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If man were a logical beast, math would be the easiest subject and love wouldn’t exist.

Thankfully, when it comes to logic, the right tools can help simplify any process. Flowcharts are among those visual thinking tools that go grossly ignored for non-technical tasks. Maybe because flowcharting started purely as an engineering skill and didn’t go beyond the draft boards of industrial planners. With its leap towards computer algorithms it became more mainstream.

Again, it need not be a technical exercise. Use them with imagination, and you can simplify both your work or life with flowcharts 5 Creative Flowchart Examples to Streamline Your Work and Life 5 Creative Flowchart Examples to Streamline Your Work and Life When you think of a good time, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Probably not a flowchart? Read More . If they are so useful, why not try out a few flowcharts with one of the easiest tools on hand – Microsoft Word. Let’s walk through the different ways we can create flowcharts with MS Word…together.

What Are Flowcharts?

Frank Gilbreth, an engineer is believed to have created the first “Process Flow Charts” in 1921. A flowchart is an easy to understand diagram of any process that uses simple graphics to represent a beginning, an end, and the different stages that follow a logical order. Each step in the process is represented by a unique symbol with a brief label of the process step. The flowchart symbols are linked together with arrows showing the direction of the process flow. As you can see from the diagram below, each symbol is standardized for the specific process.

Flowchart Symbols

As standard symbols illustrate the steps, it is easy to make out how it all fits together. Flowcharts can be customized for any process-oriented tasks. That is why a large variety of flowcharts are visible — but the basics remain the same.

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Uses of Flowcharts

The beauty of flowcharts lies in their simplicity. You can use basic symbols to map out any job and you can use flowcharts for different situations. Out there on the Web, there are nice usable ones for using copyrighted pictures Flowchart: Can You Use That Copyrighted Picture? Flowchart: Can You Use That Copyrighted Picture? Say you find an image online that you'd like to use in your article, or repost. How do you go about deciding if it's even legal? Read More , and even for geek whining A Flowchart For Geek Whining A Flowchart For Geek Whining Geeks whine about everything. Read More ! All thanks to the ease of creating flowcharts either by hand or easy to use diagramming tools.

Once the flowchart has been illustrated, it is easy to take a birds-eye view and understand the whole process. Just the process of drawing the flowchart can help to clear your own logic and give you insights to make it better. To sum up…

  • Examine any process.
  • Communicate steps to other people involved in a process.
  • Organize a process by removing redundant steps.
  • Identify and troubleshoot potential problems.
  • Improve a process. 

A Basic Flowchart

Flowcharts come in different shapes and sizes. Here is an example of a basic flowchart which you can use to find the largest of three numbers:

A Basic Flowchart

Let’s Make This in Microsoft Word 2013

All the tools needed to make flowcharts in MS Word 2013 lie with the Drawing Tools. But first do these three preliminary steps:

Maximize your page area. Collapse the Ribbon by clicking the little upward arrow (or Click Ctrl+F1) on the extreme right so only the tab names show.

Display the Grid. Click the View tab and click the Gridlines checkbox. The grid helps you align and size the flowchart symbols precisely as you can snap them to the gridlines. You can also customize the gridlines (Page Layout — Arrange — Align — Grid Settings).

Word 2013 - Gridlines

 

Use the Drawing Canvas. Inserting any shape or “drawing” in a Word document automatically creates a drawing canvas. You will have to resize the canvas to frame your entire flowchart. As this Microsoft support page says, it is especially useful when using different shapes (as in a flowchart). Also, you can customize the drawing canvas itself to create attractive backdrops for your flowchart.

MS Word -- Canvas

Now, let’s start the meticulous job of inserting our shapes and connecting them all together. It always helps if you map it out on paper first, and then use Word to give it the finished look. A rough sketch helps you understand the page layout on Word to begin with.The process is simple but putting some planning into using this “planning tool” is a timesaver. All the required symbols can be found on the Insert tab – Shapes. Click the dropdown for Shapes.

