Flowchart Tips – Best Practices & Design Tricks

Flowcharts can sometimes look intimidating and complex, but they're actually fairly easy to design and create. This article will give you some tips and tricks for making flowcharts, based upon extensive research and industry accepted best practices.

To begin, use a starting symbol that signifies the first step of your process, and then systematically add actions and decisions until you reach the end of the process.

The most important thing to bear in mind as you create a flowchart is that it must be easy for anyone to understand. As you read through the tips below, you'll see that there is one constant theme: keep it simple.

  1. Label each flowchart with a title identifying the process that it illustrates. (For example: "Order Entry Process").
    Flowchart tip - Label your flowcharts
  2. Clearly indicate the starting and ending points of the process, using the standard terminator symbols.
    Flowchart tip - Have start and end symbols
  3. Keep the direction of flow consistent. Avoid confusion by keeping your flow lines moving from top to bottom and left to right. Don't reverse the direction in the chart unless the flow reverses itself in reality.
    Flowchart tip - Keep the flow consistent
  4. Break the steps down to a consistent level of detail. Don't include trivial sub-steps of one task while treating another equivalent task as a whole. If one step or task needs to be analyzed in detail, make a separate chart illustrating that sub-process. (In SmartDraw, you can hyperlink the shape representing a sub-process to the chart that illustrates it, allowing users to "drill down" for more detail.)
    Flowchart tip - Allow people to drill down for more detail
  5. Avoid crossing flow lines. In a well-designed chart, flow lines will not cross each other. By rearranging a chart you can usually get rid of crossed lines. If two lines must cross, use a "bridge" (also known as a "line hop") to show that the lines do not intersect.
    Flowchart tip - Avoid crossing lines
  6. Make sure there are at least two outcomes from every decision diamond.
    Flowchart tip - Every decision symbol should have two outcomes
  7. Try to make all the shapes in the flowchart about the same size to make your chart easier to read.
  8. Try to be as succint as possible. For example, use active verbs and short phrases instead of paragraphs of text.

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