7 steps to follow when creating a diagram

Creating a diagram may be a total curse or the most interesting and creative experience on the project. It all depends on information complexity, the time needed, and your drawing skills. In this article, I will explain the steps how to create a diagram from scratch.

So, how can something like this …


Figure # 1 Original drawing by an SME

… be transformed into something like this? 🙂


Figure # 2 Final diagram by an InfoDev

Usually, this is an Information Developer who creates diagrams for the documentation. So, let’s have a closer look at the steps you need to follow: 

1. Define core components of a diagram

Every diagram has its primary components that form the core and flow of the data and secondary components that add to a deeper understanding of the diagram. Start with identifying your primary components. You might be tempted to include EVERYTHING you know into one diagram, but in that way, you would mix the high-level and low-level information. Such a diagram will be very confusing for the user.

2. Locate components on the diagram

Roughly locate your primary and secondary components on the diagram. Don’t waste time on aligning and distributing shapes perfectly, as they will undergo lots of changes and reviews. Concentrate on the logical flow and not on the look of components.

3. Create interdependencies among components

Now, it’s time to build relationships and interdependencies among primary components. Decide what is the most logical way to present the data flow (for example, circularly, horizontally, or other). The user must understand the data flow and logic of dependencies by just glancing at the diagram and not by reading it in detail.

Don’t try to finalize your diagram before the technical review because it will be a waste of everyone’s time. There will be changes, corrections, relocations, and improvements.

4. Review the diagram for technical accuracy

Meet with the SME to review the technical accuracy of the diagram. I recommend using a printed version of the diagram and a pencil. This will allow the SME to make changes directly on the diagram and draw over your components.

Check the positioning of components (what components should go forward/backward and what should overlap), the types of connections (for example, double-headed or single-headed arrows), direction of connections, and other.

During reviews, the SME will come up with lots of improvements. Discuss them in detail and then filter ideas into those that are worth including into the diagram, and those that are just nice to have, and therefore can be omitted.

5. Define the look and feel of the diagram

Only after the technical review is completed can you start formatting the diagram and applying styles. Be consistent in using the same shapes, colors, and formatting to denote specific components throughout the diagrams in documentation. It makes your graphics recognizable and helps the users make mental associations.

Don’t forget about the dimensions of your diagram, as it might be limited to the paper size (for example, Letter, A4, or other) of your printed documentation.

6. Review the diagram for appliance with in-house style guides

At this stage, the diagram is reviewed for the consistency in style with all other graphics on the project. If you have an in-house style guide, all the graphic nuances concerning shapes, types, colors, styles, file formats, and other are documented there.

You can review the diagram yourself or discuss the details with a UX designer or other Information Developer.

7. Maintain and update the diagram

Finally, you created the diagram, and this adventurous process is over. What’s next? Now, get ready to constantly watch for the updates to the functionality to make the appropriate changes to your diagram.

I hope that this article was of use for everyone who is new to creating diagrams as well as for expert Information Developers.

Additionally, you can read practical tips on how to make your diagrams informative, visually appealing, and easy to comprehend.


5 thoughts on “7 steps to follow when creating a diagram

  1. Thanks for this, Halyna. Regarding #6: do you know of any graphical style guides that are in common use? For writing we have the Chicago Manual, Microsoft Style, and so forth — but I don’t know of any comparable ones for visuals. Appreciate your help.


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