SharePoint Tip: Always include "Unknown" in the Choice fields in your lists…

Since it came out in 2001, some of the default values SharePoint uses tend to be less-than-practical for daily use. One such case is the set of default values generated when creating a new list field, and selecting it to be of datatype “Choice” as shown below:


Screenshot - Default Values for SharePoint Choice Field

Here’s a tip that will prove its value the more you use it:
1. Always start your choice lists with the value “Unknown”;
2. Always try to list the rest of your choices according to some sort of scale
     “A B C”,  “1 2 3”,  “Best Good Worst”, “Most Common, Common, Least Common” and the like; and�
3. Always end your choice lists with the value “Other”;

Why this approach? Simple – because to do otherwise is simply NOT natural, and will almost certainly result in BAD data populating your lists. This is always far WORSE than INCOMPLETE data, because you CAN’T FIX IT.

For example, say I have a Priority field and (God forbid) I’ve not only given ONLY the Choices “A B C” , but I’ve also stupidly chosen to make it a REQUIRED field.  Then say some poor sould creates a new list item, and realizes they DON’T know what priority the item should be. YOU’VE only given them 3 choices. If they pick “A”, they might start an unnecessary fire drill. If they pick “C”, a truly important task might only be worked on “as time permits”. I can pretty much guarantee that they will select “medium” (B) every time, and you’ll end up with a list filled with far more “B” items than it should have. ADDITIONALLY, you’ll see a surprising amount of users actually WASTE LOTS OF TIME simply mully over what to choose, what to choose, what to choose. In fact, MANY people will actuall CANCEL the new item altogether when confronted with such a lack of choice, fearing (rightly so) polluting the table with WRONG information…


HOWEVER…. IF you LET them simply be natural & honest and GIVE them a value “Unknown” to choose, then you’ve EMPOWERED them to quickly create a new item with ACCURATE information, and be about their business. Then you can simply create a Default View which sorts so that all “Unknown” items are at the top, thus letting the MANAGERS quickly see the new/outstanding items which require additional processing (ranking, clarifying, etc).

I know, this SEEMS too simple – even OBVIOUS, but after working with SharePoint for 8 years now, I swear to you this is NOT an obvious tip at all…

So here are some other screenshots of what your choice lists SHOULD look like:Screenshot - Preferred Choice List Values


 Screenshot - Unknown Value in Use


Screenshot - Unknown Value Shows Readily in List

Once you get started populating your Choice Fields this way, you too will wonder why SharePoint never did this out-of-the-box.


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