How do I learn pseudocode & flowcharts?

Written by janine wonnacott
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How do I learn pseudocode & flowcharts?
(Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Pseudocode and flowcharts approximate language that's between your natural language and computer code, and they display the logical flow of a finished program. Pseudocode and flowcharts serve the same purpose. Flowcharts are a more visual way of depicting the thought process, and pseudocode is more verbal.

Pseudocode allows you to visualise, develop and edit your thoughts before getting into the minutiae of writing code. This high-level work helps you get the components in the correct, logical order so the detail work will be accurate and complete. You can focus on the logic of the program without worrying (yet) about the grammar or specific language. Pseudocode comes between the program specifications and the actual code. There is no standard for the language as pseudocode doesn't compile.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • paper
  • pen or pencil

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  1. 1

    Read and understand the specifications.

    Understand what you need to make the program do. There's nothing worse than spending days coding only to realise you misunderstood the requirements. Ask for clarification. Be able to explain clearly what is demanded of you.

  2. 2

    Specify what you need the program to do.

    Make a list. Articulate the steps clearly. Be very specific and try not to combine groups of steps. Start with listing all the major tasks. Then break those down into steps. Ultimately, each step should be communicated with a simple phrase. If you need a complex sentence or paragraph, you have not reduced the task enough.

  3. 3

    Source data and inputs

    List the input you will need from the user. Describe how to obtain this data, whether you call it from databases, request it at different moments from the user or somehow generate it elsewhere. Note where and how you will need to define variables and when you will use them. Use variable names if it will help you later write the program. Part of learning to write pseudocode is learning how specific you need to get in order to code efficiently from your pseudocode outline.

  4. 4

    Sequence of processing

    Write a sequential list of what the computer will need to do. Keep in mind the order of any inputs, internal processing and outputs. Use consistent, specific language, but don't worry about using the ultimate programming language. Remember to use short, logical phrases. You will be able to code directly from your pseudocode outline, without referencing the original specifications.

  5. 5

    Flowcharts achieve visually what pseudocode does logically. Flowcharts provide a graphical representation of the program you intend to code. Ovals mark the beginning and end. Rectangles contain logical statements, instructions or actions. Diamonds contain questions. Arrows lead from one rectangle to the next in the order of the process; a diamond represents a choice; and arrows leave in two or more directions to depict those options.

Tips and warnings

  • Pseudocode is very free-form compared to actual computer code. Since there is no standard, one person's pseudocode will differ from another's. You are writing it correctly if it helps you write good code.

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