Did you perform an interventional study for which you need to provide a flowchart (or ‘flow diagram’)? There are various ways to make one.

Standard flowchart examples

One way to make the flowchart is by adapting a standard example. For a flowchart of a clinical trial go to the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) site. CONSORT is the organization that promotes standard reporting of clinical trials. You probably know them from the CONSORT statement that you are required to use as a guide in reporting clinical data from randomized trials. You can download their example flow diagram. For other study types, for instance systematic reviews and diagnostic accuracy studies, you can find example flow diagrams at the Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research (EQUATOR) website.

example flowchart from CONSORT

Using tools in Word or PowerPoint

Another solution to make a flowchart is to use the tools available in your word processor (e.g., Word) or drawing program (e.g., PowerPoint). For example, in the ribbon of both Word and PowerPoint, at the tab ‘Insert’ you can choose either ‘Shapes’ or ‘SmartArt’ to create your flowchart:

Word ribbon where you can find the tools Shapes and SmartArt
There are two options in Word and Powerpoint you can use

SmartArt allows you to choose between various designs, of these ‘Hierarchy’ is the most useful for designing a flowchart. Next select ‘Organizational chart’ as this is the option that most closely looks like the type of chart you need. Once you activate SmartArt, two new tabs, ‘Design’ and ‘Format’, will appear on your ribbon under a SmartArt Tools header:

SmartArt Tools appears in your ribbon once you start using SmartArt

The disadvantage of SmartArt is that it decides for you how boxes in your flowchart are connected. I find this incredibly annoying, so I don’t use SmartArt. The option Shapes works better for me.

Dedicated flowchart tools

My preference is to use a dedicated tool for making flowcharts. There are many available online, such as:

  • Diagrams lets you start without signing up first
  • Lucidchart requires sign up to try
  • Visme seems to be primarily about making presentations
  • Creately be sure to check out the pictogram library in this one

Most of these are free as long as (you sign up and) use them only a few times. You can always upgrade to a paid plan to have more options later. They all appear to be easy to use and have many options.

flowchart generated with Diagrams
this flowchart was generated with Diagrams

Before you start

Before you start to make the flowchart collect all necessary information. For instance, for a clinical trial you need all the subject numbers involved in your study such as the number of enrolled, excluded, randomized, and analyzed. If any subjects were excluded from the study or from the analysis check what the reasons were. All this information will need to go in the flowchart. The Consort flowchart shown above may help you collect the required data. Also look up flowcharts from studies similar to yours for ideas on what information is provided. It will save a lot of time if you prepare well before making the flowchart.

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