How To Make a Flowchart in Word Using Shapes or SmartArt

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published March 17, 2022

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.

Flowcharts are a helpful organizational tool for various roles. You can create them manually in different programs, including Word. If you intend to use this tool, you may want to know how to design one you can customize. In this article, we discuss what a flowchart is, why they're used, two ways to create one in Word and provide some tips for improving your flowcharts.

Related: 8 Types of Organizational Charts

What is a flowchart?

A flowchart is a diagram that displays the connections between different objects or subjects. You can use these diagrams to visualize processes by separating each step and using symbols to indicate qualities about each object and their relationship to each other. Rectangles or circles typically indicate an object, while arrows or various connecting lines indicate how the objects relate to each other and the order in which you can understand them. You can use flowcharts to show different pathways simultaneously. Flowcharts are essential to various operations, including project management, process creation, supply chain mapping and company organization.

Related: How To Create a Flowchart (Plus Definition and Tips)

Why make a flowchart?

Flowcharts are useful as an organizational tool to help you complete the following tasks:

Plan a process

When developing a process or project, you can use a flowchart to help determine the distinct steps and how they relate to each other. Projects can seem overwhelming when considered as a whole, but if you can split the project into smaller tasks, you can identify each one easily. Using different colors or symbols, you can create an organizational key that helps you identify what type of task each step requires and who handles it.

You can also determine the order in which you can complete the steps. Planning your processes before you start the project can be the first step in executing a successful project.

Analyze processes

When reevaluating a process, attempting to find bottlenecks or looking for waste within your project, you can use a flowchart to see how each step affects the process. You can look at the entire process by identifying redundancies and steps in the process that don't contribute to the flow of the project. You can use the analysis from your flowchart to restructure operations to make them more efficient and require fewer resources.

Related: What Is Data Visualization: Definition, Types and Tools

Communicate organization

Flow charts are visual tools that can communicate information to other departments or colleagues. When presenting a project or a change in processes, you can create a flowchart to accompany your explanation or provide a reference. Learning how to create an easily understandable flowchart can improve your communication skills and eliminate confusion between team members.

Related: Q&A: What Is a Flowchart?

How to make a flowchart in Word using shapes

You can follow these steps to create a flowchart in Word using shapes:

1. Open Word

You can find Microsoft Word in your applications or programs. Open the program by double-clicking the program icon. A dialog box may appear asking if you want to open a new or saved document. If you're working on a project, you can find it in the saved documents by searching for the document's title. To create a new document, you can open a blank page or choose from a preset template. Double-click on the file you want to open.

2. Display gridlines

You can use gridlines to help guide the placements of your flowchart's elements. You can place the objects and connecting lines on the gridlines so they align, and your chart has a clean, organized look. To make gridlines appear on your document, take your mouse to the toolbar at the top of your screen, and click the "View" tab. Then scroll down to the "Gridlines" option. Clicking on this option makes horizontal and vertical lines appear, covering your document without disrupting the content you've already placed.

You can follow these lines for placement and remove them when you've finished building your flowchart. You can remove them by going back to the "View" tab and deselecting "Gridlines."

3. Insert shapes

To establish the outline of your flowchart, select from different premade shapes, like rectangles, circles, diamonds and speech bubbles. Click on the "Insert" tab on the toolbar at the top of the program window and look for the icon with a square and a circle, named "Shapes." Clicking on this icon shows a drop-down menu of shapes separated into the following sections:

  • Block arrows

  • Equation shapes

  • Flowchart

  • Starts and banners

  • Callouts

Under the flowchart section, you can use find shapes to use as objects in your flowchart. The drop-down box disappears when you click one and your cursor turns into a crosshair. You can click and drag the shape until it's the size you want. You can format the object to be a different color or style by going to the tab "Shape Format" and selecting different fill colors or styles for each object. Objects with different formatting can indicate distinct features of the object, like different departments.

4. Add objects

You can assign objects to the shapes you place to organize your flowchart. Decide what tasks or steps in your flowchart you want to assign to each shape and what order to present them. You can add text to the shapes to name the objects by double-clicking the shape. When you start typing, the text appears inside the shape. You can format the text by clicking on the "Home" tab at the top of the program window. In this tab, you can change the font, size and color.

