templates in other portal site definitions

Frequently Asked Questions

You can quickly build a FAQ list using a custom list. This list will use
permissions, columns and alerts to create a content controlled list that users
can optionally submit new questions to.  See joint instructions below.

Anonymous (or as close as you can get) Submit Info list

Say you have a need to let users submit questions or comments or opinions, yet
want the results to appear to all users and not have names attached to the
results so people feel more comfortable submitting things. You also want to
screen the submittals coming in to stop any inappropriate content from being
shown to the entire user base. Maybe you need a survey, without the survey
functionality. Using the FAQ instructions, you can set up such a list. Change
the names and columns according to your needs (steps 1-7), but otherwise follow
the instructions in steps 8-15.

  1. Create a custom list (see steps 1-4 above). Name it appropriately, for
    example, Frequently Asked Questions. Use the description to provide list
    instructions for the end user or information of value (don’t say, here is a list
    of FAQs). Example: Click on the + sign next to a topic to view the FAQ.
    Alternatively use the Search in the upper right corner of the site to research
    answers.
  2. Select Modify Settings and Columns in the left navigation.
  3. Under Columns select Title and in the Column Name field, change it to
    Question Submitted By. Select OK.
  4. Under Columns select Add a new column. You will do this several times, here
    are the settings for each column you need to set up:
    1. Topic
      1. Column Name: Topic
      2. Column Type: Choice (menu to choose from)
      3. Description: <Optional>
      4. Require that this column contains info: <Up to you>
      5. Choices: <Enter FAQ topics, for example if this was a list for HR you may
        include Benefits, Payroll, Vacation, Holiday Schedule and Who to Contact>
      6. Display Choices using: <Up to you, for large lists I suggest drop down
        menus>
      7. Allow Fill in choices: No
      8. Accept default value for Choice
    2. Question
      1. Column Name: Question
      2. Column Type: Multiple lines of text
      3. Description: <Optional>
      4. Require that this column contains info: Yes
      5. Number of Lines to Display: 10
      6. Allow rich text: <Up to you, I prefer Yes>
    3. Answer
      1. Column Name: Answer
      2. Column Type: Multiple lines of text
      3. Description: <Optional, I suggest For administration use only.>
      4. Require that this column contains info: No
      5. Number of Lines to Display: 25
      6. Allow rich text: <Up to you, I prefer Yes>
    4. Answered By
      1. Column Name: Answered By
      2. Column Type: Single line of text
      3. Description: <Optional>
      4. Require that this column contains info: No
      5. Accept defaults for remaining options
    5. <Additional columns of your choice for your needs>
  5. Under Columns, select Change the order of the fields and change
    Question
    Submitted By
    to position 3 (under Question). Select OK.Now we are going to adjust the view to utilize our Topic categorization.

 

  • Under Views select All Items. Under Columns:
    1. Uncheck Attachments, Question Submitted By, Topic, and Answered By.
    2. Change the Position from Left for Question to 1.
  • Scroll down and expand Group By. Under First group by the column select
    Topic. Select OK.Next we adjust the List settings to make the list manageable by an FAQ team and
    allow everyone to add questions. If you don’t want to allow users to submit
    questions to the FAQ, skip the following instructions and complete step 12.

 

  • Under General Settings select Change general settings.
  • Under Content Approval, check Yes. Select OK.
  • WSS: Under General Settings select Change permissions for this list. Select
    Reader, then select Edit Permissions of Selected Users. Check
    Add list Items.
    Select OK.
    Portal: Back out of the list and go to the area the list resides in. Select
    Manage Security under Actions. Select Reader, then select
    Edit. Select Advanced
    Rights
    , then check Add Items. Select OK.
  • Select Go Back to “Frequently Asked Questions (or appropriate list name)”.At this point the list is complete and we just need to add a link for question
    submittal, list the FAQ on a page for viewing and notify the person or persons
    who will be watching the list and answering questions to set up an alert for the
    list.
  • Populate the list with questions/answers and add the FAQ web part to your
    site for viewing by users.
  • While in your list, select New Item in the list toolbar. Once the page loads
    (NewForm.aspx) copy the URL.
  • On the WSS site home page or the portal area, create a link to the New Item
    screen through use of a links web part or a Content Editor Web Part or whatever
    means you have or need. This provides a user friendly and quick way for users to
    identify how to submit a question for review for the FAQ list.
  • Notify the person or persons who will be watching the FAQ list and who will
    be answering submitted questions to set up an alert for the list so they will be
    notified when a question is submitted.For the FAQ list, the end process is a user clicks the Submit Question link,
    adds a question, the question does not show in the list since it has to be
    approved, a watcher of the list receives an alert, goes to the item, answers the
    question and approves it, and it then shows up in the FAQ list for everyone to
    see. For the Anonymous List, make sure none of your views use columns that link to or
    have Edit links for the item so an end user can no way click into the detail of
    the item (and then see who submitted it). Whoever is given rights to approve
    items will see who submits info, but in large what is submitted will appear
    anonymous to the general user base.

    Picture or File Info and Thumbnail List

    Can’t stand how the SharePoint Picture Library works? Want to provide small
    thumbnails of large documents so the user can quickly preview items before
    starting large downloads? Want to provide a Classifieds list? Use a custom list
    to create a quick thumbnail library of items.

