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A Short Guide to Scheming, Plotting, and Diagramming

or

Going with the Flow (charts)
Bernard & Shepard Gorman

Words are handy. Iíve been using them since I was about a year old. However, Iíve also been recognizing images since I first opened my baby blue peepers during the middle of the last century. For me and for many of my students, a well-drawn diagram can instantly transform many abstract concepts and complex sequences into immediate knowledge in ways that would be impossible to convey in words.

Most of us are comfortable with word processors but we get nervous when it comes to drawing diagrams. This neednít be the case because excellent diagramming tools are available to nearly anyone. In fact, some are built into the software we constantly use and others can be obtained for little cost and, in some cases, as freeware.

Few computer users realize that Microsoft Office products, including Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint all have a sophisticated diagram editor thatís capable of making organization charts, Venn diagrams, radial charts, cycle diagrams, and pyramid charts. All you have to do to access the diagram creator feature is to click "Insert" and then click "Diagram" and a rich menu will open for you. The organization chart below will give you a feel for the kind of charts you can make in Microsoft Office.

For those who want somewhat more flexibility and more features, thereís Microsoft Office Visio which costs from $99-$200, OrgPlus (http://www.hallogram.com/orgplus/) costing from around $200-$450, and SmartDraw (http://www.smartdraw.com/) which costs about $150-$200. All of these very sophisticated programs work seamlessly with Microsoft Office and other Windows products and each one can be downloaded for a free trail period.

If youíre on a limited budget or, worse yet, if you're flat broke, there are some freeware solutions. Of course, freeware is usually less polished but Iím going to recommend some programs youíll probably like to try. In addition, if you donít like them, I promise that youíll get your money back!

Our first free diagramming software is Dia, (http://www.gnome.org/projects/dia/), an open-source program that was designed to duplicate many of Visioís features. Itís capable of drawing a wide variety of diagrams and it saves output to XML and Extended PostScript (EPS) formats.

Diaís control panel floats on your screen

And its main chart area workspace can be seen below

It takes a while to be comfortable with Dia but, once you use it, you can whip up some handsome graphics.

Our second free program is EVE (http://www.goosee.com/goosee/index.shtml), which is an acronym for the Embedded Vector Editor. This program is tiny (less that 200K) but it can draw a remarkable variety of diagrams as seen in a screen captured from their website. Eveís output can be exported to Adobeís SVG format, to Windows Metafile (WMF) and Extended Metafile (EMF) formats.

Finally, our last free package is Diagram Designer, available from (http://meesoft.logicnet.dk/DiagramDesigner/). This program was also developed as an Open Source project. It can export output to such popular graphic formats as WMF, EMF, BMP, JPEG, PNG, MNG, ICO, GIF and PCX. Additionally, it can make slideshows and it can plot mathematical equations. It even has spellcheckers in English and Danish.

As can be seen below, Diagram Designer has a very clean and friendly user interface that should be familiar to most Windows users.

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As we hope you can see, you can make some very useful and very attractive diagrams in a very short time. If you want very convenient tools, then the more expensive programs are somewhat easier to use. However, if youíre willing to spend a little more time, then the free programs will do an excellent job, as well.

 


 

 

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