What is a flow chart?

A flow chart diagram is a collection of symbols that represents the steps involved in a process. It is a generic tool that can be adapted for various purposes. It is one of the most common process analysis tools. It is used for the graphical analysis of an algorithm. It helps to represent the flow of the process from the input to output. A flowchart that represents the workflow of activities is known as an activity diagram.
There are so many ways that can help people to understand computer technologies and their applications. One of them is a flowchart diagram.

Some common uses of flow chart

  • It figures out the steps involved in a process and shows ways to improve them.
  • It documents all the steps involved in a process in pictorial format.
  • It helps in understanding the process and to optimize it.
  • It illustrates the workflow.
  • It helps in data management.
  • It helps in mapping out chemical and engineering processes.
  • It helps to depict finance models such as inflow and outflow of cash in which case it is referred to as cash flow diagram.

Flow chart example

CC BY-SA 2.5 | Image Credits: https://upload.wikimedia.org | Faxe

In this example, a flowchart of a computer program displays output by using conditional statements. Here, the oval components mark the start and end of the function. The rectangle symbols mark the different steps and the conditional statement is depicted through a diamond shape.

The invention of flow chart

Frank and Lillian Gilberth structured the first flowchart diagram in 1921. These charts became famous and soon they found their way into the industrial engineering curriculum. As early as the 1930s, people started using the flow chart for diagrammatically representing process flow in various fields.

There are various types of flowcharts. Here are a few most common ones:

  • Document flowcharts
  • Data flowcharts
  • System flowcharts
  • Program flowchart

Components of flow chart

 Arrowhead- Arrow symbol represents the flow of the procedure involved in the process. It represents the exact sequence in which the instructions are executed.

An arrowhead represents the sequence of execution of instructions
  • Terminal- This symbol represents the beginning or the ending of the entire process or sub-processes.
A cylindrical shape representing the beginning or ending of the entire process.
  • Process- A rectangle represents a process. It is the set of operations that changes the form or the location of data. It is a rectangle symbol.
A rectangular shape representing a set of operations that changes the form or location of a data.
  • Decision- A rhombus or a diamond represents a decision statement which evaluates to true or false. One sequence of execution is followed when the outcome is true. Another sequence is followed when the outcome is false.
A diamond shape used in case of a conditional operation
  • Input/output- A parallelogram represents an input or output of the program or the process. It is used to enter the data by using the information.
A rectangle representing input or output
  •  Database- Acts as data storage.
  • Predefined process- The process that is defined outside the flowchart is known as a predefined process. It is defined before or after the block of code represented by the flowchart. It is also represented by a rectangle symbol but has double-struck vertical edges. 
A rectangular shape with double struck vertical edges, representing complex processing steps.
  • On-page connector- These are represented by a small circle symbol with letters inside them. These are used to connect the flowchart from one page to another. It is used when the flowchart is lengthy and does not fit on a single page.
  • Off-page connectors- These are used when the target is present on another page. These are represented in the form of an inverted Pentagon symbol.

Creating a flowchart

A basic flowchart depicts the process flow of a program. Some most common steps used in the creation of a flowchart diagram are listed below:

  1. Make sure to have a proper understanding and a clear vision of all the boundaries of the process, such as, when a process starts, when it ends, what it contains in between, how long it takes to move, and so on.
  2. Have a clear understanding of the process to represent it in the form of a flowchart diagram. Write the title of the flowchart at the very beginning of the page.
  3. Figure out all the activities before starting the work in a process until it gets finished. As soon as everything gets clear, make sure to note it down on the rough page or a sticky note.
  4.  Arrange the activities in a proper sequence. 
  5.  After arranging all the activities, start sequencing them in the correct order. Use arrows to show the flow in which the process is going to continue. 
  6.  Review the flowchart diagram before finalizing it. It should not have any discontinuous steps and pathways. That can lead to incomplete flowcharts.

Advantages of flowchart

  • It helps in efficient coding and proper analysis of the entire process.
  • It helps in proper documentation of the process that leaves no confusion behind.
  • It also helps in the process of debugging.
  • Flowcharts can be used as a business mapping tool. Such type of flowchart is known as a cross-functional flowchart.
  • The relationship between the business process and the consumer is depicted by the functional flowcharts.
  • The subject flowchart describes object-oriented programming.

Disadvantages of flowchart

  • There are no standard set of procedures to follow because a flowchart can vary from person to person.
  • Sometimes it becomes tough to draw a flowchart, which makes the entire process more complex.
  • Modifying a flowchart can be a challenging task.

Context and Application

The concept of the flowchart is useful for applicants undergoing the following courses:

  • Bachelor in Computer Science
  • Masters in Computer Science

Practice Problems

  1. In which year was the concept of the flowchart invented?
  1. 1920
  2. 1930
  3. 1921
  4. 1931

Answer: Option c

Explanation- Flowchart was invented in 1921.

2. Which of the following is not a use of flowchart?

  1. Documentation of the process
  2. Shows the flow of the algorithm
  3. Increases compilation time
  4. Can help in the planning of projects

Answer: Option c

Explanation- Increases compilation time is not a feature of the flowchart.

3. Which of the following shapes represents the beginning or end of the process in a flowchart?

  1. Square
  2. Oval
  3. Parallelogram
  4. None of these

Answer: Option b

Explanation- An oval shape is used to represent the beginning or the ending of the entire process or sub-processes.

4. Which of the following is not a type of flowchart?

  1. Document
  2. Data
  3. Structure
  4. Logical

Answer: Option d

Explanation- The rest of the options are types of flowcharts.

5. Which of the following shapes represent the decision step in a flowchart?

  1. Rectangle
  2. Diamond
  3. Parallelogram
  4. Circle

Answer: Option b

Explanation- The decision step is represented by diamonds.

Common Mistakes

The flowchart depicts the flow of a process. It can be used to represent different types of processes in various domains. The symbols used in different types of flow chart might cause confusion.

  • Data flow diagram
  • Pseudocode
  • Process flow diagram
  • Algorithm
  • Lucid chart

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