Photo: Susan Merrell

High level guide to making flowcharts


Flow charts are CRUCIAL visual aids in modern word processing. I rely on them heavily. I use a process that allows me to embed flowcharts in Microsoft Word documents while future-proofing them as much as possible - meaning I want to be able to edit the flowchart in a Word document at some later date. So, no pasting images/pictures of flowcharts.

I have found some issues with creating flowcharts in Office 2010. So here's what I do.

-        Create the flow chart in a powerpoint slide using CONNECTORS instead of arrows. Drag the connectors until they “bond” with the shapes they are connecting (the dot will turn red instead of green when you get the connector lined up with a little placeholder on each side of a shape)

-        Create text as a text box and then add a shape as a border. Do NOT write text and then draw a border around it (like a rectangle or circle). Add the shape as a BORDER. Text should be centered in the box. Boxes should be aligned using powerpoints “Align center” or “Align middle”. This will make the connectors look straight as well. Note that getting things perfectly aligned may require that the dimensions of the connected boxes (height and width) are the same across several boxes.

-        Now, in Powerpoint, select the entire slide in the SLIDE SORTER view of Powerpoint. Copy it to the clipboard. Do NOT try to copy a subset of the flowchart by lassoing and selecting.

-        Switch to Word, and use the PASTE SPECIAL command (look it up and make paste special your friend) to paste as a Microsoft Powerpoint Slide Object.

-        Now, when you want to edit the flow chart, right click on the slide object and choose “Slide Object, OPEN” (not edit). This opens the flowchart in Powerpoint with all commands available. I've found that using EDIT instead of OPEN creates issues, as my diagrams shrink when I close.

The reasons for following this admittedly complex procedure  include:

-        First and foremost, flow charts should be easy to edit by future users of your documents. This means moving boxes and having arrows stay connected. It means minimizing formatting. I can spend 4 hours on a flowchart easily; and I don’t want future editors (including me) to experience any barriers to adding a step or moving a box.

-        Word 2010 does not have good connector capabilities for flowcharting but Powerpoint does. (This is one of these aggravating examples where Word 2010 is worse than previous editions.) That’s why you edit flowcharts in Powerpoint.

-        Powerpoint also has better alignment and other graphics facilities than Word

In general, I write a LOT of flow charts and I almost NEVER use anything exotic (like Inspiration or Visio) because I want future users of my documents (protocols etc) to be able to edit the flow charts with the a very widely available program. So I make sure they show up as powerpoint-editable objects in Word. 


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