Office 365 A to Z Series – C is for Content Types

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Office 365 A to Z

So here is C and unfortunately it’s another SharePoint Online related post (as many of them will be with me being a SharePoint enthusiast). However, don’t be too disappointed, as if you are not quite sure what Content Types are then you are missing out on the most important bit of knowledge when it comes to SharePoint.

What is a Content Type?

The best explanation of Content Types that I heard was from one of SharePoints Rock Stars Cathy Dew, I sat in one of her presentations and she said the easiest way to describe a Content Type is to switch the words around, A Type of Content.

OK so a Content Type is a Type of Content but let’s break it down a little more, imagine you use SharePoint as a document repository, what type of documents might you store in there? If you were creating a rudimentary finance system you may choose to store your invoices, purchase orders, receipts, quotes, either in the same Document Library or worse yet in a Document Library for each type of document as in the image on the right.

OK so what’s the better way?

Well Content Types of course! The image on the right is a perfectly logicial conclusion to come to when you first pick up SharePoint or maybe an even more logical conclusion would be to create a Document Library with a couple of folders for each of the type of document in there too. Again these are perfctly logical ideas, however, the idea falls down when you start to think about the documents and the processes behind creating the document or more to the point the processes relating to the life time of that document.

Using the scenario I have mentioned about lets try and think about the things you might want to do with each type of document.


A quote is something that is compiled and sent to a client to try and get business. You might want a couple of people in your department to check it over before it gets sent out and you might put an expiration of 30 days on the quote which means it needs to be archived after that time


With an invoice it might be that the quote turned into actual work and some or all of the work has been completed. You might want to email this out to the client for payment or maybe set a flag on the document to track payment, if it hasnt been paid in X days then get someone from another department to chase it up.

The two above examples are good enough to show the power of Content Types, with the examples above you might think it would make sense to put them in their own Document Library and have a Workflow associated with the Document Library so that the processes can be completed. That is one way, the alternative is to use Content Types in the same document library and have the workflows associated with that specific content type, add Information Management Policy settings to the Content Type and you can also manage that expiration piece.

Here is what it looks like to have more than one Content Type in a Document Library

Next we will go through the process or adding a new Content Type to a List or Library

Firstly you need to navigate to the List or Library in which you would like to Allow the Management of Content Types

Click on the List or Library Tab in the ribbon and then List or Library Settings on the right hand side

Under General Settings click on Advanced Settings

Now you will see the first option which is to Allow the Management of Content Types

Select the Yes radio button and scroll down to click the OK button.

You will then end up back at the List or Library Settings page but now you will see the following section,

To add your own Content Types to the list you can click the Add from existing Site Content Types link which will take you to the correct screen, however, in this article we want to look at the Workflow and Information Management Policy settings of the Content Type so if you click on the document link you will be taken to the Content Type Settings as below.

Now you can see where you can add Workflows and Information Management Policy Settings to a specific Content Type.

We will not go into any more detail at this point and I would suggest taking a look at some of the options to you here.

Putting it all together

So if I have lost you along the way, the point in this article is to show you what Content Types are and how you can use them, in this scenario we are looking at storing more than one Type of Content in the same Document Library, using the power of Content Types we can specify on a document by document basis, the Workflows and Information Management Policy Settings and store them all in the same place, combine this with the power of Views (see Working with Views 8 part series by Chris Poteet) and you’re on to a real winner.


How to work with Content Types – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSTY0XM0__E

What are SharePoint Content Types – http://blog.furuknap.net/what-are-sharepoint-content-types

What are Content Types Anyway? – http://blogs.msdn.com/b/andrew_may/archive/2006/05/24/sharepointbeta2whatarecontenttypes.aspx

What are Content Types? – http://blogs.msdn.com/b/martinkearn/archive/2006/03/27/561809.aspx

Introduction to Content Types  – http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms472236.aspx

Series Navigation<< Office 365 A to Z Series – B is for Business Connectivity Services
Matthew Hughes
I am owner of Flucidity Ltd an Office 365 & SharePoint Consultancy based in the UK.
We develop intranets, provide training, custom branding and develop SharePoint solutions for companies of varying sizes from 2 users to 20,000.
I setup SharePoint 365 as I saw that there was a need for introductory blog posts and knew there were some fantastic authors out there who might not have time to run their own blogs and keep them updated regularly.
1 reply
  1. Ian
    Ian says:

    I have always liked the idea of multiple content types within the one document library, but have always been put off by the fact that if we had 3 content types, and each had 3 metadata fields, then when the user creates a view there will be 6 blank fields per line for the other content type information not applicable to that content type.

    How do you get around this? Do you just create views based on each content type?

    Many thanks


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