A simple flowchart representing a process for dealing with a non-functioning lamp.

A flowchart is a type of diagram that represents an algorithm or process, showing the steps as boxes of various kinds, and their order by connecting them with arrows. This diagrammatic representation illustrates a solution to a given problem. Process operations are represented in these boxes, and arrows; rather, they are implied by the sequencing of operations. Flowcharts are used in analyzing, designing, documenting or managing a process or program in various fields.


Flowcharts are used in designing and documenting complex processes or programs. Like other types of diagrams, they help visualize what is going on and thereby help the viewer to understand a process, and perhaps also find flaws, bottlenecks, and other less-obvious features within it. There are many different types of flowcharts, and each type has its own repertoire of boxes and notational conventions. The two most common types of boxes in a flowchart are:

A flowchart is described as "cross-functional" when the page is divided into different swim lanes describing the control of different organizational units. A symbol appearing in a particular "lane" is within the control of that organizational unit. This technique allows the author to locate the responsibility for performing an action or making a decision correctly, showing the responsibility of each organizational unit for different parts of a single process.

Flowcharts depict certain aspects of processes and they are usually complemented by other types of diagram. For instance, Kaoru Ishikawa defined the flowchart as one of the seven basic tools of quality control, next to the histogram, Pareto chart, check sheet, control chart, cause-and-effect diagram, and the scatter diagram. Similarly, in UML, a standard concept-modeling notation used in software development, the activity diagram, which is a type of flowchart, is just one of many different diagram types.




The first structured method for documenting process flow, the "flow process chart", was introduced by Frank Gilbreth to members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1921 in the presentation “Process Charts—First Steps in Finding the One Best Way”. Gilbreth's tools quickly found their way into industrial engineering curricula. In the early 1930s, an industrial engineer, Allan H. Mogensen began training business people in the use of some of the tools of industrial engineering at his Work Simplification Conferences in Lake Placid, New York.

A 1944 graduate of Mogensen's class, Art Spinanger, took the tools back to Procter and Gamble where he developed their Deliberate Methods Change Program. Another 1944 graduate, Ben S. Graham, Director of Formcraft Engineering at Standard Register Industrial, adapted the flow process chart to information processing with his development of the multi-flow process chart to display multiple documents and their relationships. In 1947, ASME adopted a symbol set derived from Gilbreth's original work as the ASME Standard for Process Charts.

Douglas Hartree explains that Herman Goldstine and to plan computer programs. His contemporary account is endorsed by IBM engineers and by Goldstine's personal recollections. The original programming flowcharts of Goldstine and von Neumann can be seen in their unpublished report, "Planning and coding of problems for an electronic computing instrument, Part II, Volume 1" (1947), which is reproduced in von Neumann's collected works.

Flowcharts used to be a popular means for describing computer algorithms and are still used for this purpose. Modern techniques such as UML activity diagrams can be considered to be extensions of the flowchart. In the 1970s the popularity of flowcharts as an own method decreased when interactive computer terminals and third-generation programming languages became the common tools of the trade, since algorithms can be expressed much more concisely as source code in such a language, and also because designing algorithms using flowcharts was more likely to result in spaghetti code because of the need for gotos to describe arbitrary jumps in control flow. Often pseudo-code is used, which uses the common idioms of such languages without strictly adhering to the details of a particular one.

Flowchart building blocks




It is important to remember to keep these connections logical in order. All processes should flow from top to bottom and left to right.

Activity diagram





Common Flowchart Symbols by Nicholas Hebb

Different flow chart symbols have different meanings. The most common flow chart symbols are:

·         Terminator: Elongated circles, which signify the start or end of a process.

·         Process: A rectangular flow chart shape indicating a normal process flow step (instructions or actions).

·         Decision: A diamond flow chart shape indication a branch in the process flow.decisions that must be made

·         Connector: A small, labeled, circular flow chart shape used to indicate a jump in the process flow. (Shown as the circle with the letter “A”, below.)

·         Data: A parallelogram that indicates data input or output (I/O) for a process.

·         Document: Used to indicate a document or report (see image in sample flow chart below).


