What Are the Correct Shapes to Use in a Process Flowchart?

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Flow charts detail the steps in a process.
Flow charts detail the steps in a process. (Image: process flow image by Christopher Hall from Fotolia.com)

Process flowcharts, also called process flow diagrams, are visual representations of the principal relationships in a production or system process. Steps in a process are shown graphically on a large sheet of paper or as computerized illustrations.

Elements of a Flowchart

Each step on a process flowchart is given a particular shape to identify what is taking place during that step. Flowcharts make the logical flow of a system or process easier to understand. Shapes define an individual action. Arrows indicate the direction of process flow.

Basic Shapes on a Flowchart

Starting points usually begin with a circle or an oval. A process step is indicated with a rectangle. Decision points are represented by diamonds. Inspection points, or steps that require measurement or verification, are drawn as squares. A simultaneous operation and inspection is shown as a circle within a square. Data that is vital to the process flow is indicated with a parallelogram. Manual operations are placed in a trapezoid.

Arrows indicated direction of process flow
Arrows indicated direction of process flow (Image: Process Flow image by Christopher Hall from Fotolia.com)

Advanced Flowchart Symbols

Special symbols are used to indicate direct data (a cylinder), sequential data (a circle with a line at the bottom) and stored data (a rectangle that is concave at one end and convex at the other).

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