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How to Flowchart: Getting to know the basic symbols and shapes

As you dive into Confluence, diagramming becomes necessary to explain a complex concept, plan or process. And the most popular diagram type, the flowchart, becomes a key player to get your point across. The problem comes when we don't know which shapes to use or what they mean. So let's start from the beginning...

What is a flowchart?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines flowchart as “a diagram that shows step-by-step progression through a procedure or system especially using connecting lines and a set of conventional symbols.”

What does this mean and why should I care? Good question. What it means is that a flowchart can be used to break big ideas into small, bite-sized pieces that are expressed visually. You should care because knowing how to flowchart is like having access to a Universal language which makes it possible to communicate all sorts of things with all sorts of people, and that’s pretty cool.

Basic flowchart symbols

First things first, in order to create a good flowchart you must first familiarize yourself with the most commonly used flowchart symbols.

1. The Oval

An End or a Beginning

The OvalOval 

The oval is used to represent the start and end of a process. Use the Gliffy flowchart tool to drag and drop one of these bad boys and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a flowchart. Use the same symbol again to show that your flowchart is complete.

2. The Rectangle

A Step in the Flowcharting Process

 

RectangleRectangle 

The rectangle is your go-to symbol. It represents any step in the process you’re depicting and is the workhorse of the flowchart diagram. Give it a lump of sugar and it will love you forever.

3. The Arrow

Directional Flow

 

Arrow SymbolArrow

The arrow is used to guide the viewer along their flowcharting path. And while there are many different types of arrow tips to choose from, we recommend sticking with one for your entire flowchart. It’s less confusing and generally more aesthetically pleasing.

4. The Diamond

Call for a Decision

 

Call For A Decision Diamond 

The diamond symbolizes that a decision needs to be made.  If there are only two choices, you can draw arrows directly from the diamond to the next step (example on the left). If there are more than two choices, you can draw them neatly by copying the example on the right.

 

Flowchart examples

The below flowchart, in addition to helping you figure out who ate your sandwich, uses all the shapes we just talked about. It also has a lovely color theme and an explanation key.

Example Flowchart

 

Now that you've got the basics, forget long paragraphs, get out there and diagram!

 

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