Each element in a process map is represented by a specific symbol. Process symbols are also commonly called flowchart symbols, flowchart shapes or flow diagram symbols. These symbols come from the Unified Modeling Language or UML, which is an international standard for drawing process maps. These process symbols can be put in the following categories: process/operation symbols, branching and control of flow symbols, input and output symbols, file and information storage symbols and data processing symbols.

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Process & operation symbols


The most frequently used flowchart shape shows an action, task or operation that needs to be done.


Shows a series of actions related to a task, which itself is part of a larger process. It could also mean that there is already a flowchart for the larger process that can be used as a reference.

Alternate ProcessAn alternative to the regular process step. Lines connecting with the alternate process symbol are usually dashed.
DelayRepresents a waiting period or delay in the process.
PreparationA preparatory step that sets up another step in the process.
Manual LoopA sequence of commands that continually repeats until stopped manually.
Loop LimitThe point at which a loop stops.

Branching & control of flow symbols

ArrowThe arrows indicate the direction in which the flowchart should be read (usually from the top to the bottom and/or the left to the right).
TerminatorRepresents the entry and exit points of your flowchart. Usually a flowchart has only one starting point but can have several ending points.
DecisionThe point at which a decision needs to be made. The arrows flowing from the decision shape are usually labeled with yes, no, true or false.


ConnectorIn order to connect to different page or section of the chart, and you can't draw a line, you can use a circle labeled with a letter. Put another circle with the same letter where the flow continues.
Off-page Connector

Indicates the process continues off page. A letter or page number in the shape tells you where to go.

MergeA step where two or more sub-processes merge together and become one.
ExtractShows when a process divides into different but parallel directions.
OrRepresents when a process diverges, usually for more than two branches.
Summoning or JunctionWhen multiple sub-processes merge into a single process.

Input & output symbols

Input/Output or DataRepresents material or information entering or leaving the process. Receiving a report is an input. Generating a report is an output.
DocumentIndicates a process step that generates a document or report.
Multiple DocumentsA process step that produces multiple documents or reports.
DisplayA step that displays information to a person.
Manual InputRepresents a step where a user must input information manually.

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File & information storage symbols

Stored Data SymbolRepresents a step in the process where data gets stored.
Database SymbolA list of information with a standard structure that allows for searching and sorting.
Direct Access Storage SymbolRepresents a hard drive.
Internal Storage SymbolUsed in programming to represent information stored in memory instead of on a file.

Data processing symbols

Collate SymbolRepresents a process that organizes data or materials into a standard format.
Sort SymbolIndicates the sorting of data, information, and materials into a pre-determined order.

Process mapping symbols tip

Many of these process mapping symbols are best used only in very specific technical situations where all participants understand the symbols being used. For regular process mapping, basic flowchart shapes like process and operations symbols are a perfect choice. It’s also a good idea to include a symbol key and use best practices when creating a flowchart. Learn more about process mapping in our complete guide to process mapping.

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