applied tips : march 2008

microsoft powerpoint : creating a flowchart

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” and nowhere is this truer than in Microsoft PowerPoint. No one wants to watch a presentation that consists of only text – which is why PowerPoint comes equipped with many different features to help you convey information in style.

One way to convey information in a presentation is using a flowchart. Consisting of shapes, text, and arrows, flowcharts range from giving step by step instructions to mapping the flow of an idea.

This article will explain just about everything you need to know about creating flowcharts, including how to plan, build, and design a work of flowchart art!

Building blocks

To describe a process, a flowchart uses descriptive text and a variety of shapes and connectors that illustrate the directional flow of activity.

Each shape has a specific use. For example, there’s a shape for the steps that begin and end a process, another shape for decision points, and another for the main steps involved. Take a look at the graphic at the end to familiarize yourself with the most common flowchart shapes and what they’re used for. Keep in mind that the descriptions listed are all relative; you don’t need to adhere to them in order to create a successful flowchart.

Ready, set, flow!

Before you start creating your flowchart, it helps to do some planning first. For example, you might want to sketch a rough outline of the process on a piece of paper. Number each step as you go along to figure out how many shapes you’re going to need.

In the Slide Layout task pane (or Slide Layout dialog box in PowerPoint 2000), select the Blank or Title Only slide layout.

If you are using PowerPoint 2002 or 2003, select View > Grid and Guides from the menu. In the Grid and Guides dialog box, click the “Display grid on screen” check box and click OK. Displaying the grid will help you align the shapes in your flowchart.

Gather your tools

Now that you’ve planned out your flowchart and inserted grid guides, let’s finish prepping your workspace.

Click the AutoShapes button on the Drawing toolbar and select Flowchart from the menu. The Flowchart submenu appears. We want to detach this submenu so that it “floats” in the middle of the screen.

Click the Flowchart submenu’s move handle and drag it to the middle of the screen. Tada! Now you won’t have to open the Flowchart submenu every time you want to insert a shape.

Do the same with the Connectors submenu.

Inserting shapes

Now that the Flowchart and Connector menus are readily accessible onscreen, it’s time to start inserting shapes.

Double-click the Terminator shape on the Flowchart menu, then click anywhere on the slide. A terminator shape appears on the slide. Click anywhere on the slide once more. Another Terminator shape appears. Press the key.

Using the double-click method is a great way to add multiple shapes that are a consistent size. Although the default shape size is rather small, it’s very easy to resize multiple shapes while still maintaining a consistent shape size. Simply hold down the key as you select each shape you want to resize, then click and drag a sizing handle on one shape to change the size of all shapes.

Inserting text

Once you’ve finished inserting shapes, it’s time to add text to them.

To add text, simply click in the shape and type. Don’t worry if the text spills out of the shape; you can easily fix this by applying text wrapping.

To apply text wrapping, right-click the shape and select Format AutoShape from the shortcut menu. Click the Text Box tab, click the “Word wrap text in AutoShape” check box to select it, and click OK. The text “wraps” inside the shape.

If the text still doesn’t fit inside the shape, resize the shape accordingly or reduce the size of the text.

Aligning shapes

Although grid guides can be extremely helpful when it comes to positioning shapes, you can also use the Drawing toolbar.

Select the object(s) you want to align or distribute. Click the Draw button on the Drawing toolbar and select Align or Distribute > Relative to Slide from the menu. Click the Draw button once again and select Align or Distribute from the menu. Select an option from the menu.

Inserting connectors

To connect two shapes, double-click the type of connector you want to use on the Connectors menu and position the mouse pointer over the first shape. Hot points appear around the shape, indicating where you can apply the connector.

Click the hot point that you want the connector to start from, and then click a hot point on the second shape to connect the two shapes.

To change the length or angle of a connector, move the shape that it is attached to. To delete a connector, select it and press .

Flowchart Colors

A flowchart inherits the color scheme of the slide it is inserted on, but you can easily change this.

Select the shape whose fill color you want to change and click the Fill Color button list arrow on the Drawing toolbar. Here you can select a color from the list, select More Fill Colors to select a new color, or select Fill Effects to apply a gradient, texture, pattern, or picture.

Common flowchart shapes

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