Flowchart Symbols and Their Meanings

By Nicholas Hebb

The following is a basic overview, with descriptions and meanings, of the most common flowchart symbols - also commonly called flowchart shapes, flow diagram symbols or process mapping symbols, depending upon what type of diagram you're creating. The table below lists the flowchart symbol drawing, the name of the flowchart symbol in Microsoft Office (with aliases in parentheses), and a short description of where and how the flowchart symbol is used.

Process / Operation Symbols




process symbol


Show a Process or action step. This is the most common symbol in both process flowcharts and process maps.

predefined process symbol

Predefined Process

A Predefined Process symbol is a marker for another process step or series of process flow steps that are formally defined elsewhere. This shape commonly depicts sub-processes (or subroutines in programming flowcharts). If the sub-process is considered "known" but not actually defined in a process procedure, work instruction, or some other process flowchart or documentation, then it is best not to use this symbol since it implies a formally defined process.

alternate process symbol

Alternate Process

As the shape name suggests, this flowchart symbol is used when the process flow step is an alternate to the normal process step. Flow lines into an alternate process flow step are typically dashed.

delay symbol


The Delay flowchart symbol depicts any waiting period that is part of a process. Delay shapes are common in process mapping.

prep symbol


As the names states, any process step that is a Preparation process flow step, such as a set-up operation.

manual operation symbol

Manual Operation

Manual Operations flowchart shapes show which process steps are not automated. In data processing flowcharts, this data flow shape indicates a looping operation along with a loop limit symbol (which is not supported by Microsoft Office, but a Manual Operation symbol rotated 180° will do the trick.)

Branching and Control of Flow Symbols




connector arrow

Flow Line
(Arrow, Connector)

Flow line connectors show the direction that the process flows.

terminator symbol

(Terminal Point, Oval)

Terminators show the start and stop points in a process. When used as a Start symbol, terminators depict a trigger action that sets the process flow into motion.

decision symbol


Indicates a question or branch in the process flow. Typically, a Decision  flowchart shape is used when there are 2 options (Yes/No, No/No-Go, etc.)

connector node

Connector (Inspection)

Flowchart: In flowcharts, this symbol is typically small and is used as a Connector to show a jump from one point in the process flow to another. Connectors are usually labeled with capital letters (A, B, AA) to show matching jump points. They are handy for avoiding flow lines that cross other shapes and flow lines. They are also handy for jumping to and from a sub-processes defined in a separate area than the main flowchart.
Process Mapping: In process maps, this symbol is full sized and shows an Inspection point in the process flow.

[Just to confuse things further, some people will use a circle to indicate an operation and a square to indicate an inspection. That's why it's important to include a symbol key in the flowchart.]

off-page connector node

Off-Page Connector

Off-Page Connector shows continuation of a process flowchart onto another page. When using them in conjunction with Connectors, it's best to differentiate the labels, e.g. use numbers for Off-Page Connectors and capital letters for Connectors. In actual practice, most flowcharts just use the Connect shape for both on-page and off-page references.

storage symbol


Flowchart: Shows the merging of multiple processes or information into one.
Process Mapping: commonly indicates storage of raw materials.

storage or extract symbol

Extract (Measurement)

Flowchart: Shows when a process splits into parallel paths. Also commonly indicates a Measurement, with a capital 'M' inside the symbol.
Process Mapping: commonly indicates storage of finished goods.

logical or symbol


The logical Or symbol shows when a process diverges - usually for more than 2 branches. When using this symbol, it is important to label the out-going flow lines to indicate the criteria to follow each branch.

summing junction symbol

Summing Junction

The logical Summing Junction flowchart shape is shows when multiple branches converge into a single process. The merge symbol is more common for this use, though. This symbol and the Or symbol are really more relevant in data processing flow diagrams than in process flowcharts.

Input and Output Symbols




data or input/output symbol


The Data flowchart shape indicates inputs to and outputs from a process. As such, the shape is more often referred to as an I/O shape than a Data shape.

document symbol


Pretty self explanatory - the Document flowchart symbol is for a process step that produces a document.

multi-document symbol


Same as Document, except, well, multiple documents. This shape is not as commonly used as the Document flowchart shape, even when multiple documents are implied.

display symbol


Indicates a process step where information is displayed to a person (e.g., PC user, machine operator).

manual input symbol

Manual Input

Manual Input flowchart shapes show process steps where the operator/ user is prompted for information that must be manually input into a system.

card symbol


This is the companion to the punched tape flowchart shapes. This shape is seldom used.

punched tape symbol

Punched Tape

If you're very good at stretching all the life out of a machine, you may still have use for the Punched Tape symbol - used for input into old computers and CNC machines.

