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SharePoint Lists: how to create a list on SharePoint

Lists are one of the main features of SharePoint, as they allow the platform to manage a significant amount of data in a smart, secure, and scalable way. In this article, we will delve into what SharePoint lists are, what benefits they offer for managing information within a company, and how to create a SharePoint list, step by step.

We will also see what the differences are with Microsoft Lists and why it is sometimes worth using a SharePoint list instead of a Microsoft Excel sheet.

What is a SharePoint list?

SharePoint lists are tabular content areas, similar to Excel spreadsheets, where users can define the structure of the data they enter in order to view and store it efficiently. This is because of the rich variety of features available for formatting and accessing information.

These are collections that play a key role within SharePoint Online, making it possible to intelligently manage content such as:

  • Contacts
  • Documents
  • Personal or team activities
  • Internal requests
  • Etc.

Whatever type of data they host, lists are used as a starting point in the digitization of business processes via SharePoint Online. A task that is also successfully accomplished through the deep integration of SharePoint lists with Microsoft Power Platform tools (Power Apps, Power Automate and Power BI, to name the main ones).

Indeed, when a user creates within a SharePoint list a new permission request, a custom Power Automate flow can be integrated to manage the approval process and properly archive the processed request, automatically updating the list information.

This is just one example, but one that should clarify the potential of SharePoint lists in managing information and increasing a company's daily productivity.

How to create a SharePoint list, from scratch

A step-by-step guide to creating a list on SharePoint Online and managing business data efficiently.

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SharePoint lists: What templates are available?

SharePoint Online provides a good variety of ready-to-use templates to speed up the creation of a list and start populating it with data right away, thanks to a formatting suited to the task at hand (managing a project, specific requests, events and more).

SharePoint templates then allow you to create a list that is already configured at the column, color palette and information structure level. Of course, each element of the list can be modified to tailor the template to your own purposes, but often these templates are perfect for accomplishing the tasks assigned to them.

Below, we present the most commonly used templates for creating a list on SharePoint Online.

  1. Asset manager. Allows you to keep track of the physical assets used by your team. Among the values that appear by default in the columns of the template are the asset identification number, status (available, reserved, in use, under repair, or retired), asset type, and current owner.

  2. Content scheduler. Allows you to schedule and manage your content strategy. Among the values that appear by default in the template columns are content description, author, status (in approval, ready for publication or published), expected publication date, content type and any attachments.

  3. Employee onboarding. Allows you to manage the onboarding process for new hires, guiding them through useful contacts and resources. Among the values that appear by default in the template columns are name of task to be completed, task description, date by which to complete the task, reference contact, and links/resources to be used to complete the task.

  4. Event itinerary. Allows you to organize all the important details of a business event. Values that appear in the template columns by default include event name, event type, start and end dates, duration, location, and organizers' notes.

  5. Issue tracker. Allows tracking, management, and resolution of all issues identified by a team. Values that appear by default in the columns of the template include issue name, priority (critical, high, normal, or low), status (blocked, in progress, completed, new, etc.), person or group to whom the issue is assigned, date of report, source of the issue, and associated files.

  6. Recruitment tracker. Allows you to manage the recruitment pipeline in your organization or team by tracking candidate feedback. Among the values that appear by default in the template columns are candidate name, position for which the application was submitted, status of the recruitment process, recruiters, date of application submission, date of interview, notes, and documents such as shared CVs.

  7. Travel requests. Allows you to manage travel requests, monitoring the budget available. Among the values that appear by default in the template columns are travel title, motivation, applicant, destination, start and end dates, means of transportation, accommodations, estimated fares, and approval status.

How to create a SharePoin list, with a practical example

From the home page of a SharePoint site, such as the intranet, we find the "New" command. By clicking on it and then on the "List" item, the process of creating our list begins.

But beware: only users with editing permission or full control have the ability to create new items within a SharePoint Online site, including lists.

 

Command "New" + "List" from the SharePoint intranet homepage

Command "New" + "List" from the SharePoint intranet homepage

 

SharePoint will then show the different options for creating a list. Three, specifically:

  1. Creating the new list from scratch, with the "Blank list" template.
  2. Using a preconfigured template, based on the task at hand.
  3. Creating a list from an existing SharePoint list, Excel spreadsheet, or .CSV file.

Regarding templates, it is worth noting that there is an advanced feature for creating custom corporate templates to share with colleagues under "From your organization."

This is not an intuitive process, however, as custom templates for SharePoint lists can only be loaded by an administrator through the following PowerShell cmdlets:

  • Get-SPOSiteScriptFromList, to extract the site script from any list.
  • Add-SPOSiteScript and Add-SPOListDesign, to add the custom template.
  • Grant-SPOSiteDesignRights (optional) to know the scope of who sees the template.

