How to Flowchart, Basic Symbols (Part 1 of 3)

By Liza Mock on Feb 10, 2015 in Tips and Tricks

What Is a Flowchart?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines flowchart as “a diagram that shows step-by-step progression through a procedure or system especially using connecting lines and a set of conventional symbols.”

What does this mean and why should I care, you ask? Good question. What it means is that a flowchart can be used to break big ideas into small, bite-sized pieces that are expressed visually. You should care because knowing how to flowchart is like having access to a Universal language which makes it possible to communicate all sorts of things with all sorts of people, and that’s pretty cool.

Basic Flowchart Symbols
First things first, in order to create a good flowchart you must first familiarize yourself with the most commonly used flowchart symbols.

1. The Oval

An End or a Beginning

The Oval
Oval

The oval is used to represent the start and end of a process. Use the Gliffy flowchart tool to drag and drop one of these bad boys and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a flowchart. Use the same symbol again to show that your flowchart is complete.

2. The Rectangle

A Step in the Flowcharting Process

Rectangle
Rectangle

The rectangle is your go-to symbol. It represents any step in the process you’re depicting and is the workhorse of the flowchart diagram. Give it a lump of sugar and it will love you forever.

3. The Arrow

Directional Flow

Arrow Symbol
Arrow

The arrow is used to guide the viewer along their flowcharting path. And while there are many different types of arrow tips to choose from, we recommend sticking with one for your entire flowchart. It’s less confusing and generally more aesthetically pleasing.

4. The Diamond

Call for a Decision

Call For A Decision
Diamond

The diamond symbolizes that a decision needs to be made.  If there are only two choices, you can draw arrows directly from the diamond to the next step (example on the left). If there are more than two choices, you can draw them neatly by copying the example on the right.

Flowchart Example

The below flowchart, in addition to helping you figure out who ate your sandwich, uses all the shapes we just talked about. It also has a lovely color theme and an explanation key.

Example Flowchart

Brownie Points Alert!

Are you the type of person who likes to show other people up? Good, because that’s how you get ahead in life. Since Gliffy wants to see you get ahead, we’ve made it easy to make your flowcharts the best-looking around. In addition to making sure you have all the shapes you need to get started, we have pre-selected color themes you can access in one click. One last tip for getting ahead—to make your flowchart the Universal language it’s meant to be, create a key code so viewers can quickly understand what they’re looking at.

Why Use Gliffy?

Now that you understand the basics of how to flowchart, the world is your oyster. All you have to do is get started. And while there are numerous tools out there, we hope you give Gliffy’s free online flowchart software a try. It’s super easy to use, you’ll find all the shapes you need, you can share and collaborate with anyone who has Internet access, we even have flowchart templates and color themes if you don’t want to start from scratch.

We’ve said our piece, now go out there and make us proud!