ALGORITHMS AND FLOWCHARTS—BENEFITS, CHARACTERISTICS AND CONTROL STRUCTURES, AND SYMBOLS OF FLOWCHART

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An algorithm is a sequence of steps used to solve a particular problem.

It can also be defined as a set of instructions for completing a specific task.

Algorithms are essential for programming as they form the building block for solving a particular computer problem.

A flowchart, on the other hand, is simply a diagrammatic representation of an algorithm.

It is essentially a diagram showing an algorithm and its steps.

A flowchart represents the general steps in solving a problem. It is a diagram that shows how to solve a problem using standard symbols.

Benefits Of Flowcharts

1. Simplify the logic: Flowchart provides a diagrammatic representation of the steps involved in solving a problem.

Hence, it simplifies the logic and subsequent steps involved in solving a problem.

2. Effective analysis: Once the flowchart is completed, it is very simple to conduct an effective analysis of the problem.

We can use a flowchart to identify steps that aren't required to address a problem.

3. Clarity: It shows the relationship between the steps of an algorithm and provides a clear overview of the algorithm

4. Makes troubleshooting easier: A flowchart makes troubleshooting easier because it clearly depicts each step in an algorithm

5. Effective means of communication: An algorithm is an effective means of communicating the steps in an algorithm to everyone concerned or involved

Characteristics Of An Algorithm

There are four essential characteristics of an algorithm, namely; input, finiteness, output and definiteness.

1. Input: The input is the data that will be converted into a result.

Depending on the algorithm, the input may or may not be required.

2. Finiteness: An algorithm should have a finite number of steps. 

Simply staid, an algorithm should end at some point.

End, in this case, means that an algorithm should give an expected output or provide no solution if the output is not possible.

An algorithm should not be infinite and should end when all of the algorithm's instructions have been completed

3. Output: The output is the expected result of an algorithm.

Each algorithm must provide at least one result or output, which must correspond to the desired outcome.

4. Definiteness: Algorithm must also be definite. That is, it should outline the steps and how they must be carried out of solving a particular problem.

Each step and instruction in an algorithm must be clear, well-defined, precise and devoid of any ambiguity.

Control Structures In Algorithm

The flow of controls in an algorithm is implemented using three different types of control structures:  Sequential, branch and loops

1. Sequential Control structures: As the name implies, sequential structures allow code to be executed sequentially, one line after the other.

Statements are inserted one after the other in a sequential structure, and execution occurs from top to bottom, with the one above or before another being executed first.

A rectangular process box is commonly used to depict the sequence of statements in a flowchart.

2. Branch control structures: These structures are used to execute one or more statements if a condition is met.

The majority of the time, branch structures are utilized to make decisions or to choose between two or more alternative courses of action.

In a branch control structure, a binary decision is made based on conditions, and the result is either TRUE or FALSE depending on the condition.

In the case of TRUE, one of the two branches is pursued; however, in the case of FALSE, the other option is pursued. 'IF-THEN' is a common way to represent branch control.

The diamond-shaped decision box commonly represents the branch control structure in a flowchart.

It's worth noting that branch control structure is also known as conditionals or selection control structure

3. Loop control structures: This allows a statement or sequence of statements to be repeated based on loop conditions, such as WHILE and FOR loops.

Loops are most commonly used for repetitions, or for repeating a piece of code several times in a row.

Loops ensure that a block of statements is run repeatedly until a specific condition is met

In most programming languages, loops are represented by the "while" and "for" constructs for unbounded loops and bounded loops respectively.

Unbounded loops are those whose number of iterations is determined by whether or not the termination condition is met. Bounded loops refer to those whose number of iterations is known beforehand.

A back arrow in a flowchart indicates the presence of loops. The repetition structure is another name for the loops

Symbols Of Flowcharts

There are essentially seven symbols used in flowcharting.

1. Rectangle: In flowcharts, a rectangle is used to represent "process" or "action".

Rectangle in flowcharts

Rectangles are commonly used in flowcharts to perform arithmetic operations and data manipulations.

2. Oval: in a flowchart, an oval represents " terminal".

Oval in flowchart

The starting and ending of a flowchart is usually represented by an oval 

3. A parallelogram: A parallelogram is used for input and output operations in the algorithm.

Parallelogram in flowchart

The usage of parallelograms in most flowcharts shows that the computer is to receive input or produce an output or results.

Parallelograms are flowchart diagrams that show how and where data enters and exits an algorithm process.

4. Diamond: This shape is used for decision-making in a flowchart

Diamonds are mostly used to ask questions that can be answered in binary format (yes/no, true/false). 

When diamonds appear in a flowchart, it usually means that a decision must be taken to proceed

5. Flow lines or arrows:  In a flowchart, these are used to show the direction of the logic flow.

Arrows shape in flowchart
Flow lines are commonly used to depict the logic flow between two connecting symbols.

6. Circle: in a flowchart, the circle serves as a page connector.
Page connector shape in flowcharts

The flowchart can be drawn without intersecting lines or a reverse flow using the page connector.

7. Double rectangle: This is used to represent a predetermined process or function.

Predetermined process in flowcharts

This shape is used to represent a group of statements performing a single processing task.

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