Shapes -- Flowchart

 

  1. The symbols are neatly organized under the Flowchart group.
  2. Select the shape. For instance, the symbol for “Start”.
  3. Click in the canvas area, keep the left button pressed while dragging the mouse to add the shape. You can also double click on any shape to automatically add it to the Canvas. Move and resize it.Flowchart Shape
  4. Add text by clicking the shape and typing in the label.
  5. Connect two symbol-shapes with the help of arrows or connectors. Unlike simple arrows, connectors stay connected to the shapes. The two basic types of connectors available under the Shapes dropdown are elbow and curved.Note: Connectors work as intended only between shapes placed on the drawing canvas.Flowchart -- ConnectorsFor instance, you can manually move the connectors to any connection points (represented by tiny blue dots on the shapes). The connection points anchor the connectors in place and you can move the shapes without dislodging the connectors. This gives you a lot of flexibility when modifying your flowchart by moving things around.
  6. Add a Yes or No to the connectors branching out of Decisions shapes by inserting Text Boxes alongside the connector arrows. You can also use the rotation handle to rotate the text box.

Tips to Align Shapes

There are several ways to do it.

  1. The recommended way is to do it right the first time. Use the gridlines and draw them with uniform widths when you are placing them on the canvas.
  2. Click on individual shapes and drag them to the new locations. If you have many shapes, this can be very time consuming. The gridlines help you snap them in place.
  3. Select all the shapes you want to align. On the Format tab, click the Align dropdown menu. Select Align Selected Objects and use the alignment tool to align the shapes automatically.

Tips to Align a Flowchart

After the flowchart has been laid out, you can neatly align the diagram according to the page.

  1. Group all the shapes and connectors. Select all the shapes and connectors. On the Format tab, click the Group dropdown and select Group.
  2. From the Align dropdown check if the Align to Margin item is selected. Then, click Align Center and/or Align Middle.
  3. Optionally, resize the canvas by dragging the corner or edges.

Designing a “Stunning” Flowchart

Flowchart

The colorful flowchart you see above is nothing but a more formatted flowchart. Formatting a flowchart should be the final stage after you have inserted, connected, and labelled all the boxes. It is better to do it in bulk rather than putting the flourishes on individual boxes as you go along. So, select multiple shapes and format them together.

I will leave it to your creative eye, and just point you to the basic tools you can access from the Format tab on the Ribbon or the more detailed options available on the side panel. Open the side panel by right-clicking on a shape and selecting Format Shape.

Word - Format Shape

You have many options available to design the shapes and the connectors:

Shape Styles: A quick way to add color or gradient fills to the shapes.

Shape Fills: Use your choice of solid colors or gradients. Don’t use too many color schemes.

Shape Outlines: Set the visual properties of the bounding lines. Also, use it to make the connector arrows thicker or thinner.

Effects: Give the shapes depth with 3-Dimensions, Shadows etc.

As you can see, there are many options to add a variety of finishing touches to the barebones flowchart. It is painstaking, but do fuss over it if you want a thoroughly professional look. 

One of Many Ways to Create Flowcharts – How Do You Do It?

From the humble pen and paper to specialized applications like SmartDraw and Microsoft’s own Visio, there are many ways you can create flowcharts. You also have the option of using the Lucidchart flowcharting/diagramming application from within Microsoft Word 2013. It is available on the Office store and is free to install and use.

We spend an incredible amount of time using the Microsoft Office suite. So, it does make sense to be aware of all its powers. From basic image editing in Word Who Needs Photoshop? Amazing Image Editing Feats You Can Do With MS Word Who Needs Photoshop? Amazing Image Editing Feats You Can Do With MS Word Do you have $1000? Go ahead and buy a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS6. But if you don’t have the Benjamin’s and aren’t too inclined to climb the steep learning curve but still want to... Read More to  brainstorming with mindmaps How To Build a Mind Map In Microsoft Word How To Build a Mind Map In Microsoft Word Read More , it is the Jack of many a trade. With some deliberate practice, you can be a master at it.

Do you use the logic of flowcharts to simplify your life decisions? Have you tried flowcharting with Word? Give us your best flowcharting tips below…

Image Credit: Flowchart Symbols, Illustration of Flowchart Pattern  (all via Shutterstock)

  1. Kristi
    September 15, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    You really helped me make a great flow chart, but my chart moves sooooo slow. It takes well over a minute for me to type a name in and have it appear on the chart. My chart is rather large as I needed to put about 200 people into it so I don't know if that is the issue. But any tips you can give so I can get this thing moving quicker would be helpful.

    • Saikat Basu
      September 16, 2016 at 5:12 am

      Hmm, difficult to pinpoint the problem from here. A minute is abnormally slow. But is your computer generally slow as well? Does the cursor hang? It could be your graphics driver as well.

      Type "Microsoft Word is slow" in Google. A lot of potential solutions are discussed. For e.g. Repairing your Office installation, turning off a buggy macro etc.

