Create a basic flowchart

Flowcharts are diagrams that show the steps in a process. Basic flowcharts are easy to create and, because the shapes are simple and visual, they are easy to understand.

Note    You can also automatically create a basic flow chart from data by using a Data Visualizer diagram in Visio Pro for Office 365. For more information, see Create a Data Visualizer diagram.

The Basic Flowchart template in Visio comes with shapes that you can use to show many kinds of processes, and it is especially useful for showing basic business processes like the proposal development process shown in the following figure.

Example of a flowchart showing a proposal process

In addition to the Basic Flowchart template, Visio provides a variety of templates for more specific kinds of diagrams, such as data flow diagrams, timelines, and software modeling. To find out more about the different templates see How can I tell what each Visio template is for?

Create a flowchart
  1. Start Visio.

  2. Click the Flowchart category.

  3. Double-click Basic Flowchart.

  4. For each step in the process that you are documenting, drag a flowchart shape onto your drawing.

  5. Connect the flowchart shapes by holding the mouse pointer over the first shape, and then clicking the small arrow that appears that points to the shape you want to connect to. If the second shape is not directly across from the first shape, click and hold the small arrow, drag it to the second shape, and drop the connector in the middle of the second shape.

  6. To add text to a shape or connector, select it, and then type. When you are finished typing, click on a blank area of the page.

  7. To change the direction of a connector's arrow, select the connector, and then, on the Shape tab, in the Shape Styles group, click Line, point to Arrows, and select the arrow direction and style that you want.

Fix alignment and spacing

  1. Press CTRL+A to select everything on the drawing page.

  2. On the Home tab, in the Arrange group, click Position, and then click Auto Align & Space.

If that doesn’t do what you want, press Ctrl+Z to undo it, and then try some of the other options under the Align and Position buttons.

Example of a flowchart showing a proposal process

What the flowchart shapes represent

When you open the Basic Flowchart template, the Basic Flowchart Shapes stencil opens too. Each shape on the stencil represents a different kind of step in a process. However, there is no standard, universal meaning for the shapes – any shape can carry whatever meaning is agreed on by the people who will create and read the flowcharts. Most flowcharts tend to use only three or four of the shapes, unless there is a clear business reason to use more.

That said, Visio shapes have names that suggest their most common uses. Here are some of the most common shapes:

  • Start/End    Use this shape for the first and last step of your process.

    Terminator shape

  • Process    This shape represents a typical step in your process. This is the most frequently used shape in almost every process.

    Process shape

  • Decision    This shape indicates a point where the outcome of a decision dictates the next step. There can be multiple outcomes, but often there are just two — yes and no.

    Decision shape

  • Subprocess    Use this shape for a set of steps that combine to create a sub-process that is defined elsewhere, often on another page of the same document. This is useful if the diagram is very long and complex.

    Predefined Process shape

  • Document    This shape represents a step that results in a document.

    Document shape

  • Data    This shape indicates that information is coming into the process from outside, or leaving the process. This shape can also be used to represent materials and is sometimes called an Input/Output shape.

    Data shape

  • On-page reference    This small circle indicates that the next (or previous) step is somewhere else on the drawing. This is particularly useful for large flowcharts where you would otherwise have to use a long connector, which can be hard to follow.

    On-page refference shape

  • Off-page reference    When you drop this shape onto your drawing page, a dialog box opens where you can create a set of hyperlinks between two pages of a flowchart or between a sub-process shape and a separate flowchart page that shows the steps in that sub-process.

    Off-page reference shape

What the flowchart shapes represent

When you open the Basic Flowchart template, the Basic Flowchart Shapes stencil opens too. Each shape on the stencil represents a different step in a process.

Visio 2010 includes many other, specialized stencils and shapes that you can use in your flowchart diagram. For more information about how to find more shapes, see Use the Shapes window to organize and find shapes.

  • Start/End    Use this shape for the first and last step of your process.

