Flowcharts can be very useful for a technical writer. A flowchart can help them document the processes much easier. Often, a flowchart is the initial step of a process improvement effort. Because of this, flowcharts are usually used in an organization by executives who are looking for ways to increase productivity, efficiency, and profitability. Flowcharts are used in analyzing, designing, documenting, or managing a process or program in various fields.
To know more about flowcharts, one must understand their definition, history, uses, and symbols used in construction. In this article, we will discuss all these aspects in detail.
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What is Flowchart?
A flowchart can be defined as a graphical representation of a sequence of operations or steps. It is commonly used in designing and documenting simple processes, or programs, for solving a specific problem. In other words, it is a diagrammatic representation that illustrates the sequence of operations to be performed to get the solution to a particular problem.
The term “flowchart” comes from the world of engineering and industrial design, where it was used to create diagrams that documented the assembly processes for products and machines. The term was then adopted by computer programmers, who used flowcharts to document the logic behind computer code. Flowcharts became a popular addition to business presentations and office documents, particularly after the release of Microsoft Excel, which made them easier to create and edit.
Types of flowcharts
Flowcharts are sometimes called by more specialized names, such as:
- Process Flowchart
- Document Flowcharts
- Data Flowcharts
- System Flowcharts
- Program Flowcharts
- Process Map
- Functional Flowchart
- Business Process Mapping, Business Process Modeling and Notation (BPMN)
- Process Flow Diagram (PFD)Data Flow Diagrams (DFDs)
- Unified Modeling Language (UML)
The History of Flowchart
The “flow process chart,” the first structured approach for recording process flow, was presented by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth in their presentation “Process Charts:” First Steps in Finding the One Best Way to do Work”, to members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1921. The Gilbreths’ tools quickly made their way into industrial engineering courses.
In the early 1930s, Allan H. Mogensen, an industrial engineer, began instructing executives in the use of some of the same techniques introduced by Gilbreth. Allan Mogensen is credited with training business people on how to make a process chart by drawing a “box around the name of [an] activity” and then deciding what happened before and after that activity. The original tool Mogensen used to document process flow was the “Flow Process Chart”. The term “flowchart” was originally used by Allan H. Mogensen as a term for what is today often called a Process Flow Diagram.
Starting around 1926, Dr. Lawrence J. Peter began to sketch out his “Process Behavior Chart”. It used lines to connect symbols representing operations and data flow.
By the 1960s, they were widely used in business and government agencies to plan procedures and model computer algorithms. The first audit flowcharts were used by companies that had large, complex accounting systems. Their use increased during the 1970s as computers became more popular in accounting departments. In the 1980s, flowcharting became an essential part of modern auditing practices.
Symbols Used In Flowchart
A flowchart consists of symbols connected by arrows. Each symbol represents an action or process, and the arrows indicate the direction of the flow. A flowchart is written from top to bottom or left to right.
- Terminator or Terminal Point: The terminal point is used to represent the start and end of a program or process. It looks like a rectangle with rounded corners.
- Process: The process symbol represents any action the user needs to perform. It looks like a rectangle, and it can include an input or output. A process is an action or task that needs to be completed. A process can have an internal database, file, or application associated with it. It can also include a decision point as a part of the process (a detailed explanation of this can be found later).
- Date/Input/Output (I/O): An input/output symbol represents data that flows in or out of the program and is stored in a file, database, or another data repository.
- Decision: The decision symbol looks like a diamond. It represents a question that leads to two possible outcomes. A decision symbol indicates conditions that must occur in order for a certain path to be taken. In many sectors, business and technical, charts are used to analyze, plan, document, and manage a process or program. in the flowchart (for example: If “Yes” then “Do Action B”). The decision symbol has two arrows coming out of it representing each possible path it may take.
- Document: The document symbol looks like a file folder, and it represents any files you need for the process, such as word processing documents, spreadsheets and databases.
- Database: The Database symbol represents data files or tables stored on computer systems. Be sure to identify which system or database stores your data files so that you know where to look for them when you need them for future reference.
- Flow arrow: A flow arrow is the most basic flowchart symbol. It represents a direction of flow and the beginning or end of a process. Flow arrows are used to connect two separate process boxes. When you’re drawing a flowchart, the flow arrow should always point in the direction of progression through the chart.
- Comment or Annotation: A comment is another basic symbol. Comments are used to explain specific parts of a process step and are usually boxed with dotted lines. Comments give you more room to explain than is possible within a normal shape’s borders.
- Predefined process: This symbol describes a series of actions that are taken when performing a specific task. For example, “Call customer” is a predefined process that would require a series of actions to be completed before it could be considered finished (i.e., dialing the phone, talking to the customer, and hanging up).
- On-page connector/reference: This symbol is used to connect different parts of a flowchart that can’t fit on one page and need to be continued on another page.
- Off-page connector/reference: This symbol connects different parts of a flowchart that can’t fit on one page and need to be continued on another page.
How to Draw a Basic Flowchart
Flowcharts can be very useful for a technical writer. A flowchart can help you easily illustrate a process so that readers can understand it. You can draw a flowchart with any tool you feel comfortable with.
Let’s see how to draw a basic flowchart in Microsoft Word:
- Start Microsoft Word, and then create a new document.
- Click Insert > Shapes, and then choose a shape from the Block Arrows group. For example, click Basic Flowchart to open the Basic Flowchart Shapes stencil.
- Drag shapes from the Basic Flowchart Shape stencil onto your drawing page. Note: To add text to a shape, select the shape, and then type.
- Continue adding shapes until you finish.
A flowchart describes the process or program in a sequential and repetitive manner, just like any other diagrammatic representation. They are easier to understand for the users because of their visualization quality. The method of using flowcharts is being adopted in almost every field as they provide a systematic, graphical, and easy-to-understand method of solving problems.
There are many benefits of flowcharts, and since it’s simple to use, it is technically not a difficult exercise for anyone. For a business, flowcharts can make the workflow easy to trace and understand, and since it takes much less time to create a flowchart than to describe an entire system or series of processes or steps in writing, it saves time which ultimately helps a lot. Even small businesses benefit greatly from the use of flowcharts; because it helps in the complete understanding of steps taken in the process.