SharePoint lists are one of the most useful features in SharePoint and the wider Microsoft 365 digital workplace. They are a highly flexible and convenient way to store and display data and content, with a variety of different options relating to formatting, access and workflows; they’re also super-easy to use.
At Content Formula we are long term fans of lists and over the years we’ve used them many times across our projects. If you have a SharePoint intranet or environment, it’s extremely likely that you will use a SharePoint list somewhere along the way.
If you’re relatively new to SharePoint lists or don’t use them as much as you could do, this beginners guide to SharePoint lists is for you. In this long read we cover:
- What SharePoint lists are
- The difference between Microsoft lists and SharePoint lists
- The benefits of lists
- The different features of a SharePoint list
- Some of the use cases for lists
- How to create a list in SharePoint Online
- How to delete a list in SharePoint Online
- How to import a list from Excel.
What are SharePoint lists?
SharePoint lists have been a core feature of SharePoint for many years. Lists are essentially a way of storing and displaying data and content within SharePoint in a set of rows and columns, similar to a table or a spreadsheet. A list is a highly flexible way to both manage but also display structured information and content within SharePoint, with a variety of options relating to formatting, access rights and different types of content. You can also apply rules and workflow.
What’s the difference between Microsoft lists and SharePoint Lists?
At the moment there are two separately branded lists from Microsoft – Microsoft lists and SharePoint lists; this can cause some confusion in the marketplace. Actually, these have the same features and user interface and can be considered the same – the only difference is that SharePoint lists sit within a SharePoint site while Microsoft Lists sit within a personal site, similar to OneDrive.
Microsoft introduced the “Microsoft lists” branding when it upgraded the list features in 2020 and wanted to emphasise that lists can also be deployed directly into Teams and be used standalone. However, since then the features within SharePoint lists and Microsoft lists are synchronised. Microsoft lists have their own dedicated web and mobile app. For a deeper dive on this topic, please read our article about the difference between Microsoft lists and SharePoint lists.
What are the benefits of a SharePoint and Microsoft lists?
Lists are an excellent way to store and manage data in SharePoint, Teams and Microsoft 365 and have several benefits:Highly flexible and scalable
Lists are highly flexible and scalable. They can be very small or very large with thousands of items. They can accommodate different types of content including text, images, videos, audio, documents, formulae and metadata. They can also have a wide variety of different formatting. You can also apply workflow to lists and control the access. This flexibility means that a SharePoint list can meet a wide variety of use cases and scenarios – it’s one of the key reasons SharePoint lists are so useful.Granular levels of control
One of the most powerful elements of lists is the high level of granular control that you have over lists down to the row, column and even cell level, for example relating to both formatting but also access control. For example, you might have a number of people who are updating a list of first aiders throughout your organisation that is displayed on your intranet, but you want to ensure they can only update one column within the list. The granularity of control means you can protect the rest of the list and ensure other information doesn’t get overwritten, for example.Easy to create and manage
Another major advantage of lists is that they’re super easy to create and manage; working with lists is not dissimilar to working with spreadsheets. Because of Microsoft’s generally “no code low code” approach to modern SharePoint, you do not need to involve the IT function. Lists are open to use by non-IT professionals, such as the intranet team or even local site owners.One source of truth for data and content
When organisations use SharePoint for their intranet or as a trusted repository of information, they are often trying to ensure there is one source of truth for data. SharePoint lists support one source of truth by having various features to support the governance of data, including granular access control and integration with Power Automate to ensure information kept in a SharePoint list is updated in other systems, and vice-versa. Because the list can also be surfaced across different Microsoft 365 tools it also means that there only needs to be one instance of the list, again supporting one source of truth.Ready-made templates and formatting
Lists come with a set of ready-made templates with nice formatting to cover different types of lists such as asset managers, content schedulers, budget trackers, issue trackers and many more. Many of these are provided by Microsoft, but there are also many others available on GitHub from the Microsoft community.Deep integration with other Microsoft 365 tools
One of the reasons that lists are so powerful is their deep integration with other Microsoft 365 tools. You can use lists within Teams, for example. Integration with Microsoft Forms is also particularly useful as you can easily create a Form for people to add information too and then instantly populate a SharePoint list; this can be very handy when you want to guide users to enter certain types of information, with a Form doing the heavy lifting on the data entry.