 

Options for creating a SharePoint list

Options for creating a SharePoint list

 

Once you have chosen the most suitable option for creating your list, SharePoint prompts you to name the new item (mandatory), write a description (optional), and indicate whether the list should be shown in site navigation or not (by enabling/disabling the appropriate flag). In case you want to show the list in navigation, a link is inserted in the site sidebar (if present).

 

First configuration pane of the new list

First configuration pane of the new list

 

Starting with an empty template, you open a new list equipped with the single field "Title," which you can edit to begin structuring your data. You then need to think about the purpose of your list. In case you wanted to create a customer registry, the "Title" column could be renamed "Customer name."

After that, you can add as many columns as you want in order to manage the information.

To add a new column, simply select the "Add column" command and choose the type of data you want to insert. Among the supported types, we find columns to accommodate data in format:

  • Textual
  • Numeric
  • Multimedia (images)
  • Personal contacts
  • Quick link
  • "Choice"
  • "Date and time"
  • "Yes/No"
  • "Currency"
  • "Location"
  • Etc.

Continuing with the customer master example, it may be convenient to add a text type column to accommodate the e-mail address of individual contacts. Once the column type is selected (in this case, "Text"), the configuration pane opens where you can:

  • Indicate column title and description.
  • Define the maximum number of characters for each value entered in the column.
  • Make it mandatory to fill in the field for each new contact.
  • Establish the presence of unique values, to avoid duplicates between values in the same column.

When the configuration is finished, just click "Save" and the column will immediately appear in the list.

 

Column configuration box to enter customer emails

Column configuration box to enter customer emails

 

A second column that should not be missing from a master list is the status column, to highlight whether the contact is active or not.

A new column of type "Yes/No" should therefore be inserted.

For this type, it is important to choose well the default value, that is, the value that will be automatically assigned to each new item in the list. For example, by choosing "Yes" as the default vaore, the registry will automatically indicate that each new contact is to be considered an active customer.

 

Column configuration box to indicate customer status

Column configuration box to indicate customer status

 

An additional, important column for our example concerns the date of last contact with customers. In this case, the "Date and time" type comes in handy. One suggestion is to turn on the "Friendly format," so that the date is shown in an accessible, easy-to-read format.

 

Column configuration panel to record the date of last contact

Column configuration panel to record the date of last contact

 

After finishing the data structure, it is time to populate the list with the "Add new item" command. A box then opens for filling in information about the new list item, showing the custom fields entered by the user in a single screen.

In our example, the pane asks for information related to customer name, e-mail, status, and date of last contact. An area to enter any attachments is also available by default.

 

Entry box for a new item

Entry box for a new item

 

Unlike document libraries, where files are entered as values in one or more columns, SharePoint Online lists allow content to be attached only as detail items for column values.

In fact, one must click on a list item to view all the information about it, including any attachments. The detail window also allows you to edit the information of individual items and leave comments (the latter action is possible only if enabled).

 

Detailed view window for an item in the list

Detailed view window for an item in the list

 

Finally, a very useful feature is "Edit in grid view."

This command makes using SharePoint lists really similar to using an Excel spreadsheet, allowing you to interact with individual cells in a column to change values. Thus without having to open an item's detail window to update its information.

To simplify, we present below a table summarizing the steps described so far to create a list on SharePoint Online.

 

Steps to create a list on SharePoint Online

Steps to create a SharePoint list Step description
Use "New" command From the home page of a SharePoint site, such as the intranet, click on the "New" command at the top left and then select the "List" item.
Select a template Choose whether to create the new list from a preconfigured Microsoft template, a custom template from your company, or a blank template. You can also use a list already in SharePoint, an Excel spreadsheet, or a .CSV file to create the new list.
Configure the new list Assign a name to the list, write a description (optional), and choose whether to include a quick link to the list in the SharePoint site navigation.
Edit "Title" column The "Title" column is the only column present if you choose to create a list from scratch. Modify this column according to the purpose of the list. For example, assigning the name "Customer name" in case the list would be used to manage customer master records.
Add and format new columns Insert as many columns as you deem necessary to structure the data in the new list. SharePoint provides different types of columns to accommodate data in text, numeric, etc. format. Configure the columns you add to simplify the display and management of information. For example, pay attention to the default value in the "Yes/No" type column or enable the "Friendly format" of the "Date and time" type column.
Insert new data into the list Use the "Add new item" command to add a new item to the list. Enter the required information in the custom fields for each new item.
Access the details of an item Click on an item in the list to be able to view and edit the detail information, including any attachments. To avoid opening this window to edit an item's information, you can use the "Edit in grid view" command.

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SharePoint lists vs. Microsoft Lists:
is there a difference?

With the SharePoint Modern Experience, introduced by Microsoft a few years ago, users gained free use of Microsoft Lists: one of Microsoft 365's newest applications designed to simplify enterprise information management.