  2. John C. Briggs
    September 11, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    I got really tripped up by the "Drawing Canvas".
    Let me suggest that instead of saying "Use Drawing Canvas" , the instructions should be

    Create a drawing canvas using "Insert\Shapes\New Drawing Canvas".

    The author clearly knows this, but it was not obvious to me that you can create a bunch of symbols that CANNOT be connected unless they are on the same canvas. The instructions sort of imply that but perhaps the point isn't as clear as it could be.

    I never did figure out if an individual symbol has a canvas behind it as suggested by the author.

    Appreciate the instructions. And yes the logic is wrong in two places but I guess that was not the point.

    • Saikat Basu
      September 15, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks John. I see your point. Skipped a step there.

  3. Sam Chivers
    September 5, 2016 at 5:26 am

    Is there a way to import/convert a .vsd into the word flowchart equivalent?

  4. Sam Chivers
    September 5, 2016 at 5:25 am

    Is there a tool that can import .vsd into the Microsoft Word flowchart equivalent such that the .vsd is converted and can be edited in Microsoft word?

  5. HZMD
    June 3, 2016 at 3:31 am

    Thanks for the tip.
    I am not experienced in this field but I found draw.io to be very professional, way better than word for that matter, and it's totally free. lucidchart seems to serve the same purpose in the same level of professionality but is relatively expensive.

    • Saikat Basu
      June 3, 2016 at 10:41 am

      I like my own tools to not get in the way too much. And in that sense, Draw.io is perfect. LucidChart is of course, quite well-known by now.

  6. jane
    March 16, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    the correct spelling of the flowchart creator's name is Frank Gilbreth. He had 12 children and one wrote the family history: Cheaper by the Dozen. It is a very funny book and an enjoyable escape from flow charts.

    • Saikat Basu
      March 17, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      Thanks Jane. Just put the "r" in the wrong place. Will correct it. And it seems the book was made into a film as well!

  7. Nilly
    February 11, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    My gosh this thing hard.....

    • Jordan
      August 11, 2016 at 2:12 pm

      stick with it! There's nothing you can't achieve with a little hard work!

  8. Dan Smith
    December 8, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Hi! I have word 2010 at work and most of these tips work in that. However I noticed that if the lines in the flowchart were labelled with text boxes then word 2010 would not select the text boxes via drag over on a drawing pane, so it was very hard to move all the lines and text boxes at once. My solution was to use rectangles with no line and no fill to contain the text labels instead of text boxes.

    • Saikat Basu
      December 15, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      I don't exactly remember now how 2010 worked, but your workaround works just as well.

  9. Ross
    December 3, 2015 at 6:41 am

    The logic of this flowchart is wrong. You have the same action (Print B) regardless of the answer to the decision "Is B>C?" This should be If Y, print B, else print C

    • James
      December 4, 2015 at 6:18 pm

      Agreed that it's flawed, but it's also missing a whole 3rd step... If you first decide that A>B, then decide that C>A, there should be another decision point to compare B & C before a final decision is made. Same for the other initial path where B>A.

      I think the point was to just show the pretty picture, not actually define a proper process. :)

      • Saikat Basu
        December 6, 2015 at 4:48 am

        Ha. Yes and No. The objective was to show the process and the Word features. I did rush through the simple flowchart.

  10. Tom Masterson
    November 12, 2015 at 2:03 am

    Thank you. Very helpful!

  11. Pankaj Prakash
    May 16, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    I genuinely dont use Ms word alot. And from couple of days i was looking for Smart Arts on the web that create flow charts in seconds. But after viewing this tutorial i created some awesome flow charts for my blog.
    http://codeforwin.blogspot.in/
    Thanks for making it so simple to understand.

    • Evan Raymond
      June 1, 2015 at 5:45 am

      Using a proper process flowchart software is the way to draw diagrams. And visio is not affordable, an alternative like http://creately.com would help a lot.

  12. Robert Lowry
    March 21, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    I have been searching for a feature like this but no one has it. Smart Draw liked the idea and said they would put it in the other ideas for next revision. I´ll keep looking.

    • Saikat
      March 21, 2015 at 4:11 pm

      Yes. I think it will make the process feel more "cognitive". The closest we can do now is just highlight with different colors. That's static.

  13. Robert Lowry
    March 20, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    I was looking for a way to place the cursor over a shape in a flow chart or org chart and have all the arrows or connectors that come to or go from that shape to be highlighted or brightened. The idea is so you can see the other shapes that influence the current one. Move the cursor over another shape and see what influences it. Just my idea.

