Content Types and Metadata

SharePoint Community Wiki

Community Topic(s): SharePoint

Keywords: metadata, classification, content type, context

A content type is one of the primary building blocks for designing an enterprise content and records management system in SharePoint. Gaining an understanding of what is a content type, how is it created and configured, and what is its relationship to metadata, will enable an organization to begin the critical first steps in planning a system.

A content type is a collection of settings and metadata that describe how an item created with that type is identified, and how it will behave within your system. A content type could apply to a document, a folder, or a variety other objects.

Every document or item in SharePoint will be created from, or assigned to, a content type. When creating a new document from SharePoint, selecting a particular content type can provide a template for the user to complete.

SharePoint Content Types
A content type can represent several groupings of items, such as documents, lists, calendar entries or many other things. The content type definition includes:

  • Properties, such as a name and description
  • Metadata
  • Workflows
  • Information management policies
  • Document templates
  • Document conversion definitions

Columns and Metadata
The most important element to configure in a content type is the metadata that should be used. The term metadata means data about data. Metadata exists as columns in a SharePoint site and is associated with the content types in that site. The metadata column “status”, for example, may be used multiple times, applied to multiple content types and directory to libraries and lists.

We use metadata to describe the context about documents. Context means the author, subject, when it was created, and so forth. Metadata is a critical component of defining content types. All documents made from a specific content type will have consistent metadata columns applied.

Content Type and Metadata Uses
Metadata values are used to identify and find content. Other capabilities and functions within SharePoint are also dependent on metadata.
  • Classification - content types and metadata make up taxonomy in SharePoint.
  • Search - technologies use full content and metadata to find, display results pages, and refine searches.
  • The Content Organizer - by running rules based on content type and metadata values, content can be automatically moved to other locations.
  • Navigation - managed terms can be used to help user move from site to site and between categories of information.
  • Integration - bringing information for enterprise applications together with SharePoint content can be based on matching metadata.
  • Managing, Organizing, and Linking – with customization of the SharePoint environment, metadata may be used to track document relationships, link documents, or determine access control.

Content Type Tools
Inconsistent metadata definitions and values across the enterprise make searching, organizing, records retention and compliance difficult. There are a variety of tools in SharePoint that help keep content type and metadata definitions and values consistently applied across the enterprise.
  • The Content Type Hub allows content types from one site to be published and connected to by other sites. Consistent metadata associations can then be used across the enterprise using this capability.
  • Documents can be populated with default metadata values from the library or folder in which they are placed, automatically populated by the system, or given default values.
  • Users can provide metadata values using the Microsoft Office Document Information Panel, InfoPath forms, fields in a document, or third-party applications such as image scanning tools.
  • The managed metadata service allows metadata values to be constrained to centrally defined values.


The wiki text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution License agreement.