Microsoft Lists is described by its parent company as a "smart app" for tracking data in Microsoft 365, with advanced features for collaboration "with anyone, anywhere."

However, the functionality of Microsoft Lists has recently been synchronized with that of SharePoint Online lists, with the result that the two systems now offer a virtually identical information management experience. Although we can still find some substantial differences.

First, Microsoft Lists integrates with Microsoft Teams.

This integration allows you to view and edit the contents of lists created in Microsoft Lists directly within a Teams channel. To do this, simply add the "Lists" tab to the top command bar of a channel, which will allow users with the appropriate permissions to create a new list or view an existing list.

The second difference concerns where lists are stored.

Lists created with SharePoint can only be found within a SharePoint Online site, which is also the only way to access and consult them; Microsoft Lists, on the other hand, are found within personal SharePoint sites or dedicated storage spaces, such as OneDrive, and can be consulted, edited, and managed more autonomously in the Microsoft 365 environment.

Microsoft Lists thus does not replace SharePoint Lists, but extends their potential: data is stored in SharePoint Online, but made accessible from multiple entry points in Microsoft 365.

Third and final important difference: Microsoft Lists also exists as a standalone application.

So it is not just an extension or inherent feature like SharePoint Lists, but a stand-alone platform available as a web app and mobile app.

Are SharePoint lists better than Excel sheets?

SharePoint Online lists feature a mechanism very similar to Excel sheets for formatting data. Obviously, lists do not support the use of formulas to combine the values they house, but they are no match for Excel sheets when it comes to information management. In fact, we might say that they offer a few more advantages. Here are a couple of them.

  1. Single source of information.
    Unlike Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which can cause version control problems when multiple users are involved, SharePoint lists are online and provide a centralized platform where only one version of the data exists.

  2. Greater control.
    With SharePoint Online lists, specific permissions can be assigned to individual items. For its part, Excel does not offer such granular control over the information contained in a spreadsheet. Users can only decide whether or not to allow access to the entire Excel file.

  3. Data integrity.
    The combination of permissions, forms and information validation helps maintain data integrity within SharePoint lists. The system also offers audit trails and version history, which further improve data accuracy compared to Excel.

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Giuseppe Marchi

 

Microsoft MVP for SharePoint and Microsoft 365 since 2010.

Giuseppe is the founder of intranet.ai and one of the leading experts in Italy in all matters related to Microsoft 365. For years, he has been assisting companies in creating their digital workplace environment on the Microsoft cloud, focusing on people's experience.

FAQ on SharePoint lists


What are SharePoint lists?

SharePoint lists are content areas in tabular format, similar to Excel sheets, where users can define the structure of the entered data to view and store it efficiently. They enable intelligent management of content such as contacts, documents, tasks, and internal requests. Integrated with the Microsoft Power Platform, SharePoint lists enhance business productivity through automated workflows and information updates.

What list templates are available on SharePoint?

SharePoint Online offers various ready-to-use templates such as Asset manager, Content scheduler, Employee onboarding, Event itinerary, Issue tracker, Recruitment tracker, and Travel requests. Each template is configured with specific columns and formatting to expedite the creation and management of lists.

How to create a list on SharePoint Online?

To create a list on SharePoint Online, go to the home page of a SharePoint site and select 'New' > 'List'. You can create a list from scratch, use a pre-configured template, or start from an existing list, an Excel sheet, or a .CSV file. After choosing the desired option, assign a name to the list, an optional description, and decide whether to show it in the site navigation.

Is there a difference between SharePoint lists and Microsoft Lists?

Yes, Microsoft Lists integrates with Microsoft Teams and can be viewed and edited within Teams channels. SharePoint lists are stored only on SharePoint Online sites, while Microsoft Lists can also be stored in spaces like OneDrive. Microsoft Lists is available as a standalone application, whereas SharePoint lists are part of SharePoint Online.

What advantages do SharePoint lists offer compared to Excel sheets?

SharePoint lists offer several advantages in information storage over Excel sheets. They provide a single centralized source of information, eliminating version control issues. They offer greater control with specific permissions for individual items, whereas Excel allows access only to the entire file. SharePoint lists ensure greater data integrity with audit trails and version history.

Who can create a list on SharePoint Online?

Only users with edit permission or full control have the ability to create new items within a SharePoint Online site, including lists.

Can I customize the list templates in SharePoint?

Yes, the list templates in SharePoint are fully customizable. You can modify columns, color palettes, and information structure to tailor the template to your purposes. Additionally, you can create custom enterprise templates to share with colleagues via PowerShell cmdlets.

What types of data can I enter into a SharePoint list?

SharePoint lists support various types of data, including textual data, numerical data, multimedia (images), personal contacts, quick links, multiple choices, dates and times, Boolean values (yes/no), currencies, and locations.

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