Technical writing: about flowcharts
“A route has no meaning in itself; its meaning derives entirely from the two points it connects.” – Milan Kundera, 1929-, Czech Author, Critic
What is a flowchart?
A flow chart can be defined as a graphical representation of a sequence of operations or steps. In other words, it is an illustration of the various steps involved in a project or process.
Typically, a flowchart consists of several boxes, arrows, and text that are combined to form a sequence.
Why create a flow chart?
The purpose of a flow chart is to show the various steps in a process in a snapshot. By looking at the flow chart, the viewer should be able to identify the various steps involved in the process.
Flowcharts can be very useful for a technical writer. If you are working on a complex process, a flow chart can show you the different steps involved in that process. For example, you might be working on a manual on how to troubleshoot the Autopilot Flight Director system for the Boeing 747 aircraft. There are several steps involved in troubleshooting this system. Each step has several substeps. By creating a flowchart, you can quickly see which step takes place at which stage of the process.
How to create a flow chart
When you’re working on a complex project, creating the flowchart itself can be a time-consuming task. Here are six simple steps you can take to create even complex flowcharts:
1. Begin by defining the end result of the process or project. The end result could be anything like completing a user manual, writing a complex software process, installing a new part, or running a test.
2. List the various steps required to achieve the end result. This will require some research. In complex processes, each step can have a series of substeps. The steps required to create a user manual could be:
For. Meet with SMEs
B. Research existing documentation
vs. Record the procedure
D. Take pictures
me. Create Artwork
F. Develop the user guide
gram. Try the user guide
h. Make changes / adjustments
I. Deliver the final product
3. Define the starting point of the project process. This is the first step that starts the process. For example, the first step could be planning or researching the project.
4. Write the starting point and the end result. Both should be in boxes with some space between them. Adjust this space according to the number of steps and substeps involved in the process.
5. Draw an arrow from the starting point to the final result.
6. Along this arrow, list the various steps in order that are needed to get from the starting point to the final result. Include any sub-steps that are necessary.
Some processes may have multiple step branches involved. For example, to go from Step 1 to Step 2, there could be three options. I would illustrate it on the flow chart as three separate arrows going from Step 1 to Step 2.
A flow chart is like a road map. It has a starting point (A) and an ending point (B). Your goal is to get from point A to point B. The flow chart tells you what is involved in the process.
For a technical writer, a flow chart can be a very useful tool to illustrate various operations and processes. Before starting your next project, see if you can illustrate the process through a flow chart. It will make life easier for you and your manager or client. The end result will be a better project that is good for your target audience.
Note: Microsoft Visio is good software for creating flowcharts.