    • Saikat
      March 21, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      That's really interesting. I don't think there's a feature like that in dedicated flowchart and mindmapping apps as well. Is there? Have to check.

  14. James
    March 16, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    How do I get multi-page flow charts? I could press enter many, many times at the start of this and make a bunch of pages, but there should be a better way. I've put together the first page and if I hit Enter my flow chart moves down one return on the page and if I hit CTNL+Enter, it puts a page ahead of my symbols.

  15. John Anderson
    March 11, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    If you would like to make flowcharts that you can run, check out Describio.com. You can ask the user questions and use their answers to control the decisions. Also, if you know how to code, you can program the decisions in JavaScript.

    • Saikat
      March 12, 2015 at 2:01 am

      Oh that's a super suggestion John. Thanks. Bookmarked for future reference and use :)

  16. Anonymous
    March 5, 2015 at 4:11 am

    Thank you so much! This was great for Word 2010 too!

    • Saikat
      March 5, 2015 at 4:18 am

      Yes. Pretty much same across the versions :)

  17. PJ
    February 24, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    How do you get those YES and NO labels next to the line. Is there a way to attach them so they move with the line?

    • Saikat
      February 25, 2015 at 4:23 am

      Yes. You can group them. You can move any object by an infinitesimal distance by using the CTRL+arrow keys.

  18. Casper O
    January 2, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    Went through a few sites, but this is what I exactly needed. Thank you.

    • Saikat
      January 3, 2015 at 3:53 am

      Glad you found it useful. And thanks.

  19. Cody M
    September 20, 2014 at 4:59 am

    For programming, I've recently done some work with a program called RAPTOR raptor.martincarlisle.com

    It's pretty neat. Haven't used it a whole lot, but it takes a little to learn how to use it.

    • Saikat B
      September 23, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Didn't know about this in much detail. Your page is nice for getting the gist of what's it all about. Having a portable version surely helps. Thanks for the info.

  20. Kwac Ka
    September 19, 2014 at 11:00 pm
    • Saikat B
      September 23, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      Thanks for the link. Bookmarked for future reference.

  21. Ramkay
    September 19, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Isn't there a mistake on the left hand side of the flow chart? You can't get the same answer whether B>C or B<C.

  22. JJC_Mtl
    September 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    If C is printed, then what happens? ;-)

    • Dr Obvious
      September 19, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      ...and if A>B is false, then B will print regardless of whether it is larger than C or not.

  23. John Dawson Sr
    September 19, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    I prefer Dia Diagram Editor. It is free and runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Dia supports more than 30 different diagram types like flowcharts, network diagrams, database models, Etc.

    • Saikat B
      September 19, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Looks good and it works on Linux as well! The object library looks comprehensive.

    • Col. Panek
      September 19, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      There's a plugin that opens Visio files in LibreOffice, which I've used to convert to open files. Between that, Dia, Inkscape, Gimp, and a few open source schematic diagram editors, I've been Microsoft-free for several years.

    • Saikat B
      September 19, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      If I am not wrong then LibreOffice has also added support for VSS (Stencil) files.

  24. curts
    September 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    In the past, I have used Visio for this kind of work, which includes the ability to have customized shape palettes for different types/styles of diagrams. With my current employer, we just use PowerPoint.

    • Saikat B
      September 19, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      Visio is good, but it isn't a standard part of MS Office unfortunately. It is three times the cost of MS Office Home. One of the best tools I have personally used is SmartDraw,but that again is priced more than Visio for the Business version.

  25. Yuri
    September 19, 2014 at 10:56 am

    @ Saikat,
    Thanks for a very interesting article. Do you know if this also works in Word 2010?

    • Saikat B
      September 19, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Hi Yuri,

      Yes, it will work the same in Word 2010. Even in 2007, though one or two steps (like adding text to the shapes) could be slightly different in 2007 from what I remember.

  26. badrock
    September 18, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    To be honest I rarely use Word at work. I use PowerPoint to making flow charts and anything else visual at work. Word is for drafting letters (I know you can do a lot more with it than that) but PowerPoint is presentation software and lends itself better for most of my work.

    • Saikat B
      September 19, 2014 at 10:16 am

      PowerPoint is definitely one of the go to tools, and then again, you can animate a part of a flowchart as well if you are giving a presentation. The steps are nearly the same across the tools.

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