Integration with Power Automate, Power Apps and the other tools within the Power Platform is also key meaning that workflows can be triggered when information is changed or added, and then be updated in another system, and vice-versa. For example, if somebody changed their name in the HR system of record, this could then be updated in a SharePoint list of first aiders that was kept on the intranet.Often better than an Excel spreadsheet
Many teams use Excel to store and manage structured information, but actually a SharePoint list is usually a superior tool for managing information. Reasons that lists are frequently better than Excel spreadsheets include the ability to maintain control over certain areas of the list, better data integrity and deeper integration with Microsoft 365.Microsoft keeps on investing
Like most of the tools across the Microsoft 365 suite, Microsoft keeps on investing in lists and making improvements. For example, there was a major “upgrade” in 2020. Lists is also a heavily utilised feature in SharePoint and will almost certainly be around for a long time yet, so you are effectively future-proofed using lists.
What are the different features of a SharePoint list?
Three are a number of key features of SharePoint lists.Cells, columns and rows
A SharePoint list is fundamentally a table that includes different cells set out in a rows and columns format. However, within a list the rows are known as list items. Within the columns you can define required different data types such as text, number, date / time and so on. A column can also define a look-up list of values; for example, all the locations within an organisation or the list of products your company offers to clients.List views and formatting
It's possible to set different views to filter your list and use different formatting. This is now highly flexible so that you can create a range of formats to suit different use cases, reorder columns and even do things like pin items to the top of the list. There is even conditional formatting so that a list could change in appearance based on the item added, for example a status could be displayed as Red, Amber or Green depending on information being added.Templates
As already noted, Microsoft has created a set of different templates which include asset manager, content scheduler, employee on-boarding, event itinerary, issues tracker, recruitment tracker, travel requests and work progress tracker. There are also community-driven templates available via GitHub.Rules and workflows
You can also add various rules and workflows to your list, some of them through the integration with Power Automate. You can also control access to read and edit different areas of the list. The integration with a Microsoft Forms front end can also help to enforce different rules for content entry.
What are some of the use cases for a SharePoint list?
There are many different use cases for a SharePoint list, many of which are reflected in the templates available. SharePoint lists are excellent for scenarios where:
- Information is often changed on a regular basis
- Where a wider number of people may be inputting data
- Where a wide number of people need to regularly refer to the data
- Where the data needs to be displayed in more than one place
- Where the data needs to be updated across different systems.
Here are a few popular use cases, but there are many others:
- Using it as an events calendar to store on your intranet covering key dates and milestones, including holidays in different countries
- An inventory list covering office equipment or technical equipment
- Maintaining lists of people relating to roles such as fire wardens, mental first aiders, HR contacts for each location and so on
- Maintaining a list of locations with related information about each office, such as address, opening hours, main contact etc.
- Tracking a list of issues and their related status for a project
- Maintaining a backlog of changes for a product or application – even your intranet!
- Logging requests and feedback on a product or application and tracking their status
- Keeping a log of different requests such as for a new phone and then allowing people to view the status for their request
- A list of subscribers to different journals and information feeds
- Maintaining a list of the required steps for a new starter during the employee on-boarding process
- Providing the latest version of a user manual or documentation across a portfolio of products
- Keeping a directory of apps in use throughout the enterprise
- And many more!
How do I create a list in SharePoint Online?Navigate to the SharePoint site where you want to create the list.
How do I delete a list in SharePoint Online?Navigate to the SharePoint site where the list is located.
Locate the list you want to delete and hover over its name.
Click on the ellipsis (...) that appears and select "Delete" from the options.
How do I import a SharePoint list from Excel?Select the gear icon and choose "Add an App"
Need help with SharePoint list or Microsoft lists? Get in touch!We hope this beginner’s guide has given you an overview of SharePoint lists, how they can be used and answered some key questions. We’ve been using SharePoint lists for years, so if you need any help then get in touch!
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