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Diagrams Make Life Easier

Updated on October 30, 2015
Venn Diagram Created to Explain the Popular Blockbuster Movie Inception
Venn Diagram Created to Explain the Popular Blockbuster Movie Inception

What is a Diagram?

Diagram is a drawing or a simplified version of showing appearance, structure or workings of a something (flow) like a schematic representation.

Diagram Types

There are many diagram types for various purposes. I have categorized most frequently used set of diagrams below for your reference. Check and see how many diagrams you are using in your daily routine.

Block Diagrams, Organizational Chart, Mind Maps, Flowcharts, UML Diagrams, SWOT Analysis, Venn Diagrams, Network Diagrams, Work Breakdown Structures, UI Mock ups & Wire frames, Sitemaps, Business Process. These are some of the well-known diagram types that you may come across.

In my field of work, I use lot of flowcharts for system designs and conceptual modeling. Flowcharts are the best way of explaining a flow to the audience. They are very useful and used by many professionals. Flowcharts are best at representing an algorithm or a process showing step by step. There are set of standard symbols used in flow charting and they are very easy to use. Flowcharts are used in planning and recording sophisticated processes or programs. Like other types of diagrams, they help envision what is going on and thereby help the 3rd party to understand a process, and perhaps also find flaws, bottlenecks, and other less-observable features within it. There are four types of flowcharts, and each type has its own range of boxes and notational conventions.

Standard Flowchart Symbols
Standard Flowchart Symbols

Flowchart Symbols

Flowcharts can be used for different kinds of purposes. There are set of flowchart symbols that are used commonly. Each of them have a specific meaning and here’s why you should know them all. When drawing a flowchart for a specific scenario you should first identify the area of what you are going to draw and then apply it.

Process: To represent a process a square is used. Any process can be defined by a square where the process name is written on top. Show a Process or action step. This is the most common symbol in both process flowcharts and process maps.

Decision: Basically decisions are represented by this rhombus. It indicates a decision in a question form or branch in the process flow. Typically, a Decision flowchart shape is used when there are 2 options (Yes/No, No/No-Go, etc.)

Predefined Process (Subroutine): A Predefined Process symbol is a marker for another process step or series of process flow steps that are formally defined elsewhere. This shape commonly depicts sub-processes (or subroutines in programming flowcharts). If the sub-process is considered "known" but not actually defined in a process procedure, work instruction, or some other process flowchart or documentation, then it is best not to use this symbol since it implies a formally defined process.

Alternate process: As the shape name suggests, this flowchart symbol is used when the process flow step is an alternate to the normal process step. Flow lines into an alternate process flow step are typically dashed.

Delay: The Delay flowchart symbol depicts any waiting period that is part of a process. Delay shapes are common in process mapping.

Preparations: As the names states, any process step that is a Preparation process flow step, such as a set-up operation.

Manual Operations: Manual Operations flowchart shapes show which process steps are not automated. In data processing flowcharts, this data flow shape indicates a looping operation along with a loop limit symbol (which is not supported by Microsoft Office, but a Manual Operation symbol rotated 180° will do the trick.)

Start/Stop: Terminators show the start and stop points in a process. When used as a Start symbol, terminators depict a trigger action that sets the process flow into motion.

Data I/O: The Data flowchart shape indicates inputs to and outputs from a process. As such, the shape is more often referred to as an I/O shape than a Data shape.

Document: Pretty self-explanatory - the Document flowchart symbol is for a process step that produces a document.

Multi-Document: Same as Document, except, well, multiple documents. This shape is not as commonly used as the Document flowchart shape, even when multiple documents are implied.

Display: Indicates a process step where information is displayed to a person (e.g., PC user, machine operator).

Manual Input: Manual Input flowchart shapes show process steps where the operator/ users are prompted for information that must be manually input into a system.

These are the basic shapes used in flowcharts. These shapes are connected with an arrow accordingly.

Problem Solving With Flowcharts

More About Flowcharts

Advantages of Using Flowcharts in Programming

There are many advantages of drawing flowcharts. Especially, if you are a system designer the best way to state your system flows are the flowcharts. Flowcharts are the best way of communicating logic of a system with the audience with visual representation of flow. With the help of flowcharts you can effectively analyze any problem in a logical manner. Flowcharts serve the purpose of documentation as well. By only following the flowchart you can understand the system concept and flows in to depth. Flowcharts can be used as blue prints when it comes to coding a system. Flowchart also comes handy in debugging and also quality assurance personals can use flowcharts to identify the errors in the flow itself. The maintenance of the program will be easier with flowcharts since it’s the ultimate structure of the program.

Limitations of Using Flowcharts

There are some limitations in flowcharts as well. If the program logic is too complicated, using flowchart would not be much of a help since the flowchart will also become complex and hard to understand by someone else. Alterations and modifications cannot be undone unless proper flowchart software is used to draw the flowchart. Even that is complicated if a flow is completely changed. Sometimes you will have to change all the flows matching that. You cannot type flowchart symbols in a word processing software since you will need special flowchart software to draw flowcharts. The biggest con about flowcharts is that the essentials of what is done can easily be lost in the technical details of how it is done.

Drawing Flowchart's

Flowcharts should be drawn using flowchart software. The most popular one is the market is VISIO. But as you know VISIO is very expensive, difficult and runs only on windows platform. It is always better to use a VISIO alternative. There are plenty of VISIO alternatives in the market. What I have come across is that web based cloud solutions are the best way to draw your diagrams and keep them in one place so you can access anywhere.


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    • beaddve1800 profile image

      beaddve1800 4 years ago from Toronto

      Nice article. Also, diagram can make infographic more interesting and fun to read.

    • shan4djfun profile image

      Evan Raymonds 4 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Good Idea, I will make one when I have time

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