5. Insert connectors between shapes

When you've created and labeled all your objects, you can assign connections between each object. Connectors are lines or arrows between two or more objects that indicate their relationship. You can plan each relationship before inserting the connectors and assign different formats to each type of connection, like dotted lines or different colors, to differentiate between them.

To insert the connectors, click on the "Insert" tab at the top of the program window and select the "Shapes" icon. The first section, named "Lines," has a selection of lines and arrows. Select your line and click and drag your cursor onto the document to place it. You can format the line in the "Shape Format" tab. To use the same line format repeatedly, you can set it as your default style by right-clicking the line and selecting "Set as Default Line" from the drop-down menu.

6. Add additional text

You can add additional text to your flow chart by going to the "Insert" tab at the top of the program window. In the drop-down menu that appears, select "Text Box" to trigger another drop-down menu. You can either draw your text box, select a premade text box or drag your cursor to create one of your own. Once you place the text box, you can begin typing in it to add the text you want. You can format that text by using the toolbar in the "Home" tab.

You may want additional text in your flowchart to create an organization key, describing the different shapes and colors and what they indicate about each object's features. You can also add a title or subtitle to further explain the purpose of the flowchart, making it easier to share and to refer to for coworkers. If you want to add further explanation to the relationships, you can add text boxes on top of the connectors.

How to make a flowchart in Word using SmartArt

You can also use the SmartArt feature to create a flowchart using these steps:

1. Insert SmartArt

SmartArt is a function of Word that provides premade graphics. You can access these graphics under the "Insert" tab by clicking the SmartArt icon. From the drop-down menu that appears, select the "Process" option to look through the different types of charts SmartArt has available. There are various shapes and connections you can choose. Click the style you want and place it in your document.

2. Format flowchart

SmartArt allows you to add special effects like changing the color and design of the graphic. You can also change your mind about what style you want to use by selecting your flow chart and returning to the SmartArt drop-down menu to choose a different style. The new style automatically replaces the existing style.

The SmartArt graphics are premade with set graphic elements like numbers of steps and locations for labels. You can add additional steps in the same style as needed under the "SmartArt Design" tab. Click on the "Add Shape" button to add a shape before or after the graphic.

3. Add text

Once you complete your graphic, you can add text to label each object and relationship. The text box where you can edit the labels may have placeholder text. You can add additional text or reorganize the text in your flowchart by using the "Text Pane" button under the "SmartArt Design" tab. You can also format your text's color, font and size under the "Home" tab.

4. Place images

Some SmartArt graphics provide the option to add images. If the style you selected has this capability, the object where you can add the photo has an image icon in the middle. To add the photo, you can click on the image icon to launch a document finder window. In this window, you can search the computer memory for an image you want to place. Select the image and click "Insert." You may have limited ability to edit or move the image once it's inserted, so try to control the size and crop of your image in a separate file before placing it in your flowchart.

Tips for creating a flowchart in Word

Here are some additional tips to help you create a flowchart in Word:

Choose the right method

The two different methods of creating a flowchart have different advantages depending on what you need. You can personalize a flowchart made with shapes to your exact specifications, and you can design it to feature more organizing features than a premade graphic. If you have a complex system or need to alter your flowchart in specific ways, you can use the shapes method. If you have a simple flowchart or need to make frequent changes that don't affect the overall formatting of the flowchart, you can make one in SmartArt fairly quickly and simply.

Plan the steps

Planning the steps and relationships of your flowchart before you design it can make the process easier. Before opening your Word document, consider sketching a model of the flowchart you want to create. You can also make a list of the individual steps and the potential connections they may have. Changing the digital version of your flowchart is possible, but it may be easier to fix mistakes before you format the entire thing, especially if you choose to use shapes.

Keep it consistent

Be consistent with the graphics and labels you use. Different colors, symbols or line types may mean different connections or objects. To avoid confusion, use the same graphic types unless you want to show different features. A cohesive design can also make your flowchart more professional-looking.

Be concise

Your flowchart can be one page long to make it easier to read and share with others. It can be confusing for some to follow the relationships between a long flowchart and a chart that exists on multiple pages. You can also make your flowchart easier to print or move to a PowerPoint if it's concise.

Use a key

If your flowchart has multiple types of objects or connectors, include a key to explain the significance of each. The key can help your colleagues understand the graphic language of your flowchart. If you update the chart or change the graphics, remember to update the key too.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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