Create sophisticated professional diagrams in Microsoft Word

This document introduces you to Word's basic diagramming features and explains how to use them to create great diagrams. Along the way, it creates an illustrative example.

On a recent consulting job, I had a client asked me if I could recommend a good, easy-to-use, and affordable diagramming software application other than Microsoft Visio. He then went on to say that he only needed the basics for his project and couldn't justify the cost of a copy of Visio nor could he afford the amount of time that it would take to get up and running with Visio.

After giving it a bit of thought, I recommended that he just use Microsoft Word. His puzzled stare immediately clued me in that he had no idea that Word could do basic diagramming.

After I spent some time acquainting him with Word's diagramming features, which include the ability to create Cycle, Radial, Pyramid, Venn, and Target diagrams as well as the more standard flow and organizational charts, he was quickly creating the diagrams that he needed for his project. The fact that my client wasn't aware of Word's diagramming features reminded me that most of the folks who use Word only take advantage of a small fraction of all the features that are packed into Word and that Visio, while it is the most recognizable, isn't the only diagramming tool you have at your disposal.

In this document, I'll introduce you to Word's basic diagramming features and explain how to use them to create great diagrams. Along the way, I'll create an example.


The diagramming features that I'll describe in this article are only available in Word XP and Word 2003. Keep in mind, that the other applications in both the Office XP and Office 2003 suites also provide the same diagramming features. However, since Word is probably the most commonly used application, and in this case, the more appropriate application, I'll use Word to demonstrate the diagramming features. More specifically, I'll be using Word 2003 for my examples and screen shots.

Getting started

To get started, launch Word and create a new document. Then, pull down the Insert menu and select the Diagram command. When you do so, you'll see the Diagram Gallery dialog box, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A:

The Diagram Gallery displays the six basic diagrams that you can create with Word's diagramming feature.

As you can see, the Diagram Gallery contains six diagram types. Each of these diagram types is described in Table A.

Table A: The Diagram Gallery contains six diagram types

Diagram Type


Organizational Chart

Use this to illustrate hierarchical relationships

Cycle Diagram

Use this to illustrate a process with a continuous cycle

Radial Diagram

Use this to illustrate relationships of a core element

Pyramid Diagram

Use this to illustrate foundation-based relationships

Venn Diagram

Use this to illustrate areas of overlap between elements

Target Diagram

Use this to illustrate steps toward a goal

Looking over the diagram work area

Once you select a diagram type, a template will appear in your document, as shown in Figure B, which is ready for you to begin customizing to your specific needs. However, before we actually create a diagram, let's take a few moments to look around the work area.

Figure B:

Once you insert a diagram into your document, you'll see the work area and the Diagram toolbar.

Looking at the diagram itself, you'll see that it has a border around it that defines the work area. This border will disappear once you select anything outside the work and it will not print. You'll notice that there are eight sizing handles, represented by circles, around the border that you can use, via a click and drag operation, to resize the entire diagram.

The Diagram toolbar, which only appears when the work area is selected, provides you with a host of configuration and design tools. As you can see in Figure B, the first item on the toolbar is the Insert Shape button, which when clicked automatically places an appropriate element type to the diagram. For example, if you're creating a Radial diagram, the Insert Shape button will add an additional circle to the diagram. (While I'm on the topic, to delete a shape, simply select the element and press [Delete].)

The next two buttons on the toolbar, Move Shape Backward and Move Shape Forward, allows you to move individual elements around within the diagram. For example, if you're creating a Pyramid diagram, you can use these buttons to move individual elements up and down the pyramid.

The Reverse Diagram button allows you to reorient the entire diagram at once. For example, if you're creating a Cycle diagram, in which the arrows point to the right by default, clicking the Reverse Diagram button will reorient the diagram so that the arrows point to the left.

Next up we have the Layout drop-down menu, as shown in Figure C. The Fit Diagram to Contents command automatically tightens the border around the diagram without resizing the diagram itself while the Expand Diagram command automatically add space, at preset intervals, between the border and the diagram without resizing the diagram. The Resize Diagram command adds resizing handles to the border that allow you to manually change the border spacing, via a click and drag operation, without resizing the diagram. The fourth command on the Layout menu is actually a toggle switch labeled AutoLayout, which is a setting that must be enabled in order to use the Insert Shape, AutoFormat and Change To features. However, if the AutoLayout setting is disabled when you select any of these three features, a dialog box will prompt you to enable it.

