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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.
Flowcharts consist of a few common geometric shapes representing steps. The most common shape is a rectangle used to show a single action or operation.
Watch this quick video to learn more about flowchart symbols.
Let's go over each flowchart symbol individually.
The terminator symbol marks the starting or ending point of the system. It usually contains the word "Start" or "End."
A box can represent a single step ("add two cups of flour"), or an entire sub-process ("make bread") within a larger process.
A printed document or report.
Represents multiple documents in the process
A decision or branching point. Lines representing different decisions emerge from different points of the diamond.
Represents material or information entering or leaving the system, such as customer order (input) or a product (output).
Represents a step where a user is prompted to enter information manually.
Represents a set-up to another step in the process.
Indicates that the flow continues where a matching symbol (containing the same letter) has been placed.
Indicates that the process flow continues in more than two branches.
Indicates a point in the flowchart where multiple branches converge back into a single process.
Indicates a step where two or more sub-lists or sub-processes become one.
Indicates a step that orders information into a standard format.
Indicates a step that organizes a list of items into a sequence or sets based on some pre-determined criteria.
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.
Indicates a sequence of commands that will continue to repeat until stopped manually.
Indicates the point at which a loop should stop.
Indicates a delay in the process.
Indicates a step where data gets stored.
Indicates a list of information with a standard structure that allows for searching and sorting.
Indicates that information was stored in memory during a program, used in software design flowcharts.
Indicates a step that displays information.
Indicates that the process continues off page.
A parallelogram represents data in a flowchart. Data is either input a process requires or an output that the proces hands off to the next step.
The most common flowchart types are:
Read about the types of flowcharts in detail here.
Input and output are the fundamental building blocks of a process used to describe a software program. For example, the input could be provided by a user like at an ATM machine or in a form online or it could data provided by an instrument like a temperature read. The program will have code to interpret the input and generate an output. The output could be a series of things: a message printed on a the user interface or data handed off to another process.
There are two different types of approaches to symbols in data flow diagrams: Yourdon and Coad and Gane and Sarson.
In the Yourdon and Coad way, processes are depicted as circles, while in the Gane and Sarson diagram the processes are squares with rounded corners.
Learn more about data flow diagrams.
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 a very basic set of best practices. Sticking with these two primary flowchart symbols is the best way to ensure that your diagram will be easy to understand.
Discover why SmartDraw is the best flowchart maker today.