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? Good question. Creating 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 Flowchart Symbol

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 Flowchart Symbol

The rectangle is your go-to symbol. It represents any step in the process flow you’re diagramming 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 for Directional Flow

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


Diamond symbols in process flowcharts to indicate decisions.

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.


Creating a Flowchart: Examples and Templates

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 showing decision-making processes.



Brownie Points Alert!

Gliffy wants to see you get ahead, so 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 start creating a flowchart, we 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. There you have it — now get moving on your next beautiful flowchart creation.

How to make a flowchart with 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 maker a try. It’s easy to use. You’ll find all the shapes you need. And 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!

Try in Confluence  Try online

Why stop here? Keep exploring the art of flowchart creation! Read part two on intermediate flowcharting.