An introduction to Flowchart Symbols

While flowcharts are excellent when it comes to business, it would be prudent at some point to pay attention to some of the best practices with regard to flowcharts, in general. As you may be aware, a flowchart is a visual representation, which shows you a sequence of operations that are to be performed in order to get the solution to a problem. While flowcharts may be applied to computer solutions, they are an excellent tool when it comes to business, education and even something as myriad as a recipe or a how-to guide.

Not actually understanding flowchart symbols is certainly something that could leave you in a quandary, especially if you are not too aware of the relevance of flowcharting symbols. Described below are standard symbols along with a visual representation right below :

  1. Data object - The Data object, often referred to as the I/O Shape shows the Inputs to and Outputs from a process.
  2. Rectangle - This is used to represent an event which is controlled within the process. Typically this will be a step or action which is taken.
  3. Diamond - Used to represent a decision point in the process. Typically, the statement in the symbol will require a `yes’ or `no’ response and branch to different parts of the flowchart accordingly.
  4. Document - The Document object is a rectangle with a wave-like base. This shape is used to represent a Document or Report in a process flow.
  5. Rounded box – This is used to represent an event which occurs automatically. Such an event will trigger a subsequent action, for example `receive telephone call, or describe a new state of affairs.
  6. Stored data - This is a general data storage object used in the process flow as opposed to data which could be also stored on a hard drive, magnetic tape, memory card, of any other storage device.
  7. Manual input - This object is represented by rectangle with the top sloping up from left to right. The Manual Input object signifies an action where the user is prompted for information that must be manually input into a system.
  8. Direct data – Direct data object in a process flow represents information stored which can be accessed directly. This object represents a computer’s hard drive.
  9. Circle - Used to represent a point at which the flowchart connects with another process. The name or reference for the other process should appear within the symbol.
  10. Internal storage – This is an object which is commonly found in programming flowcharts to illustrate the information stored in memory, as opposed to on a file.
  11. Predefined process – This allows you to write one subroutine and call it as often as you like from anywhere in the code.

It must also be stated that at this point in time that while learning the various symbols that are associated with flowcharts are rather important, you need to also remember that there are certain guidelines in flowcharting that deserves some respect as well. The following are some guidelines in flowcharting:

  1. Proper Form is Essential: In drawing a proper flowchart, all necessary requirements should be listed out in logical order.
  2. Clarity is Paramount: The flowchart should be clear, neat and easy to follow. There should not be any room for ambiguity in understanding the flowchart.
  3. Stick to the Right Direction: The usual direction of the flow of a procedure or system is from left to right or top to bottom.
  4. Standard for Flow Lines: Ideally just one flow line should come out from a process symbol.  While only one flow line should enter a decision symbol, around three flow lines (depending on the answer) should leave the decision symbol. Additionally, only one flow line is utilized together with a terminal symbol.
  5. Be Concise, not Copious: Write within standard symbols briefly.
  6. Logic precedes Everything: If you are dealing with a complex flowchart then use connector symbols to minimize the number of flow lines. Ditch the intersection of flow lines to ensure effectiveness and better communication. It is imperative that your flowchart has a logical start and finish.

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