Figure C:

The Layout drop-down menu allows you to alter the spacing between the diagram and the border.

When you click the AutoFormat button, you'll see the Diagram Style Gallery dialog box, as shown in Figure D, and can select from a variety of theme-like styles. Typically, you'll use feature once you've completed your diagram and want to spice it up.

Figure D:

Word provides a variety of theme-like styles that you can use to change the appearance of your diagram.

The Change To drop-down menu allows you to reformat a diagram using one of four other diagram types—Organization Chart isn't included. For example, if you've created a Radial diagram and then want to see how it would look as a Target diagram, you'd just click the Change To drop-down menu, as shown in Figure E, and select Target. When you do, your diagram, along with all its text, is instantly converted.

Figure E:

Using the selections on the Change To drop-down menu allows you to easily experiment with the various diagrams.

Like elsewhere in Word, the Text Wrapping drop-down menu provides you with eight ways to configure how you want to wrap text around your diagram. This comes in handy if you're planning on embedding your diagram in the middle of a report.

Note: Organizational charts

As I mentioned, the Change To drop-down dialog box doesn't contain an option for converting a diagram to an Organizational Chart. The reason is being that an Organizational Chart is a completely different type of diagram. In fact, when you select Organizational Chart from the Diagram Gallery dialog box, you'll see the same work area, but a different toolbar titled Organizational Chart. This toolbar contains options that are similar to those on the Diagram toolbar, but the controls are specific to an organization chart. In order to stay focused on Word's new diagramming features, I won't cover Organizational Charts in this article.

Creating a Diagram

Now that you have a good idea of how to use Word's diagramming features, let's take a look at the process of creating an example diagram. As I work through this example, I'll describe a set of techniques that you can use in Word as you go about creating your own diagrams.

Let's suppose that you've been asked to create a document detailing all the brands associated with the parent company. In order to instantly convey the number of brands associated with the parent company you decide to use a Radial diagram. For the sake of a real world example, let's use CNET Networks as our example parent company and create a Radial diagram that shows the company's 18 brands.

To begin, launch Word and open a new document. In order to get the most out of the available document space when you create such a large diagram, you'll need to first prepare the page. To do so, pull down the File menu and select the Page Setup command. On the Margins tab of the Page Setup dialog box, select the Landscape orientation, set the Top, Bottom, Left, and Right Margins to 0.25 and click OK

When you return to the document, click the Center alignment button on the toolbar. Now, access the Diagram Gallery dialog box as described earlier, select the Radial diagram type, and click OK.

By default, the Radial diagram template displays a central element surrounded by three nodes. Since you need to have a total of 18 nodes, you'll need to click the Insert Shape button 15 times. As you do, you'll notice that Word automatically scales the size of the diagram work area to fit the page. In order to better work with the diagram as a whole at this stage in the process, click the Zoom box on the Standard toolbar and set the factor to 40%. Now, use the sizing handles to resize the diagram to fit the entire page, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F:

By zooming in, you'll be able see the entire image as you resize and format diagram.

Then next thing that you’ll want to do while you have the diagram in this configuration is set the font and font size in each of the nodes. To do so, hold down [Shift] as you successively click each node. Then, set the font and font size on the Formatting toolbar. In this particular diagram, I’ll use Arial Narrow and 12 pt. You can then Zoom back out to 100% and begin entering text in the nodes.

As you begin entering text, you can alter positioning and size as you see fit. In the case of my example, there were so many nodes and some of the names were quite long, so I went to the Diagram Style Gallery and selected the Square Shadows style, which provides a bit more room for text. I then centered the text in each of the squares. The end result is a very nice diagram that clearly illustrates the number of brands in the CNET stable, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G:

By switching to the Square Shadows style and tweaking the text layout a bit, I've created a very nice looking diagram.


The next time you need to create a basic diagram, remember that Word XP and Word 2003 provide excellent diagramming features. Keep in mind that it may take a little bit of time to get used to creating diagrams in Word, but it's actually very easy once you get a handle on the process. To help you get started, you can look at the CNET Radial Diagram.doc file which includes the Radial diagram that I created for this article's example.