File and Information Storage Symbols




stored data symbol

Stored Data

A general Data Storage flowchart shape used for any process step that stores data (as opposed to the more specific shapes to follow next in this table).

database symbol

Magnetic Disk (Database)

The most universally recognizable symbol for a data storage location, this flowchart shape depicts a database.

direct access storage symbol

Direct Access Storage

Direct Access Storage is a fancy way of saying Hard Drive.

internal storage symbol

Internal Storage

Used in programming flowcharts to mean information stored in memory, as opposed to on a file.

sequential access storage

Sequential Access Storage
(Magnetic Tape)

Although it looks like a 'Q', the symbol is supposed to look like a reel of tape.

Data Processing Symbols






The Collate flowchart shape indicates a process step that requires organizing data, information, or materials according into a standard format or arrangement.

sort symbol


Indicates the sorting of data, information, materials into some pre-defined order.

 How to Create a Flowchart in Microsoft Word 2007, 2010, and 2013

By Nicholas Hebb

This article shows the process of creating a flowchart in Microsoft Word. Of the standard Microsoft Office applications - Excel Word, PowerPoint - Excel is the most powerful and user friendly for creating flowcharts, but in some cases creating flowcharts in Word is handy. This isn't a step-by-step tutorial, but it does try to give a useful overview of the Drawing tools in Word, as well as offer some tips and highlight a few quirks.

Note on Ribbon (Toolbar) Controls

You may want to maximize Word to full screen when using this tutorial. The ribbon takes a lot of screen space, and some of the controls referenced in this article may be hidden if the window is not maximized.

Displaying a Grid

You might be wondering why we're starting off talking about a grid. Grids let you layout shapes to uniform widths and heights, as well as making it easier to align shapes if you need to edit a flowchart and move things around. Not only is the grid a visual indicator, but it also has a snap function that assists with alignment and sizing.

A quick way to enable a grid is to click the View tab and click the Gridlines checkbox. With enabled gridlines, the grid will appear only within the canvas (which we'll get to next) when it is selected, but when any other part of the Word document outside the canvas is selected, the grid will be displayed over the entire document.

  1. On the Page Layout tab, in the Arrange group, click Align, and then click Grid Settings.

Arrange group on Page Layout tab

  1. Do one or more of the following:

 Tip   If you want these settings to be the default settings for all of your documents, click Default.


For more precise control of the gridlines, you can customize settings in the Drawing Grid screen, shown in the image. Generally the default settings are sufficient, but checking the “Snap objects to grid when gridlines are not displayed” box is useful if you want the snap behavior without having gridlines cover the entire document.

Drawing grid

To access the Drawing Grid screen, follow these steps:

·         Click on the drawing canvas.

·         Click on the Drawing Tools Format tab that appears.

·         Click the Align dropdown menu and select Grid Settings.

Insert canvas element

Adding a Flowchart Shape

Adding shapes is pretty straightforward:

·         Click the Insert tab on the ribbon.

·         Click the Shapes dropdown.

·         Click on the shape type you want to add.

·         Click in the canvas area, holding the left button down while dragging the mouse to add the shape.

You can also double-click on any shape in the gallery, and Word will add it to the top left of the canvas. Typically you will need to move and resize the shape if you use this method.

Adding Text to a Flowchart Shape

In Word 2007, if you click on a shape and start typing, you will soon find out that text is added somewhere in the main document body instead of within the shape. In order to add text, you need to right-click on the shape and select “Add Text” from the context menu. Once a shape contains text, you can click the text and edit it normally.

In Word 2010, by contrast, you can simply click on the shape and start typing.

Drawing grid

Adding Connector Arrows

Connectors are different from plain arrows in that they stay connected to shapes if they are moved. Assuming you want to route a connector line between two shapes, we will call these Shape 1 and Shape 2 below.

·         Click the Insert tab.

·         Click the Shapes dropdown

·         Click the desired line type from the gallery.

·         Move your mouse near Shape 1 and little dots denoting connection points will appear on its border.

·         Click on one of the dots and, while holding the left mouse button down, move the mouse over to Shape 2.

