Part 2 – Using consistent metadata in SharePoint

By - March 17, 2016

In part one of this series, we discussed the importance of consistent metadata, specifically column types, in SharePoint, that can benefit your organization. The column types highlighted were choice, lookup and managed metadata.

In this blog, we will take a deep dive into the merits and demerits of the column types highlighted above. There are many differences between these column types even though they are all designed to present a choice list to the user and to be selected as the metadata for the list/document. The decision to choose the right column type depends on your application environment, solution requirements, and the availability of the IT team to support the SharePoint configurations.

The matrix below can help your organization make a quick educated decision in the design phase, while you are creating the information architecture of your SharePoint site, lists and document libraries.

  Ease of defining Can choice list be managed by end user? Hierarchical relationship Metadata navigation Can be used in calculated column? Can external data sources be used for choice list? Synonyms capability Management of the individual choices
Choice X X
Lookup X X
Managed metadata X X X X X

Ease of defining – When you create the choice type column, you have the ability to create the choice list at the same time. There are prerequisites required to be setup for lookup and managed metadata columns before you can create these column types.

Can choice list be managed by end user?  – The choice list for lookup column is in a separate custom list which can be maintained by the end user with appropriate permissions to this list. The choice list for the managed metadata column is defined in a term set which can be maintained by the end user with appropriate permissions to term store management. However, the choice list for the choice column is embedded in the definition of the column itself and it is not advisable for the end users to change without analyzing the impact analysis of these changes.

Hierarchical relationship – Choice and the lookup column present a linear set of choices. Managed metadata has a flexibility of creating hierarchy within the terms which gives a deeper context to the metadata being saved in this column. For example, continent has countries, country has states, and tsate has cities as illustrated in part one of this series.

Metadata navigation – After enabling the site feature, “metadata navigation and filtering,” there is another setting, “metadata navigation settings,” available under document library settings. This navigation allows filtering on any managed metadata columns defined in the document library. This is the only filtering option which allows the filtering in a list with more than 5, 000 items. This is important to remember in regards to a SharePoint Online (Office 365) environment where the list view threshold limit of 5,000 is a hard boundary and cannot be increased. Only metadata navigation allows filtering in SharePoint online with the lists more than 5.000 items.


Can be used in calculated column? – There are many situations when you need to calculate a value based on the existing columns in the list. Calculated columns can only use choice column in the formula.

Can external data sources be used for choice list? – Sometimes the choice list already exists in a custom list which exists internal or external to SharePoint. In both scenarios, the lookup column can be configured with this custom list for the choice list and there is no requirement to manage in the future as it is maintained by owners of the existing custom list.

Synonyms capability – You can define the synonyms of each term in the managed metadata column. For example, you can define the airport code of the city as the column and the SharePoint will search the content with either the airport code of the city or the city name with exactly the same results.

Management of the individual choices – There are situations when a particular choice is not a valid option that can be entered as the metadata. The managed metadata column allows the management of each term in the term sets and you can enable/disable each term for tagging in the future. Lookup columns have a restriction to delete the choice if it is in use but choice columns require the special permissions with full access to the list to be able to delete the choice for future use.

To find out more about this or other ways that RSM can assist you with your SharePoint needs, contact RSM’s technology consulting professionals at 800.274.3978 or email us.

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