    Terminator shape

  • Process    This shape represents a step in your process.

    Process shape

  • Subprocess    Use this shape for a set of steps that combine to create a sub-process that is defined elsewhere, often on another page of the same drawing.

    Predefined Process shape

  • Document    This shape represents a step that results in a document.

    Document shape

  • Data    This shape indicates that information is coming into the process from outside, or leaving the process. This shape can also be used to represent materials and is sometimes called an Input/Output shape.

    Data shape

  • On-page reference    This small circle indicates that the next (or previous) step is somewhere else on the drawing. This is particularly useful for large flowcharts where you would otherwise have to use a long connector, which can be hard to follow.

    On-page refference shape

  • Off-page reference    When you drop this shape onto your drawing page, a dialog box opens where you can create a set of hyperlinks between two pages of a flowchart or between a sub-process shape and a separate flowchart page that shows the steps in that sub-process.

    Off-page reference shape

Note: Can't find the shape you need?     To learn about how to find other shapes, see Use the Shapes window to organize and find shapes

Create a flowchart
  1. Click the File tab.

    Don't see the File tab?

    If you do not see the File tab, proceed to the next step in the procedure.

  2. Click New, click Flowchart, and then under Available Templates, click Basic Flowchart.

  3. Click Create .

  4. For each step in the process that you are documenting, drag a flowchart shape onto your drawing.

    Note: See the section What the flowchart shapes represent for information on which shapes to use for each step.

  5. Connect the flowchart shapes in either of the following ways.

    Connect two shapes together.

    1. On the Home tab, in the Tools group, click Connector.

    2. Drag from a connection point Connection point image - blue X on the first shape to a connection point on the second shape. The connector endpoints turn red when the shapes are connected.

      A flowchart with the connector points turned red.

    Connect one shape to many from a single connection point.

    By default, connectors are set to Right-Angle so that if you connect a single point on one shape to three other shapes it will look like the figure below.

    Shape connected to three other shapes with right-angle connectors.

    To have each connector radiate straight from the central point on the first shape to points on each of the other shapes you need to set the connectors to Straight Connector as shown in the following figure.

    A flowchart with straight connectors radiating out from a central point.

    1. On the Home tab, in the Tools group, click Connector.

    2. For each shape you want to connect to, drag from the same connection point Connection point image - blue X on the first shape to a connection point on each of the other shapes.

    3. Right-click each connector and click Straight Connector.

  6. To return to normal editing, on the Home tab, in the Tool group, click Pointer Tool.

  7. To add text to a shape or connector, select it, and then type. When you are finished typing, click on a blank area of the page.

  8. To change the direction of a connector's arrow, select the connection, and then in the Shape group, click the arrow to the right of Line, point to Arrows, and select the arrow direction that you want.

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Print a large flowchart

The easiest way to print a flowchart that is larger than your printer paper is to print it onto multiple pieces of paper and then tape the pieces together.

Before you start to print, it's important to make sure that the drawing page, as it appears in Visio, contains the whole flowchart. Any shapes that hang off the edge of the Visio drawing page will not print.

To print a large flowchart, do the following:

  1. With your flowchart open, on the Design tab, in the Page Setup group, click Size, and select Fit to Drawing.

  2. Click the File tab.

    Don't see the File tab?

    If you do not see the File tab, proceed to the next step in the procedure.

  3. Click Print, and then click Print Preview.

    in print preview, dotted lines separate different pages.
    Dotted lines show how the drawing prints onto separate sheets.
  4. To print your flowchart onto multiple pieces of paper, do the following:

    1. In Print Preview, in the Print group, click Page Setup.

    2. On the Print Setup tab, in the Printer paper box, select the paper size you want if it isn't already selected.

    3. Click OK.

    4. In the Preview group, click Single Tile to see how your drawing will print on each sheet. (You can switch between pages by clicking Next Tile or Previous Tile.)