·         As you move the mouse over Shape 2, Word will highlight connection points and display a dashed line showing the routing.

·         Select one of the connection points and release the left mouse button.

Quirk: In Word 2007 and previous versions, the elbow connector would render as a straight line between two aligned shapes of the same size. In Word 2010, the same elbow connectors render slightly jagged and unaesthetic.

Tip: Right-click on a connector to change the connector type via the context menu. The three types are straight, elbow, and curved, as shown in the sample flowchart.

Adding Labels

To add branch labels next to connector lines, use the textbox symbol textboxon the Insert > Shapes gallery. After inserting the textbox (label), type in the text. Click the Home tab in Word and format the text as needed. The easiest way to adjust the size is to click and drag the adjustment handles on the texbox edges. With the textbox still selected, click the Format tab, and then select the Shape outline drop down and toggle on the No Outline option for a cleaner look.

Adding labels is a multi-step process, so when adding more labels it's usually easiest to copy and paste the first label and edit the text accordingly.

Selecting Multiple Shapes

There are several ways to select multiple objects. One method is to click on one shape, hold the Shift key down, and click on the remaining shapes. Another method is to click and drag your mouse around all the shapes you want to select. This is faster, but sometimes less useful if, for example, you want to select the flowchart shapes without selecting the connector arrows.

Two non-recommended methods that you may be familiar with are Select All and Select Objects. These tools are commonly used in Excel and other Office programs, but they are not as useful in Word. In Excel, for example, Select All will select only the shapes on a worksheet, but in Word, it will select the entire document. The Select Objects tool is a special cursor that allows you to click on the shapes instead of the text, and does not add any value above selecting them with the regular mouse cursor. Plus, you need to toggle it off in order to resume normal Word operations.

Align dropdown menu

Aligning Shapes

With the grid enabled, the easiest way to keep shapes aligned is to draw them with uniform widths at the time they are added to the diagram. If you need to edit the alignment after the fact, you can use several approaches. The first approach is to click on each shape and drag it to its new location. (If you need to resize the shape to get it aligned properly, see the next section.)

The next approach is to select all the shapes you want to align, which will cause Word to display the Format tab. On the Format tab, click the Align dropdown menu, shown below. Making sure the Align Selected Objects item is checked, you can then use the alignment tool to align the shapes automatically.

Moving Shapes

The most obvious way to move shapes is to click and drag them to a new position. With the grid enabled, you can also move one or more selected shapes using the keyboard arrow keys and they will snap to the nearest gridline. You can nudge a shape by holding the Ctrl key down while pressing the keyboard arrow keys.

Resizing and Rotating Shapes

Selected shape sample

If you click on a shape, resize handles appear on the shape’s border, allowing you to click and drag a side or corner, as shown in the image. The green dot at top is the rotation adjustment handle.

Alternately, you can right-click on the shape and select “Format AutoShape” from the context menu. Clicking the Size tab on the Format AutoShape window will allow you to set the height, width and rotation angle to specific values.

Formatting Tips

Formatting shapes and connectors can be tedious if you try to do them one at a time. It is best to wait until you are finished with the flowchart and do the formatting in bulk. You can do this by selecting multiple shapes and formatting them together. You should format shapes and connectors separately because the styling tools are different for each.

If you have a format that you would like to reuse, you can right-click on a formatted shape and select “Set Autoshape Defaults”. Any shape added subsequently will have the same fill color and border style.

When you select a shape or connector in Work 2007, a Format tab will appear on the ribbon, but you need to click to activate it. In Word 2010, the Format tab is automatically activated.

Quirk: Word 2007 has two format tabs – Drawing Tools Format and Text Box Tools Format. They are mostly the same. Word displays the Text Box Tools Format tab when the selected shape contains text and the Drawing Tools Format tab for all other shapes. In fact, if you add a flowchart shape to a drawing, selecting it will make the Drawing Tools Format tab appear, but once you add text to the shape, the Text Box Tools Format tab will appear. Fortunately, Word 2010 has only one Format tab.

Formatting Shapes

The formatting tools are (naturally enough) located on the Format tab mentioned above. There are too many tools on the Format tab to cover them all in detail, but the primary ones are covered below.

