Configuring Approval in SharePoint – Part 2

Part 2: Using the Approval Workflow

In part 1 I described how I configure the standard content approval process in SharePoint, without using a workflow. Often this standard content approval process is adequate, so do not automatically assume that you will need a workflow – check first to see if the simpler content approval process is adequate.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why you might want to use an approval workflow

  1. You need a detailed record of the approval process, who did what and when
  2. You need more than one person to be involved in the approval process

There are several subtleties with the approval workflow that should be explained at the start.

  1. The approval workflow effectively adds another field to items it is used on. This field shows the status of the workflow.
  2. You can optionally use the approval workflow to control the publishing of a major version of an item. However you can only do this if you set up your approval workflow on a list or a document library. YOU CANNOT USE A WORKFLOW ATTACHED TO A CONTENT TYPE TO CONTROL PUBLISHING OF MAJOR VERSIONS.
  3. If you use an approval workflow to control approval status, your approvers DO NOT have to have permission to approve items – ie they do not have to be in the “Approvers” group.
  4. By default, MOSS attaches an approval workflow to the “Document” content type when you create a site collection. This can confuse people as they look at the workflow settings for a document library and don’t see any workflows, yet they are still able to start an approval workflow on a document in the library.

Below I explain my generally preferred way of configuring the approval workflow on documents. Whether or not this is right for you will of course depend on your situation, but you may find it a good starting point, and it is a good way to set the approval workflow up for demos. The process for list items is broadly similar. I attach the workflow to a document library rather than a content type for two reasons. Firstly this allows me to use workflow to control the publishing of major items, and secondly it allows me to configure different approvers for different libraries.

First of all, remove the approval workflow from the “Document” content type. If you don’t do this users will end up with two possible approval workflows to start, which is confusing.

  1. Go to the top level of your site collection, then Site Actions/Site Settings.
  2. Click on “Site content types” in the “Galleries” section.
  3. Click on “Document” in the “Document Content Types” section.
  4. Click on “Workflow settings”.
  5. Click on “Remove a workflow”.
  6. Select “Remove” for the approval workflow.
  7. Click “OK”, and “OK” on the warning.
  8. You may also wish to remove the other two workflows, “Collect Feedback” and “Collect Signatures”.

Now we’ll set up the document library. Browse to the library for which you wish to enable the approval workflow.

  1. Go to Settings/Document Library Settings.
  2. Click on “Versioning settings”.
  3. Select “Require content approval for submitted items”, “Create major and minor (draft) versions”, and “Require documents to be checked out before they can be edited”. The remaining options can be set according to your requirements.

Now we are ready to configure the workflow. Start on the Document Library Settings page.

  1. Click on “Workflow settings”.
  2. Select the approval workflow, give it the name “Document Approval”, allow it to be manually started by an authenticated user, and start this workflow to approve publishing a major version of an item.
  3. Click “Next”.
  4. Let’s say we just want one approver. If you want more then the options on this page are fairly self explanatory. I normally clear “Allow workflow participants to reassign the task to another person”. I also clear “Allow changes to the participant list when the workflow is started, since I don’t typically want my editors selecting their own approvers. I check “Cancel this workflow when the document is changed” since unless you do this it is possible that a document could be edited between an approver looking at it and approving it, so the approver could approve something they hadn’t seen.
  5. Click “OK”.

Now test the approval workflow. Go to the document library.

  1. On the dropdown menu for an item, choose “Publish a Major Version”.
  2. Enter optional comments, click “OK”.
  3. The workflow start page is shown. Note that the approvers cannot be changed. Click “Start”.

The workflow should start, an approval task should be created and an email should be sent to the approver.

It is helpful to add “Version” and “Approval Status” fields to the view of the document library, so that you can see what is going on.


The approver can then either approve or reject the approval task. Once this has been done, verify that the fields are as expected.


Note that you can click on the “Approved” status of the “Document Approval” column to see the history of the workflow.

Similarly clicking on “Workflows” in the dropdown menu for an item will allow you to see the history of all workflows for that item.