    5. When you are satisfied with how your drawing looks, in the Print group, click Print.

    6. After the drawing is printed, you can trim the margins, overlap the pages, and tape them together.

  5. To print your flowchart onto a single piece of paper, do the following:

    1. In Print Preview, in the Print group, click Page Setup.

    2. On the Print Setup tab, in the Printer paper box, select the paper size you want if it isn't already selected.

    3. Under Print zoom, select Fit to.

    4. To the right of Fit to, type 1 in the box next to sheet(s) across , and type 1 in the box next to sheet(s) down .

    5. Click OK.

    6. In the Print group, click Print.

What the flowchart shapes represent

When you open the Basic Flowchart template, the Basic Flowchart Shapes stencil opens too. Each shape on the stencil represents a different step in a process.

Of all of the shapes on the Basic Flowchart Shapes stencil, only a few are commonly used. Those commonly used shapes are described here. For more information about he less commonly used shapes open the expandable link (Less frequently used flowchart shapes) at the end of this section.

  • Terminator    Use this shape for the first and last step of your process.

    Terminator shape

  • Process    This shape represents a step in your process.

    Process shape

  • Predefined process    Use this shape for a set of steps that combine to create a sub-process that is defined elsewhere, often on another page of the same drawing.

    Predefined Process shape

  • Decision    This shape indicates a point where the outcome of a decision dictates the next step. There can be multiple outcomes, but often there are just two —yes and no.

    Decision shape

  • Document    This shape represents a step that results in a document.

    Document shape

  • Data    This shape indicates that information is coming into the process from outside, or leaving the process. This shape can also be used to represent materials and is sometimes called an Input/Output shape.

    Data shape

  • Flowchart shapes    You can right-click this multi-shape to set to any of the following shapes: Process, Decision, Document, or Data. Any text you type onto the shape, or information you add to its Shape Data, remains with the shape.

    This is what the shape looks like on the stencil:

    Flowchart shapes

    This is what you see when you drag the shape onto the drawing page and right-click it:

    Flowchart shapes with right-click menu

  • Stored data    Use this shape for a step that results in information being stored.

    Stored data shape

  • On-page reference    This small circle indicates that the next (or previous) step is somewhere else on the drawing. This is particularly useful for large flowcharts where you would otherwise have to use a long connector, which can be hard to follow.

    On-page refference shape

  • Off-page reference    When you drop this shape onto your drawing page, a dialog box opens where you can create a set of hyperlinks between two pages of a flowchart or between a sub-process shape and a separate flowchart page that shows the steps in that sub-process.

    Off-page reference shape

Less frequently used flowchart shapes

  • Dynamic connector    This connector draws a path around shapes it encounters.

    Dynamic connector shape

  • Line-curve connector    This connector has adjustable curvature.

    Line-curve connector

  • Auto-height box     This is a bordered text box that adjusts to accommodate the amount of text you type. You can set the width by dragging the sides of the shape. Although this shape doesn't represent a step in a process, it is a handy way to add a text box to your flowchart.

    Auto-height box

  • Annotation     This bracketed text box adjusts to accommodate the amount of text you type. You can set the width by dragging the sides of the shape. Like the Auto-height box shape, this shape doesn't represent a step in a process. Use this to add comments about your flowchart shapes.

    Annotation shape

  • Manual input    This is a step where a person provides information to the process.

    Manual input shape

  • Manual operation    This is a step that must be performed by a person.

    Manual opperation shape

  • Internal storage    This shape represents information stored on a computer.

    Internal storage shape

  • Direct data    This shape represents information stored so that any single record can be accessed directly. This represents how a computer hard-drive stores data.

    Direct data shape

  • Sequential data    This shape represents information stored in sequence, such ad data on a magnetic tape. When data is stored in sequence, it must be retrieved in sequence. For example, in order to access record 7 you would have to first go through records 1 through 6.

