Building a SharePoint Knowledge Base: Custom Lists

Knowledge Bases are not built in a day, you’ll need a variety of display options to help your users find what they are looking for.

By Cathy Dew

Data Type Drives the Type of Knowledge Base

In our last blog post, we talked through the basics of a SharePoint Knowledge Base, including the core benefits of creating one and how you can share knowledge throughout your organization. One of the options for your knowledge base is to set up a SharePoint custom list. You can configure a custom list in SharePoint as an FAQ, an extremely common type of resource in a knowledge base. Having an FAQ section on your intranet can make it easy for employees to find answers to their questions without asking colleagues or supervisors. It’s a time saver, a productivity booster, and all-around beneficial feature for virtually any enterprise to have.

In this blog, we will talk about SharePoint custom lists, why they are so powerful, and how you can go about setting them up for an FAQ—among other things. To start, though, we should discuss SharePoint lists generically, to get a better understanding of how they are used and where custom lists fit into the Knowledge Base equation.

Lists in SharePoint: The Basics

In SharePoint, lists are collections of data or information that are easy to share with users of your site. You will likely have many lists scattered throughout your site. For instance, on a team site, one default list type is Tasks. You can use the Tasks list to divvy up responsibilities among different team members and then track their progress.

Tasks is just one of many list examples that you might encounter in SharePoint. There are also several different types of lists in SharePoint. Tasks is an example of a list template that is included with SharePoint by default. Other templates include Contacts, Calendars, and Issue Tracking. Another option is to import spreadsheets of data into SharePoint and convert them into lists.

The third option is the SharePoint custom list. If you want to create a list that serves a separate function from all the list templates Microsoft gives you by default, you would build a custom list. Custom lists make it extremely easy to build simple but functional FAQ sections for your SharePoint knowledge base.

Creating a List in SharePoint

SharePoint lists are powerful, capable of adding a range of different features and data views to your company intranet. You can even set up lists that make automatic calculations based on the data in other columns. If you are a Microsoft Excel geek—or if you wish you were—you will appreciate the sheer feature potential of lists in SharePoint.

Knowing how to create a list is must-have knowledge for any SharePoint administrator. Luckily, the process is pretty simple, no matter what type of list you are trying to build. Do note, however, that the steps for creating lists in SharePoint do differ a bit depending on the version of SharePoint you are using. In case we don’t cover your version of SharePoint below, you can visit Microsoft’s Support site for more details about how to create custom lists.

For the sake of conversation, let’s say you want to create a SharePoint 2016 list. You can add a list by clicking the Settings wheel on the site in question and selecting “Add an app.” You’ll be taken to a search bar, where you should type the variety of list you want to create—be it a Tasks list, an Issues list, a Contacts list, or something else. You should see a grid layout of blue boxes titled “Apps you can add.” Each blue box is a type of list template you can add, from Links to Announcements and beyond. When you click the box you want, you’ll open a list configuration form. You can use the form to name your list, write a description, and other options depending on the template selected. Once you’ve finished, click “Create” to add the list template in question to your SharePoint site.

Creating Custom Columns for your new list

Depending on the template you start with, you may need to add more columns to your new list. Especially if you start with the “Custom List”, you only have one column by default! After creating the new list, you are sent to the main list landing page. To create new columns, in the Modern UI click the gear near the top right and select List Setting. With the Classic UI, on the Ribbon Bar, click the List tab, and click List Settings.

Within the List Settings, you can create new columns using the “create column” link. The key when setting up new list columns is to decide what type of data you want to store in the column. While you can select “single line of text” (the default selection) for every new column, you will find your data collection and data quality improved by selecting a column type that matches your data type. You have a plethora of column types available: Numeric, Currency, Date, Date & Time, Time, Yes/No, Person or People, or even another list as a look up.

Take the time to write down all the data points you want to collect and map that to an existing column type. Then you can start building out your custom list. As you build out the new columns, they will be added to the default view.

SharePoint also has a library of predefined columns that you can select from. The benefit of using these out of the box columns is search indexing is already configured for you. When you want to activate search for your custom columns, you can read up on that process: SharePoint Search: Amp up the Power and More Details of the SharePoint Power Search Method. Also, as you get better as creating custom columns, you’ll want to start defining columns at the site collection and tenant space levels. Check out our two are series on content types: How to get the most out of SharePoint Content Types – Part One and  Getting the Most out of SharePoint Content Types - Part Two.

If we didn’t cover your version of SharePoint, you can visit Microsoft’s Support site for more details about how to create custom columns. In our next article we’ll show you how to extend a custom list to create an FAQ.

At 2Plus2, we can help you leverage the out of the box templates, build custom lists, or to solve any other issues you might be having with SharePoint lists. We are your premiere San Francisco Bay Area SharePoint consultants. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.
Send me great news