Flowchart Symbols' Meaning Explained
Don’t be intimidated by the wide array of flowchart shapes. Each symbol has a specific meaning and context where its use is appropriate. If you get confused while drawing your flow chart, remember that most charts can be drawn with just a few common symbols, which are listed below.
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Common Flowchart Symbols
The process symbol represents a process, action, or function. It’s the most widely-used symbol in flowcharting.
The document symbol represents the input or output of a document. Examples of input are receiving a report, email, or order. Examples of output are generating a presentation, memo, or letter.
The decision symbol indicates a question to be answered—usually yes/no or true/false. The flowchart path may splinter into different branches depending on the answer.
The connector symbol connects separate elements across one page. It’s usually used within complex charts.
The off-page connector (also known as the off-page link) symbol 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.
The data symbol (also called the input/output symbol) represents data that is available for input or output. It may also represent resources used or generated. The paper tape symbol also represents input/output, but is outdated and no longer in common usage. Another symbol used to represent data is the circle shape.
The comment symbol, or note symbol, adds needed explanation or comment. It may be connected by a dashed line to the relevant section of the flowchart.
Other Flowchart Symbols' Meaning Explained
The stored data symbol represents data housed on a storage device.
The summing junction symbol sums the input of several converging paths.
The terminator symbol represents the start points, end points, and potential outcomes of a path.
The predefined process symbol indicates a complicated process or operation that is well-known or defined elsewhere.
The internal storage symbol represents data stored in random-access memory (RAM).
The manual input symbol represents the manual input of data into a computer, usually through a keyboard.
The manual operation symbol indicates a step that must be done manually, not automatically.
The merge symbol combines multiple paths.
The multiple documents symbol represents multiple documents or reports.
The preparation symbol differentiates between steps that prepare for work and steps that actually do work.
Standard vs. Nonstandard Flowchart Symbols
While various standards for symbol usage and flowchart creation have been established, it’s okay to ignore the rules. Use the symbols in a way that makes sense to your audience. But if you use symbols 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.
Lucidchart boasts every standard flowchart shape, so you can easily create professional-looking diagrams. Whether your flowcharts are for work, school, or personal use, Lucidchart is the ideal tool for making and sharing flowcharts.