Flowchart Rules

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Man drawing a flow chart.
Man drawing a flow chart. (Image: kaan tanman/iStock/Getty Images)

A flowchart acts as the visual breakdown of the steps within a procedure. The flowchart consists of shapes, lines and arrows that represent various stages of a process. The flowchart helps managers, executives and employees understand how the process starts, where the participants must make crucial decisions and what the end result should be.

Start and End Points

Circles and ovals are frequently used to designate the starting points and ending points of a process. Each flowchart must contain one starting point and at least one ending point. Since the process may have several different outcomes, depending on the decisions made during the process, the flowchart can have several possible endpoints, with a circle or oval representing each endpoint.

Connectors and Arrows

The lines with arrows signify the work flow through the process and connect each step. The reader follows the arrows from the start, usually starting from the top down or from left to right, through each input and decision point, until the flowchart reaches the end point. Each flowchart will have at least one connector between the start point and end point. Most flowcharts have numerous arrows to signify different paths in the process.

Decision Points

A diamond-shaped box in a flowchart signifies a decision point. The diamond contains a question with at least two possible answers. For each possible answer to the question, an arrow starts at one of the points on the diamond and moves to the next step in the process. For instance, a banking flowchart may show the decision point labeled "Balance>$1,000?", with one arrow pointing toward the action taken for balances over $1,000 and another pointing toward the action for balances under $1,000.

Actions

A rectangle represents an action or operation the user must take to move to the next step in the process. The rectangle often contains an action verb, cuing the user as to the action to take. For example, the banking application may contain actions such as "Check the Balance," "Obtain the Credit Score" or "Approve the Loan." These actions may take place either before or after the decision points.

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