Each variety of flowchart shape has its own specific meaning. While you can create a flowchart online using only the most common symbol types, knowing how to make a flowchart using them all can come in handy.
We’re here to help. Welcome to Gliffy's guide to understanding flowchart symbols.
Basic Flowchart Shapes
A rectangle with rounded cap ends — called a terminator — gets used to start and end each flowchart process path.
Gliffy’s Flowchart Shape Library also includes three fixed arrow shapes that can come in handy when you need to show stronger emphasis.
Check out the simple process flowchart example below to see these three basic symbols used correctly.
The decision symbol marks a branching point in your process, such as one that requires a choice. At least two arrows should emerge from a decision symbol. If your choice isn’t binary, add more than two arrows neatly like so:
Any time you have more than one arrow emerging from a symbol those arrows need to be labeled for clarity.
Advanced Flowchart Symbols
If you want to connect two flowcharts (or one flowchart that spans multiple pages), then the off page connector symbol comes in handy. You use this just as you would use a connector symbol, except readers know to look for the off page connector’s mate on another page.
How do they know? Because you've included a symbol key.
With Gliffy, you can use an off page connector and our Hyperlink Tool to live link two flowcharts.
The predefined process shape serves as a placeholder for multiple steps that you aren’t going to spell out in your flowchart. For example, if you’re illustrating the process of setting up a home computer you might label a predefined process as “connect to the internet,” knowing that describing all the ins and outs of that step is beyond the scope of your flowchart or your grandparents.
As you’d guess, this represents a waiting period, such as processing time or attempting to get something done at the DMV.
Input / Output Symbols
Either you work with computers and these symbols are just what you're looking for or you’ll likely never use them.
When you have a process step that is not automated, use a manual operation symbol. If you’re diagramming a data processing scenario, use a manual operation symbol connected to a loop limit symbol to indicate a looping operation.
And if you like that, you’ll also probably like the card symbol, which stands in for those punched cards computers used when they took up an entire room and didn’t even come with solitaire pre-installed.
Information Storage Symbols
Those working in the software development lifecycle may also need these specialized information storage symbols.
Now that you’re clear on what flowchart symbols mean, all you need is some solid advice on how to make sure your diagrams look professional.
Want to try it for yourself?