Learn About 28 Flowchart Symbols and Their Meanings

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated December 1, 2022

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An illustration of a flow chart

When managing a workflow process, such as developing new software, applications or documents and reports, it can sometimes be helpful to create a flowchart to help outline the workflow's smaller processes. When creating a flowchart, you can use a variety of symbols to represent the different elements involved in the workflow. Learning about these symbols can help you construct a detailed and easy-to-read flowchart more easily.

In this article, we describe 28 different flowchart symbols and their meanings so you can represent the various actions or steps in a process.

What are flowchart symbols?

Flowchart symbols are the elements you can use to describe the steps involved in a workflow process, which explains how to complete specific work. The flowchart outlines the workflow processes and functions as a digital representation of the sequence of activities that are to occur. The flowchart's symbols help guide project teams by demonstrating the specific sequence of the assigned tasks through various shapes and arrows. 

Related: Q&A: What Is a Flowchart?

Flowchart symbols and their meanings

There are a variety of symbols you can apply to a workflow, and different departments of an organization may use more complex symbols to outline certain processes specific to their teams. For example, at a software development firm, the programming department may use flowchart symbols to outline a specific diagram for an application, data processing program or user flow software. Here are some common flowchart symbols that you might incorporate into your chart:

1. Start and end

This symbol represents the starting and end points and the potential outcomes of a process. It typically functions as an elongated oval with a single starting and ending point. It may contain the word "Start" or "End" within the symbol itself. 

Related: How To Create a Flowchart in 4 Steps (Plus Types and Tips)

2. Process 

Represented as a rectangle, the process or action symbol shows a specific process, action or function. Many flowcharts use this symbol to represent specific steps in the process it's diagramming. It can help show the basic tasks or actions that need completing. 

Related: What Is a Process Map?

3. Input and output 

This symbol represents any data that can be available for input and output. You can use it to represent any resources you previously used or produced. Also referred to as the data symbol and shaped as a parallelogram, it's often possible to substitute it with other symbols.

Related: Differences Between Inputs vs. Outputs (With Definitions)

4. Decision 

Shaped as a rhombus, this symbol helps indicate a question that results in a "yes" or "no" answer, in addition to a possible "true" or "false" situation. Depending on the answer to the proposed question, the flowchart can then separate into various branches to complete the outline of the workflow. This symbol can be useful for more complex flowcharts with many elements.

5. Document 

This symbol is a rectangle with its bottom side in a wave, representing the input or output of a document. For example, you might use this symbol to outline a document input, including receiving an email or report. You can also use it to represent a document output, which might include producing a presentation or project.

6. Connector

A connector symbol is a small circle you can use to separate the elements of a flowchart across an entire page. This symbol might be useful in flowcharts containing more complex processes, such as showcasing the software or application development life cycle. It replaces longer lines that may reduce the available space in a flowchart. 

7. Off-page connector or link

This symbol is an upside-down pentagon, often useful in more complex flowcharts. It connects the separate elements of multiple pages. Some off-page connector circles may contain a page number, allowing for easier reference.

8. Comment or note

This symbol is a curly bracket that helps add additional information or comments to a specified range. A dashed line may also connect it to the related sections of a flowchart. It helps provide additional context to a specific process or component.

9. Multiple documents

This symbol functions similarly to the document symbol but represents multiple documents in the flowchart. It adds additional documents or reports that may be necessary for the workflow. The multiple documents symbol may offer an additional reference point in a flowchart.

10. Predefined process

This symbol represents a complex process or operation already explained elsewhere in the flowchart. It's a rectangle with a line at each end of the shape. It helps depict sub-processes, or the smaller processes within a larger process.

11. Database

This cylinder-shaped flowchart symbol represents stored data. This data often allows for user searches and filtering capabilities. For example, it may represent the data within a real estate app that allows users to search and filter results by price, location and other search criteria. 

Related: What Are the Different Types of Databases?

