What Is a Hierarchical Chart?

by Gisela Chavez ; Updated September 26, 2017
A hierarchical flowchart visually illustrates the different levels of a system.

For individuals who are visual learners, illustrated charts and graphs can significantly enhance their ability to perceive information. In presentations, lectures or meetings, charts help break up the monotony of written words with a colorful visual representation of a specific concept. Hierarchical charts are an example of a type of chart that is used to depict information in an easy-to-read, user-friendly format.

Definition of Hierarchy

Hierarchical charts are based on the idea of a hierarchy. A hierarchy is a system of classification or ranking for people based on ability or status. In the example of the Catholic Church, the pope is at the top of the hierarchy, followed by cardinals, archbishops, bishops and so on. Hierarchy does not have to refer solely to people. It can also apply to other ideas or concepts, such as a hierarchy of values or needs where one element is ranked above the other in descending order according to importance.

Hierarchical Chart

A hierarchical chart is described as a visual representation of a system of hierarchy and can also be referred to as a structure chart. Roles, ranks or positions are clearly laid out in an illustrated format that depicts the relationship between the elements. The top of the chart is generally reserved for the most important or significant part of the system of hierarchy. Cascading down from the top are the other components of the system of hierarchy.

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Flowchart

A flowchart is one way to graphically represent a hierarchical system. A flowchart consists of multiple boxes, bubbles or other shapes that are connected with a series of lines illustrating the relationship between the various shapes. It flows from the top downward with the most important component at the top and lines branching below it with the subordinate pieces.

Table

Tables are another way to illustrate a hierarchical chart. Tables are similar to flowcharts, but tend to be more condensed and not use shapes or lines as flowcharts do. Hierarchical tables use boxes lined up in rows and often color-coded to visually communicate a system of hierarchy. The top box is one color and all other boxes use different colors according to ranking, ability or status.

About the Author

Based in Colorado, Gisela Chavez has been writing and editing since 2004. Her editorial experience ranges from editing technical documents to editing for “The Bloomsbury Review.” She earned a professional writing certificate from the University of Colorado, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Spanish.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
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