flowchart symbols and notation

Flowchart Symbols and Notation [+ Cheat Sheet]

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Posted by: Lucid Content Team

manual input symbol

If you’ve just been plunged into the world of flowcharts, you might feel like you’re drowning in a sea of rectangles, rhomboids, and whatever this shape is. In grade school, these shapes were just the fodder of your geometry homework, but when used in the context of a diagram, they convey a powerful additional layer of meaning. Each one has a specific purpose and provides information to viewers. The trick is figuring out what all of these shapes mean and learning how to use them appropriately.

As you master the science of flowchart symbology, this comprehensive guide will give you exactly what you need to stay afloat. For quicker symbol mastery, we recommend using each of the shapes to build a Lucidchart diagram as you read what they stand for. Then, you can use them to visualize processes, systems, and other big ideas with ease.

Ready to master visual communication with flowcharts and diagrams? Sign up for a free account with Lucidchart to make flowchart mastery a breeze!

Common flowchart symbols

If nothing else, make sure you know these eight flowchart shapes. They are the bread and butter of any process flow and are ubiquitous in the world of diagramming.

flowchart process symbol

Process: Represents a process, action, or function. It’s the most widely-used symbol in flowcharting.

flowchart arrow

Arrow: Shows the sequence of steps or the relationships between shapes.

flowchart document symbol

Document: Represents the input or output of a document. Examples of input are a report, email, or order. Examples of output are a presentation, memo, or letter.

flowchart decision symbol

Decision: Indicates a question to be answered—usually yes/no or true/false. The flowchart path may split into different branches depending on the answer.

flowchart connector symbol

Connector: Connects separate elements across one page. It’s usually used within complex charts.

flowchart off-page connector symbol

Off-page connector or off-page link: Connects separate elements across multiple pages. It is frequently used within complex charts. The page number is sometimes placed on the shape for easy reference.

flowchart data symbol

Data or input/output: Represents data that is available for input or output as well as representing resources used or generated. The paper tape symbol also represents input/output but is outdated and no longer in common use.

flowchart comment symbol

Comment or note: Adds needed explanations or comments. It may be connected by a dashed line to the relevant section of the flowchart.

flowchart connector symbol

Terminator: Represents the start points, end points, and potential outcomes of a path.

Other flowchart symbols and meanings

Depending on your field of work, these shapes may be helpful for enhancing your diagrams with technical details or managing multiple complex pathways in a single flow. They are less common but certainly not obsolete.

flowchart stored data symbol

Stored data: Represents data housed on a storage device.

flowchart summing junction symbol

Summing junction: Sums the input of several converging paths.

flowchart predefined process symbol

Predefined process: Indicates a complicated process or operation that is well-known or defined elsewhere.

flowchart internal storage symbol

Internal storage: Represents data stored in random-access memory (RAM).

flowchart manual input symbol

Manual input: Represents the manual input of data into a computer, usually through a keyboard.

flowchart manual operation symbol

Manual operation: Indicates a step that must be done manually, not automatically.

flowchart merge symbol

Merge: Combines multiple paths.

flowchart multiple documents symbol

Multiple documents: Represents multiple documents or reports.

flowchart preparation symbol

Preparation: Differentiates between steps that prepare for work and steps that actually do work.

flowchart symbol

Display: Indicates a step where information is displayed to a person through a computer monitor, etc.

Standard vs. non-standard flowchart symbols

While these guidelines follow the generally accepted standards for symbol usage and flowchart creation, note that it’s also okay to ignore the rules. You can use the symbols in any way that makes sense to your audience, but if you use them in a non-standard fashion, be sure to do it consistently so your readers understand your meaning for that symbol each time they see it.

Flowchart symbols cheat sheet

If you diagram frequently, you may want to print off this cheat sheet and keep it near your desk until you feel confident that you know your stuff.

Use this cheat sheet

Best of luck on your diagramming adventures. Let us know if you have any comments or questions. And don't forget to sign up for your free account with Lucidchart!

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