12. Stored data

Also referred to as the data storage symbol, this flowchart symbol represents where a workflow process stores data. For example, a software developer producing a new program for accounting might use this symbol to represent the specific location of various financial data. This data may relate to different calculation processes.

13. Paper tape 

The paper tape symbol appears as a waving flag. It's another complex flowchart symbol and may be useful for depicting the processes or specific input data for older computers. You may also use it for depicting computer numerical control (CNC) router processes. 

14. Internal storage 

This symbol is useful in flowcharts that outline various software designs. It indicates the data stored within an internal memory system. A large square with two connecting lines on the far left side represents the internal storage symbol. 

Related: 14 Types of Computer Memory (With Definitions and Uses)

15. Manual input

This flowchart symbol represents the manual input of data, such as typing data into a specific field or form. For example, if you sign up for a new email account, the login fields require you to enter your data manually. The manual input symbol showcases this process in the software development flowchart you created. 

16. Manual operation

This flowchart symbol is a trapezoid representing each step in a process requiring manual completion. It's similar to the manual input symbol, but it represents an entire operation or process rather than a single step. This symbol may be useful for highlighting the process steps that aren't automatic. 

17. Manual loop

This symbol shows a set of commands or prompts that continue to repeat until you manually end them. Shaped like a hexagon, it represents the loop or the control flow statement for specifying iteration. The symbol may also contain the full loop statement. 

Related: A Definitive Guide to the OODA Loop and Its 4 Stages

18. Loop limit 

This flowchart shape functions as the converse to the manual loop symbol and indicates the ending point of the process loop. The symbol for a loop limit is a rectangle with squared-off top edges. The loop limit can be beneficial for demonstrating the conclusion of a loop.

Related: What Is a Control Chart? (Plus Uses, Types and How-To Guide)

19. Summing junction

A summing junction symbol has a shape similar to a railroad sign with an X inside a circle. It summarizes the input of several converging process paths. This symbol helps indicate the exact point at which multiple branches intersect and form a single process. 

20. Or 

Similar to the summing junction symbol, the or symbol helps indicate where a specific workflow process converges. You can represent it as a circle containing a cross. It showcases the point at which a process diverges and continues into multiple branches.

21. Merge 

This upside-down triangle shape symbolizes merging multiple paths into one process path. It can also depict the merging of multiple sets of information. You may consider this symbol to be a funnel combining different workflow parts. 

22. Preparation

The preparation symbol helps differentiate between the steps necessary for preparing the work and the steps that involve completing the work. You may also use it to outline the arrangement of the other steps in the same process. This symbol appears as a wide hexagon.

23. Delay

A delay symbol is an elongated half-oval that indicates a delay within a process. Programmers may use this symbol to indicate the specific length of a delay within the software development process. It can also make it easier to understand the source of the delay.

Related: Cost of Delay: Definition, Types and Tips for Calculating

24. Display

A display symbol within a flowchart indicates where the chart is to display the data within a process to a user. It has a shape similar to a delay symbol and represents the flow of information within a process. It can be useful for complex processes that require user input. 

25. Hard disk

A hard disk or direct access storage symbol appears as a cylinder turned on its side. It shows where a hard drive stores data. This symbol can be useful for flowcharts showcasing computer processes. 

Related: 14 Types of Computer Memory (With Definitions and Uses)

26. Collate 

Appearing as a triangular hourglass, the collate symbol represents a step in a process requiring data or information organization. It demonstrates the process of organizing information into a standardized format. Standardization can be useful for ensuring that the data remains consistent. 

27. Sort 

Represented as a bisected kite, you can use the sort flowchart symbol to indicate data sorting into a specific order or sequence based on a predetermined criteria. This criterion may vary depending on your goals. For example, you might use it to document data sorting in descending order based on percentage.

28. Subroutine 

This flowchart symbol indicates a sequence of actions that performs a smaller task within a larger process. It may indicate a more detailed description of the outlined sequence within a separate flowchart. A subroutine symbol typically has an elongated rectangle shape.

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