Using Flowcharts to Represent Algorithms

“You have to teach your algorithm what it can do and what it cannot do because, otherwise, there is a risk that the algorithms will learn the tricks of the old cartels” – Margrethe Vestager

In our discussions surrounding flowcharts, we are addressing the use of flowcharts to represent algorithms. Both flowcharts and algorithms are tools that explain how a program would work / the step by step process. There are some differences between these two tools, which we will highlight and will also talk about using flowcharts to represent algorithms in a visual manner.

Flowcharts and algorithms are used extensively within the realm of computer programming. While algorithms are the gradual and stage by stage analysis of a program, flowcharts visually and graphically explain these stages. Together the make the solution of problems easier by clarifying all the stages / steps. Experts recommend that beginners first write out the algorithms, use flowcharts to represent algorithms, and only then proceed to write the program. This makes the process of writing a high quality program a lot easier.  Let us look at the definitions of both the tools and analyze how to use flowcharts to represent algorithms.

As mentioned, algorithms are the logical and step by step methodology used to solve a problem / the procedure of solving problems. When trying to solve a computer related or mathematical problem, algorithms are the first step, and they encompass data processing, reasoning, and calculations.  A flowchart on the other hand, is the pictorial depiction / illustration of algorithms using various symbols, shapes, and connectors (arrows), signifying the process of a program. The main aim of flowcharts is to provide an analysis of several different processes, using standardized graphics. It is a lot simpler to explain algorithms using flowcharts given the fact that each step and element can be highlighted, and the relationship between each step can be lucidly explained through different colored and sized boxes and arrows.

Now that the purpose and significance of both flowcharts and algorithms have been specified, let us explain how to use flowcharts to represent algorithms. Algorithms are used mainly to describe mathematical and computer programs, while flowcharts are more versatile and can be used to describe a plethora of processes, across realms, which includes the representation of algorithms. Hence it is possible to use flowcharts to represent algorithms, as a planning tool that helps to organize the steps of process of a program in a visually explicit manner. Flowcharts can be considered as the blueprint of an algorithm, explaining the algorithm and the steps graphically. The versatility of a flowchart helps to represent algorithms since it does not need to use specific shapes and sizes, but rather the shapes and sizes can be designed to explain a particular algorithm. The different shapes and sizes would be interconnected with arrows, providing the logical explanation of an algorithm in a visual manner.

Let us look at some more advantages of using flowcharts to represent algorithms.

Since flowcharts are a pictorial representation of the steps of an algorithm, they help to streamline and make it easier to understand the logic and the following steps / stages. Given the simplification of even a complex algorithm, communicating and explaining the same to others becomes a lot better and easier. As more people understand the steps involved in a program, the analysis of the problem becomes easier, and a larger number of solutions could be possible from the ideas provided from those involved.

One of the other benefits of using flowcharts to represent algorithms is that they enhance the efficiency of the coding process – providing clear instructions, thereby making the job of programming personnel easier. In addition, since the steps are clearly and visually illustrated, it becomes a lot simpler and efficient to find defects / errors in the program, aiding in the process of testing. Lastly, since any process requires proper documentation, using flowcharts to represent algorithms ensures that complex texts are explained in single page easy to understand instructions, which can be used to train new staff and understand processes to create more algorithms.

The shapes, lines, and colors in a flowchart allow the accurate visualization of an algorithm, which is simply put a sequence of activities done to complete a process. Depending on the complexity, one can use software to create flowcharts to represent algorithms, or create one on paper.  Algorithms are present everywhere – in almost every sphere of life. It makes sense for those preparing the more complex algorithms of computer operating systems to first discuss the steps that will go into performing a process, and then use a flowchart to visually capture all the steps.

Building flowcharts to represent algorithms is as simple or as complex as the user makes it out to be. The rectangle shape represents a task in a flowchart, and this is how a flowchart must begin – by writing the first task in the rectangle drawn on the far left side. As mentioned, flowcharts move from left to right – and hence to describe the next step, another rectangle with a task written inside it, should be drawn. Once all the steps are put down, it becomes apparent that there is a logical sequence to the process steps, with the interconnecting arrows showing the order of the tasks.

Decisions to be made in any process need to be factored into the flowchart. Decisions within a flowchart are represented by a diamond shaped box, and are connected to a task using an arrow. These decision shapes and arrows help those involve in a project to choose any of the logical paths that would be most appropriate to answer the question that they set out with in the first rectangle. This type of logical thinking improves reasoning and analytical ability. It would be easy for the creators and stakeholders of a process to reach a conclusion, marking the completion of the flowchart. Once the flowchart is complete, the project can begin and be completed successfully.

Everyday tasks range from easy to complex, and the algorithms for the tasks would correspond in their complexity. When using flowcharts to represent algorithms, the more complex the algorithm, the more steps, task symbols, and decision point symbols will be present in the flowchart. Of course, there are several more symbols that exist for flowcharts, but a basic process is easily and visually captured with the task and decision point shapes and interconnecting arrows. When designing a flowchart it is possible that stakeholders miss out some steps or forget to mention some minute details. The flexibility of flowcharts allows the addition (or deletion) of steps, or rearranging those already there, to ensure that the algorithm is accurately captured and represented.

It can be conclusively said that flowcharts are an accurate and clear pictorial visualization of an algorithm, and that using flowcharts to represent algorithms makes the algorithms easy to express, use, and analyze. The use of words in algorithms is substituted by symbols, shapes, lines, and colors in flowcharts – the effect is stronger and makes the onerous task of creating algorithms interesting, faster, and more efficient. The good news is that there are several software packages and companies who work with flowcharts – your business can surely benefit from using them.

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