How to Make a Cause and Effect or Fishbone Diagram

A cause & effect diagram maps out the possible causes of an event or problem that a person or business is trying to understand.

Make a cause and effect or fishbone diagram in just a few easy steps:

  1. Start by naming the main problem or event. This usually goes at the head of the "fish" in your diagram.
  2. Make categories for causes and create the "bone structure" of your fish. Common categories include: people, methods, measurements, materials, machines and environment
  3. List possible causes under each category including variations in a process or design.
  4. Insert your completed fishbone diagram into any report or presentation.
Car failure cause and effect

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SmartDraw makes creating cause and effect diagrams easy by automating much of the design. All you have to do is start with a template and adding categories and causes is as easy as clicking a button. Just watch the video.

Start with a Cause and Effect Template

To create a cause & effect diagram, select the Tree Diagrams category under New Document on your Dashboard. The basic template starts you out with a simple cause & effect structure and specialized cause & effect tools in the SmartPanel that will help you customize your diagram.

Cause and Effect Template

Identify a Problem

The first step in any cause and effect diagram is, identifying the problem. If you started with a cause and effect template, you'll already see a box marked "The Problem" at the end of a fishbone-like structure. Click on the box and type in the specific problem you're trying to find causes for.

Identify the main problem

Adding Causes

SmartDraw's basic template lists four main causes. You can specify your own by clicking on any of the boxes, selecting the text already there and replacing it with your own. To add more causes to your diagram, just click Add Cause in the SmartPanel to the left of your drawing area and SmartDraw will add another perfectly formatted branch. If you have the main branch selected when you add a new cause, the new cause will be added to the end of your fishbone. If you have one of the existing causes selected, the new cause will be added to the front of the fishbone, near the main problem.

Add cause

Adding Details

Click Add Detail to add more details to your branch. Continue to add however many causes and details you think you'll need.

Automatic reformatting

Deleting Causes and Details

If you want to get rid of a detail, just click Delete Detail or select the detail and hit the Delete key. To delete an entire branch, select a cause and click on Delete Cause or the Delete key on your keyboard. Your branch and all the attached details will be removed and your diagram will reformat itself automatically.

Automatic reformatting after deletion

Revising and Editing Details and Causes

It's easy to move a detail around if you determine that it belongs under a different cause. Just click on it and move it to a new position. As you approach the new part of the visual, connection points and dashed lines appear, showing the positions where you can place the detail. Release the detail when see the cursor switch to an Anchor symbol and when you're ready to snap it to the desired connection point. The other details and causes will adjust to accommodate the newly placed detail.

Edit detail

Adjusting Spacing on Branches

Besides being able to easily adjust the size of symbols by using the black control handles, like you can in all SmartDraw visuals, you can also manually adjust the size and spacing of the spine and branches of your cause and effect diagram. Click on a branch and you'll see black squares appear where the details are connected to it. You can drag these black squares to adjust the spacing of your selected branch and the spacing of the other the branches will adjust accordingly to maintain an even look.

Adjust spacing on branches

Changing Spacing Among All Branches

If you select the spine of your cause and effect diagram, you can adjust the spacing between all the branches using the black square. This will adjust the space between branches in a equidistant or uniform manner.

Change branch distance

Changing Spacing Between Branches

You'll also have green circle controls that can adjust the space between branches individually without affecting the spacing on the rest of the diagram.

Change branch distance invidiually

Adding a Professional Look and Feel

You can further customize your cause and effect diagram choosing a different theme from the Themes menu on the toolbar. When your diagram is complete you can print it out or export to various file formats to share with others.

Cause & effect analysis provides a structured way for you and your business to figure out all the possible causes of a problem and make it easier to find a solution. And no software helps you make cause & effect diagrams more quickly and easily than SmartDraw.

Color theme