    1. Create a custom list (see steps 1-4 at the top of this article) and name it
      appropriately. Use the description to provide list instructions for the end user
      or information of value (don’t say, here is a list of files). Example: Use the
      preview image to screen your document selection prior to download.
    2. Select Modify Settings and Columns in the left navigation.
    3. Under Columns select Title and in the Column Name field, change it to
      something of use for the list, such as Topic, Group, or File Size. Select OK.
    4. Under Columns select Add a new column. Here are the settings for the new
      column:
    1. Thumbnail (or Picture)
      1. Column Name: Thumbnail (or Picture)
      2. Column Type: Hyperlink or Picture
      3. Description: <Optional>
      4. Require that this column contains info: <Up to you>
      5. Format URL as: Picture
    2. <Additional columns of your choice for your needs>
  • Optionally alter the order of fields and/or adjust the View.
    The list is now set up, next we need a storage location for the thumbnails or
    pictures.
  • WSS: Select Documents and Lists in your top navigation bar.
    Portal: Select Edit Page within the area of your choice; Select
    Manage Content
    under the Actions menu.
  • Select Create.
  • Scroll down the page to Picture Libraries, select Picture Library.
  • Name it appropriately such as Thumbnail Images or List Pictures. Select to
    not show it in the Quick Launch bar. Select Create.
  • Upload your images to the new library.
    Now we can take the URL of the image and use it in our custom list.
  • While in the Picture Library, click on your image two times. Doing so will
    bring it up in a browser window. Copy the URL.
  • Go to your list and when you enter in a new list item, use the URL you copied
    for the picture column.Using a custom list and a library, you now have an easily organizable and
    readable list with images, similar to the eBay style of posting items.

    A Form that is, but isn’t

    So you need a form for your SharePoint site but you don’t want to get into
    InfoPath or write XML. Use a custom list to create a form and have a handy
    auditing tool at the same time.

    1. Create a custom list (see steps 1-4 at the top of this article) and name it
      appropriately. Use the description to provide list instructions for the end user
      or information of value (don’t say, here is a list of files). Example: Use this
      form to submit a corporate card request.
    2. Select Modify Settings and Columns in the left navigation.
    3. Under Columns select Title and in the Column Name field, change it to
      something of use for the list, such as Name, Department, or Location. Select
      OK.
    4. Under Columns select Add a new column. Do this several
      times to set up the columns for the needed form information. They may
      include Manager, Request, Submitted By, Approver,
      etc.
    5. Optionally alter the order of fields and/or adjust the View.
      Next we adjust the List settings to make the list manageable by a form
      response team and allow everyone to add form submissions.
    6. WSS: Under General Settings select Change permissions for this list. Select
      Reader, then select Edit Permissions of Selected Users. Check
      Add list Items.
      Select OK.
      Portal: Back out of the list and go to the area the list resides in. Select
      Manage Security under Actions. Select Reader, then select
      Edit. Select Advanced
      Rights
      , then check Add Items. Select OK.
    7. Select Go Back to “(appropriate list name)”.At this point the list is complete and we just need to add a link for form
      submissions, and notify the person or persons who will be watching the list and
      managing the form submissions to set up an alert for the list.
    8. While in your list, select New Item in the list toolbar. Once the page loads
      (NewForm.aspx) copy the URL.
    9. On the WSS site home page or the portal area, create a link to the New Item
      screen through use of a links web part or a Content Editor Web Part or whatever
      means you have or need. This provides a user friendly and quick way for users to
      identify how to submit a form.

    Notify the person or persons who will be watching the list and who will be
    managing submitted forms to set up an alert for the list so they will be
    notified when a new item is submitted. These are basic instructions for setting up a form list, you can really take
    this idea and run with it. For example create views based on status (submitted,
    pending, approved) or by location or purpose. Use views to easily filter out the
    most recent submissions. The beauty of it is you have an underlying list of all
    submitted items that can be used for stats, tracking, billing, historical, work
    completed, etc.

    Additional Ideas

    Ideas and methods displayed in the above examples can be used in numerous
    applications, here are some further ideas without the detailed instructions,
    since by this point we are getting a little repetitive….

    • Travel lists: Categorize, rate and list hotels, restaurants or car rental
      agencies. For example for the restaurants you can provide name, phone, web site
      address, link to online map and categorize the listings by cuisine and/or city
      location (see steps 6-7 under FAQ for reference to categorization).
    • Instructions: Enter each instruction item as a list item, utilize a number
      column and order the instructions into steps.
    • Instruction Collection: Group instructions by type and use the Title (linked
      to item)
      column on a view so users can quickly scan the titles of available
      instructions and click them to see the full version. Use a multi-line type
      column to store the actual instructions.
    • Quick Reference lists: Create short column names with brief data for quick
      reference lists for a variety of uses. Utilize the attachments feature to add
      extended notes, a form or other supporting data.
    • For long lists of data, change the list style to Shaded to add alternating row
      colors.

    SharePoint Portal Considerations

    Portal security dictates that you adjust the security for the portal area, which
    will in turn affect all lists and libraries within that area. Some of the
    suggestions in this article require changing the security so that Readers (or an
    equivalent site group) have to right to add new list items. Doing this at the
    area level will affect all lists and libraries in that area, an often
    undesirable side effect. You can cure this by storing your custom lists (and
    surveys for that matter) on an area of its own, or on a shared area that houses
    multiple lists and surveys that need altered permissions. From here you link to
    the new item screen for your list (or survey) on your other portal area page.
    You can technically alter the permissions for a list in a portal area, but it
    requires some extra steps.

    1. In the portal, go to the list page, and select Modify settings and columns.
    2. Replace the ASPX file and list extension (listedit.aspx?List=) with
      ShrOpt.aspx?obj= and add ,list on the end. So your URL would look like:
      http://siteURL/_layouts/1033/ShrOpt.aspx?obj={ID},list
    3. Hit Enter or the browser Go button and the list permissions page will appear.

    Additional Resources

    For more information about Lists, please check out these other resources:
    » Add a Custom List to SharePoint – a foray into CAML
    » List Resources
    » List Definition Resources

     

Dustin Miller and Heather Solomon from SharePoint Experts