·         Shape Styles: The style gallery allows you to apply formatting to one or more selected shapes. There is a significant difference between Word 2007 and 2010. Word 2007 has a larger selection of styles, but they are not consistent with the Excel 2007 shape styles. Word 2010 changed this, adopting the styles available in Excel.

·         Shape Fill: Allows you to set custom fill colors and gradients for the shapes.

·         Shape Outlines: Allows you to set the line color and weight (thickness) of a shape's borders.

·         Change Shape: Allows you to change the type of the selected shape, e.g. from a process (rectangle) shape to a decision (diamond).

Tip: To access more formatting features (including vertical text alignment), right-click on a shape and select Format AutoShape.

Formatting Connectors

Word 2007: There is a gallery of styles available, but unfortunately, these are the styles used for flowchart shapes and do not work well for lines. To format connectors, you should use the color and weight settings available in the Shape Outline dropdown menu.

Word 2010: Formatting connectors in Word 2010 is straightforward. Just as with flowchart shapes, when you click a connector, the Format tab will be active, and a list of built-in styles is available for quick selection. Unlike Word 2007, the styles are specifically designed and are attractive.

Formatting and Aligning Text

The bad news about flowcharting in Word is that it can be difficult to customize the text formatting. Some changes can be done in bulk and some must be done one shape at a time.

·         Font: The font family, size and attributes such as bold and italic can be set from the Home tab of Word. You can select multiple shapes and make the changes in bulk.

·         Color: The font color is set on the Home tab, and it must be done one shape at a time.

·         Horizontal text alignment: The horizontal alignment can be set on the Home tab, and it must be done one shape at a time.

·         Vertical text alignment: Vertical text alignment can only be set in the Format AutoShape window, which is accessed via the context menu by right-clicking on a shape.

Note:In Word 2007, the default text alignment is top, left. In Word 2010, it is centered both horizontally and vertically.

Canvas Size and Alignment

When you are done with the flowchart your canvas may be much larger than the diagram. If you want to shrink the canvas to the minimum footprint, right-click on the canvas and select Fit from the context menu.

Formatted drawing canvas

On the other hand, you may want the diagram centered on the page horizontally, vertically, or both. If so, follow these steps:

·         (Optional) Resize the canvas to the page width and/or height by clicking and dragging the edges or corners.

·         Next, select all the shapes in the flowchart, including the connectors.

·         On the Format tab, click the Group dropdown and select Group from the menu.

·         Click the Align dropdown and verify that the Align to Margin item is checked.

·         In the Align dropdown again, click Align Center and/or Align Middle.

·         Click the Group dropdown and select Ungroup from the menu.

If you don't Group the shapes before doing the alignment, the shapes will stack on top of each in the center of the canvas.

Finally, you can spruce up the flowchart a bit by adding formatting to the canvas. The Canvas shape itself can be changed - just like a flowchart shape - using the tools on the Format tab. In the sample flowchart above, the Change Shape tool was used to set the shape type to Alternate Process, which makes it a rounded rectangle. A custom fill color with a gradient scheme was applied. Finally, the Drop Shadow tool was used to add depth.

Summary of Quirks

·         If you do not use a canvas, connectors will not “connect”.

·         You can copy a flowchart from Word (2007 or 2010) and Paste Special into Excel as an editable Microsoft Office Drawing Object, but you cannot copy a flowchart from Excel and Paste Special into Word as an editable drawing. Earlier versions of Word (2003 and prior) used to allow this.

·         If you Group all the shapes within a canvas, the Fit feature is disabled. If you ungroup the shapes, then right-click on the canvas again, the Fit feature is re-enabled.

·         Using Page Layout > Themes to change the document formatting will change the flowchart styling as well, even if you carefully customized the formatting of all your shapes.

·         Using View > Gridlines will display a grid not only in the canvas, but also over the entire document and any other open document as well. When the canvas is selected, the grid will only be displayed within the canvas. The quirk is that if you apply a background style to the canvas, the grid will not display in the canvas - perhaps the one place you did want it to show.

·         Word 2007 introduced vertical text alignment (it was not available in Word 2003 and previous versions), but centered text is skewed toward the top of the shape and the difference between it and top aligned text is barely noticably. You can set this in the Format AutoShape screen.

·         The Format AutoShape dialog has a “Resize AutoShape to fit text” option. If you use it, remember that Word has an Undo function. You might need it.