How to make a flowchart in Word (step-by-step guide)

Updated 19 March 2023

Microsoft Word has built-in tools for creating different types of flowcharts. You can create one using different shapes or by accessing the SmartArt options. You can also import a flowchart into Word from MS Excel. In this article, we guide you through the steps to create and format a flowchart.

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How to make a flowchart in Word

You can use graphics, shapes and symbols to create a flowchart within the program. This can be a simple chart based on one of Word's templates or a more elaborate chart using different colours and effects. Open a blank Word document and follow these steps:

1. Insert a canvas

A canvas isn't necessary, but it has some advantages. A canvas can help when positioning images and you can format a canvas into a pleasing backdrop. Sometimes a canvas is needed because some connectors only work on a canvas. To insert a canvas, click the Insert tab and select the Shapes drop-down button. From the menu, select New Drawing Canvas.

Related: How to create a form in Word that others can fill in

2. Insert gridlines

Gridlines help you to position and size the shapes and lines. To insert gridlines, click on the View tab. Then, select the Gridlines check box.

3. Add shapes

The shapes tool offers a selection of basic objects to insert and edit in the document. You can also add symbols with this tool. To add shapes:

  1. Switch to the Insert tab.

  2. Click on Shapes to open the shapes menu.

  3. Select the shape you want to use from the drop-down menu.

  4. Your cursor then becomes a crosshair.

  5. Click and drag to draw the shape and place it on the page.

  6. A new Format tab appears with commands that enable you to format your shape, change its outline, fill colour and more.

  7. If you're going to use the same shape for the whole chart, right-click the shape and select Set as Default Shape.

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4. Insert text into shapes

Select the shape and start typing. Customise the font via the toolbox that pops up when you select the relevant shape. You can edit the text layout by right-clicking a text box and clicking on the Layout Options icon.

5. Add lines

Connect shapes by drawing lines between them. To do this, click insert, then shapes and select a line style. Then, click and drag on the page to add a line. Once on the page, select the line. Click the centre handle on the first shape, hold down the mouse button and drag to the centre handle on the next shape. You can format the lines with different widths and colours. If you're going to use the same line format for the whole chart, right-click on the line and select Set as Default Line.

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6. Format shapes and lines

Right-clicking on a shape or line opens a menu with basic editing options. You can move shapes or lines anywhere in the document by clicking and dragging within the shape. You can resize a shape by clicking and dragging the shape from a corner or edge. You can also rotate the shape using the handle icon.

Related: A guide to the different types of charts and graphs

7. Resizing your canvas

If your canvas is too big for your flowchart, resize it by right-clicking anywhere inside the canvas and selecting Fit. Later, you may want to add more shapes. You can expand it to accommodate more shapes by right-clicking inside the canvas and selecting Expand.

Create a flowchart using SmartArt

The SmartArt tool has a gallery of pre-designed shapes and graphics. To use this tool, click on the Insert tab and select SmartArt. A gallery box then pops up. Click the SmartArt selection you want to use and a preview of that graphic shows up in the right-hand panel. Click OK to insert the graphic into your document.

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Add text

When you've added all the boxes you want to your chart, you can enter the text. To do this, click on the Design tab, click Text Pane, then Text and type your text. You can also copy text from another location or program by clicking Text in the Text Pane and then pasting your text. Depending on how much text you add, the program automatically resizes the shape and font to fit.

Change colours

You can change the colours in your flowchart or apply a SmartArt Style. You can apply colour changes to the background, boxes and borders or choose a combination of colours for the theme. You can also add effects such as glows, soft edges or 3D.

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Theme colours

You can apply a combination colour change. To do this, click on the SmartArt graphic that you want to change. On the Design tab in the SmartArt Styles group, click Change Colours and click the colour combination you want.

Background style or box colour

You can change background styles and box colours. This can be done by right-clicking the box you want to edit in the SmartArt graphic and then clicking Format Shape. To change the fill style, click the arrow next to Fill to expand the list and choose from these options:

  • no fill

  • solid fill

  • gradient fill

  • picture or text fill

  • pattern fill

Click Colour and then select a colour from the gallery. Specify the transparency of the background colour by moving the Transparency slider or entering a number into the box next to the slider. The default 0% is fully opaque, 100% is totally transparent.

Box borders

In the SmartArt graphic, right-click on the box you want to change and click Format Shape. To change the colour of the box border, click the arrow next to Line to expand the list and choose from the following options:

  • no line, solid line or gradient line

  • colour

  • transparency (use the Transparency slider or enter a percentage)

  • width (in pixels)

  • compound type

  • dash type

  • cap type

Add, delete and move boxes

To add boxes click on the Design tab in SmartArt and select Add Shape. Choose if you want to add a shape before or after. You can also copy and paste the box and then adjust it. To delete a box, select it and hit Delete. To move a box, select it and drag it to the new location.

Change the layout

You can change the layout of a SmartArt graphic by selecting the shape and selecting a new style from the Design tab within the Ribbon menu. You can edit the chart layout without losing any text. From the Design tab, you can continue to add shapes and connect them with lines until your flowchart is complete.

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Apply a SmartArt style

SmartArt styles combine various effects, such as line style, bevel or 3D, which you can apply to the boxes in your SmartArt graphic. To do this, click on the SmartArt graphic you want to change. On the Design tab, click on the style you want in the SmartArt Styles group.

Helpful hints

It's a good idea to format your chart only after you've completed it, to save you from having to continually reformat things. Other things to note include:

  • You can use a shape format repeatedly by right-clicking on a formatted item and selecting Set Autoshape Defaults. If you add any shapes after that, they follow the same format.

  • You can use standard colours, gradients and textures, but there's also an option to customise these.

  • The View Gridlines option displays the grids on the canvas and over the entire document. Select the canvas while selecting the grid to be displayed only on the canvas, but be aware that you won't be able to see the grids after applying a background.

  • Align the flowchart by holding down the Shift key and clicking on all shapes and connectors to select them. Click on the Format tab, then select Group, then click on Align and Align Centre.

  • Once you've aligned the flowchart, click on Group again and select Ungroup. If you don't group the shapes and connectors, they all align to the centre on top of one another.

  • When you group shapes, it disables the Fit feature. Enable it again by ungrouping the shapes.

Related: How to highlight Excel skills on your CV

Import a flowchart from Excel to Word

There are three ways to import a flowchart from Excel to Word:

  • Import the flowchart as an image: In Excel, use the Export as Picture tool and insert the image file into your Word document.

  • Copy and paste into your Word document: Click Select Shapes then Select All from the FlowBreeze toolbar and hit Control+C. In the target file, click Paste Special and select the Picture (Enhanced Metafile) option.

  • Embed the flowchart: Ensure the Excel page containing the flowchart is the active sheet and scroll the flowchart into view, then Save and Close the Excel file. In Word, select the destination for the flowchart and, n the Insert tab, click Object then select Create from file and use the Browse button to locate the Excel file and click OK.

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

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