How to Make a Flowchart

Whether you are using a flowcharting tool such as SmartDraw or just a pen and paper, here are a few suggestions to help you create a flowchart that communicates clearly and effectively.

  1. Determine its purpose or function
  2. Design & build the right flowchart for the job
Click to watch a flowchart tutorial

What is the Purpose or Function of Your Flowchart?

Before deciding how to draw a flowchart, it's important to determine the purpose of it. Will it be used to brainstorm a product or system? Will it be used for training a new employee for a specific task or job? Is it a set of instructions to assemble a product? Will it be used as an overview for a group presentation?

If it is to serve as a working diagram for thinking through a design or programming problem, then how it is designed and drawn are of less importance than its function. In other words, how you make a flowchart look is less important than being able to read and understand it later.

On the other hand, if it is going to be used to explain a process to someone else, then you need to be very careful about how you draw a flowchart. It needs to convey the information in a way that is easy to understand. Following some basic structure and design concepts will make your flowchart easier to read and understand.

Create a Flowchart with SmartDraw

To create a flowchart in SmartDraw, select a flowchart template in the template dialog.

Every SmartDraw template has a SmartPanel docked to the left of the work area. This SmartPanel contains all the tools, libraries, and shortcuts you'll need to build a specific diagram.

In this case, you can use the SmartPanel to add new steps to your process, create split paths, adjust spacing, and more.

Adding Steps

The first part of any flowchart is represented with a rounded or pill-shaped box. To add it to your diagram, just select it from the library and stamp once in the drawing area. To add text, simply type while the box is selected.

To go to the next step, hit the Add Right button from the SmartPanel. You can also hold down the [CTRL] key and hit the right arrow key to achieve the same effect.

Keyboard shortcut

Keep adding steps until your flowchart is complete. Most flowcharts flow from left to right.

Flowchart smartpanel

Decisions and Split Paths

If you need to add a decision, you can first select the diamond shape and then hit "Add Right" or you can also add a "Split Path" using the SmartPanel and skip the decision symbol altogether.

If the split path is a yes/no decision, you may want to make this clear by typing YES and NO in the lines of the split path. To do this, simply double-click on the line and type in the information.

Flowchart split path

Returning to a Previous Step

If you get to a point in the process that you can go no further and you need to return to an earlier step, you can do this by drawing a line to one of the previous boxes. Just click on the Line button here at the top, select the box you want to start from and then select the box you want the line to point to. The connecting line is placed in and formatted perfectly.

Flowchart return to step

Moving and Deleting Steps

If you need to move a step, just click to select it and drag it to its new position. As you move the shape, you'll notice SmartDraw's automatic connector will attempt to grab it. SmartDraw shows you a dashed outline of where your step will be if you let go of your mouse. To drop a shape into place, simply let go of your mouse. The flowchart will automatically readjust itself without any manual redrawing required.

To delete a step, just select it and hit delete. Again, SmartDraw's automation will allow the flowchart to reflow automatically.

Move flowchart step

Adding Notes

Put details about your visual in notes instead of on your diagram for a cleaner and simpler look.

Add flowchart note

Changing the Style of Your Flowchart

SmartDraw automatically applies professional design themes for you, but also gives you complete control to customize your process chart in any way you want.

Change the entire look of your chart by applying a new design theme with just one click.

Or change the look of individual shapes instantly by selecting a new Quick Style. Choose from more than 40 preset looks.

Flowchart colors

Adding the Last Step

Once you get to the final step in a process, select the Start/End symbol from the SmartPanel and add it to the right. The first and last steps in the process are clearly distinguished from the other steps and the final flowchart is clean-looking and easy to read.

Share Your Flowchart

Now you're ready to share your completed flowchart with others. You can export your visual directly to Outlook or any other Microsoft Office program in a single click.

Share flowchart

Keyboard Shortcuts

Create your entire chart without taking your hands off the keyboard with quick and easy keyboard controls.

To add a shape to a flowchart, simply hold down the [Ctrl] key and use the up, down, left or right arrow key.

To create a split path after a decision step, use the [Ctrl] and right arrow key to add the first step and then simply hit the [Enter] key to add the second choice to your process.

To the right are some other keyboard shortcuts you may find useful.

Keyboard shortcuts