Flowchart Symbols

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Flowchart symbols

Flowcharts use special shapes to represent different types of actions or steps in a process. Lines and arrows show the sequence of the steps, and the relationships among them. These are known as flowchart symbols.

The type of diagram dictates the flowchart symbols that are used. For example, a data flow diagram may contain an Input/Output Symbol (also known as an I/O Symbol), but you wouldn't expect to see it in most process flow diagrams.

Over the years, as technology has evolved, so has flowcharting. Some flowchart symbols used in the past to represent computer punchcards, or punched tape, have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Basic Flowchart Symbols

For most flowcharts, these five basic symbols are all you will need.

Flowchart Symbols

More Flowchart Symbols

Here is a more comprehensive library of flowchart symbols.

Flowchart Symbol - Start and End

Start/End Symbol

The terminator symbol marks the starting or ending point of the system. It usually contains the word "Start" or "End."

Flowchart Symbol - Process and Action

Action or Process Symbol

A box can represent a single step ("add two cups of flour"), or and entire sub-process ("make bread") within a larger process.

Flowchart Symbol - Document

Document Symbol

A printed document or report.

Flowchart Symbol - Multiple Documents

Multiple Documents Symbol

Represents multiple documents in the process.

Flowchart Symbol - Decision

Decision Symbol

A decision or branching point. Lines representing different decisions emerge from different points of the diamond.

Flowchart Symbol - Input and Output

Input/Output Symbol

Represents material or information entering or leaving the system, such as customer order (input) or a product (output).

Flowchart Symbol - Manual Input

Manual Input Symbol

Represents a step where a user is prompted to enter information manually.

Flowchart Symbol - Preparation

Preparation Symbol

Represents a set-up to another step in the process.

Flowchart Symbol - Connector

Connector Symbol

Indicates that the flow continues where a matching symbol (containing the same letter) has been placed.

Flowchart Symbol - Or

Or Symbol

Indicates that the process flow continues in more than two branches.

Flowchart Symbol - Summoning Junction

Summoning Junction Symbol

Indicates a point in the flowchart where multiple branches converge back into a single process.

Flowchart Symbol - Merge

Merge Symbol

Indicates a step where two or more sub-lists or sub-processes become one.

Flowchart Symbol - Collate

Collate Symbol

Indicates a step that orders information into a standard format.

Flowchart Symbol - Sort

Sort Symbol

Indicates a step that organizes a list of items into a sequence or sets based on some pre-determined criteria.

Flowchart Symbol - Subroutine

Subroutine Symbol

Indicates a sequence of actions that perform a specific task embedded within a larger process. This sequence of actions could be described in more detail on a separate flowchart.

Flowchart Symbol - Manual Loop

Manual Loop Symbol

Indicates a sequence of commands that will continue to repeat until stopped manually.

Flowchart Symbol - Loop Limit

Loop Limit Symbol

Indicates the point at which a loop should stop.

Flowchart Symbol - Delay

Delay Symbol

Indicates a delay in the process.

Flowchart Symbol - Stored Data

Data Storage or Stored Data Symbol

Indicates a step where data gets stored.

Flowchart Symbol - Database

Database Symbol

Indicates a list of information with a standard structure that allows for searching and sorting.

Flowchart Symbol - Internal Storage

Internal Storage Symbol

Indicates that information was stored in memory during a program, used in software design flowcharts.

Display Symbol

Indicates a step that displays information.

Off Page

Indicates that the process continues off page.

Quick Tip for Using Flowchart Symbols

Most of the flowchart symbols shown here are for use in very specific applications, such as a data flow diagram used for computer programming. Unless you have specialized knowledge and your diagram is being developed for a peer group with similar knowledge, it's best to stick to basic flowchart symbols. If more than the most basic flowchart symbols appear in your diagram, it is good practice to include a legend or symbol key.

Most flowcharts should be built using only the Start/End and Action or Process Symbols and should follow the minimum standards of visual grammar. Sticking with just these two primary flowchart symbols is the best way to ensure that your diagram will be easy to understand. For more information on using visual grammar to make better flowcharts, read this article.

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