    Sequential data shape

  • Card and Paper tape    This shape represents a physical card or paper tape. Early computer systems used a system of punch cards and paper tape to store and retrieve data and to store and run programs.

    Card shape

  • Display    This shape represents information that is displayed to a person, usually on a computer screen.

    Display shape

  • Preparation    This shape indicates where variables are initialized in preparation for a procedure.

    Preparation shape

  • Parallel mode    This shape shows where two different processes can operate simultaneously.

    Parallel mode shape

  • Loop limit    This shape marks the maximum number of times a loop can run before it must go on to the next step.

    Loop limit shape

  • Control transfer    This shape indicates a step that goes to a step other than the typical next step when certain conditions are met.

    Control transfer shape

Create a flowchart

  1. On the File menu, point to New, point to Flowchart, and then click Basic Flowchart.

  2. For each step in the process that you are documenting, drag a flowchart shape onto your drawing.

  3. Connect the flowchart shapes in either of the following ways.

    Note: For information on other ways to connect shapes, see Add connectors between shapes in Visio.

    Connect two shapes together.

    1. Click the Connector tool Button image on the Standard toolbar.

    2. Drag from a connection point Connection point image - blue X on the first shape to a connection point on the second shape. The connector endpoints turn red when the shapes are connected.

      Connector ends are red when shapes are glued

    Connect one shape to many from a single connection point.

    By default, connectors are set to Right-Angle so that if you connect a single point on one shape to three other shapes it will look like the figure below.

    Shape connected to three other shapes with right-angle connectors.

    To have each connector radiate straight from the central point on the first shape to points on each of the other shapes you need to set the connectors to Straight Connector as shown in the following figure.

    Shape connected to three other shapes with straight connectors.

    1. Click the Connector tool Button image on the Standard toolbar.

    2. For each shape you want to connect to, drag from the same connection point Connection point image - blue X on the first shape to a connection point on each of the other shapes.

    3. Right-click each connector and click Straight Connector.

  4. Click the Pointer tool Pointer button on the Standard toolbar to return to normal editing.

  5. To add text to a shape or connector, select it, and then type. When you are finished typing, click on a blank area of the page.

  6. To change the direction of a connector's arrow, select the connection, and then on the Shape menu, point to Operations, and click Reverse Ends.

Printing large flowcharts

The easiest way to print out a flowchart that is larger than your printer paper is to print it onto multiple pieces of paper and then tape the pieces together.

Before you start printing, however, it's important to make sure that the drawing page, as it appears in Visio, contains the entire flowchart. Any shapes that hang off the edge of the Visio drawing page will not print. You can see whether the drawing page is large enough for the flowchart by checking the preview on the Page Setup dialog box (File menu, Page Setup, Print Setup tab).

A flowchart that is too large for the Visio drawing page beside a flowchart that fits the Visio drawing page

1. A flowchart that is too large for the Visio drawing page.

2. A flowchart that fits the Visio drawing page.

Make your Visio drawing page fit your flowchart

  1. With your flowchart open, on the File menu click Page Setup.

  2. Click the Page Size tab.

  3. Under Page size click Size to fit drawing contents.

To see how the flowchart will print, look at the Print Preview, which is on the File menu. The figure below shows a flowchart that prints on four pieces of letter-sized paper.

Print preview of a large flowchart that will print on 4 pieces of paper

Print a large flowchart onto multiple pieces of paper

  1. On the File menu, click Page Setup.

  2. On the Print Setup tab, in the Printer paper box, select the paper size you want if it isn't already selected. Don't click OK yet.

  3. On the Page Size tab, click Size to fit drawing contents. The preview now shows the difference between the new page and the printer paper.

  4. Click OK.

  5. On the File menu, click Print Preview to see how the flowchart will print.

    Note: If there are shaded margins between the pages, they mark areas that print on both pieces of paper so that when you assemble the pieces there are no gaps in the flowchart.

  6. After the drawing is printed, you can trim the margins, overlap the pages, and tape them together.

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