Visio 2002 or Office XP drawing tools: Which should you use?

Applies to
Microsoft Visio® 2002
Microsoft Office XP
Microsoft PowerPoint®

Reports and presentations that include organization charts, flowcharts, Venn diagrams, and other graphics often communicate more effectively — and look better — than those that are pure text.

But including diagrams in your documents can seem overwhelming if you were the kid in grade school who couldn't even draw an apple.

Fortunately, you have two diagramming alternatives to choose between, neither of which requires you to have any drawing skills:

  • You can use the drawing tools integrated into the Office XP programs, such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, that support the creation of a limited number of simple diagrams.
  • You can use Visio, a stand-alone, dedicated diagramming program that supports a range of diagram types and complexities.

This article compares the two choices and describes how your goals for a diagram determine which alternative you should use. It also provides you with examples of diagrams that you can create using the integrated and dedicated diagramming tools.

Office XP drawing tools

Programs in the Microsoft Office XP suite, such as Word and PowerPoint, have a certain amount of diagramming capability built right in. This is convenient because it means that you can quickly create simple diagrams in a program with which you are already familiar.

Without leaving the environment you're working in, you can add one of six diagram types, including Venn diagrams and organization charts, to a report, presentation, or spreadsheet. Then you can edit the diagram using tools on a floating toolbar.

Diagram types from drawing toolbar in Office XP

When the diagram that you want to create is simple and useful primarily in the context of the one document where you create it, then the Office XP drawing tools may be all you need.

Visio

If you're willing to venture beyond the programs that you already use for non-drawing tasks, however, you can meet all your diagram needs — simple to complex, rough to precise, general to specialized — by learning one additional program. And you won't have to venture far: Visio toolbars and other interface elements match those in the Office XP programs.

Visio is dedicated to helping you define and visualize ideas, information, and systems. This means that all of its features and tools, from grids on the drawing page to predesigned shapes that come with built-in text, are designed to make diagrams easy to create.

In Visio, you can assemble space plans like the one shown below and use them to manage and allocate space and to track assets.

Space plan created in Visio

You can also easily put together simple but effective diagrams, such as the directional map shown below, that you want to distribute separately or include in a number of reports or presentations.

Soccer Camp registration map created with Visio

And, because Visio is designed to work well with the Office XP programs, you can incorporate any Visio diagram into a report or slide presentation.

Your goals for the diagram dictate the program you choose

Before you decide whether to create a diagram using the integrated Office XP drawing tools or using Visio, think about what you intend to do with the diagram. Ask yourself the questions listed in the following table.

Question Use Office XP drawing tools Use Visio
How complex will the diagram be? Simple Simple to complex
Do you want to use decorative text? Yes No
Are you likely to revise and update the diagram frequently? No Yes
Are you likely to distribute the diagram separately or reuse it in several different contexts? No Yes
Would it be helpful if you could use the diagram to track or reflect data (such as employee data) that you currently store in a database or worksheet? No Yes
Does precision matter? Not particularly Yes
Do you want to use a drawing scale? No Yes
Is your diagram specialized? For example, is it a workflow or IDEF0 diagram rather than just a simple flowchart? No Yes
Do you want your diagram to reflect industry standards or practices? No Yes

When to use Office XP drawing tools: Some examples

Purpose Example
To add decorative text. WordArt inserted into Word document
To quickly create a simple diagram that illustrates a conceptual idea or makes a document more compelling. Organization chart inserted into Word document

When to use Visio: Some examples

Purpose Example
To display or distribute simple or complex diagrams as stand-alone documents.

Timeline created in Visio

Using a Visio timeline, you can clearly communicate project tasks and milestones to team members.

To create a diagram that uses predesigned specialized symbols (shapes).

Network diagram created in Visio Professional

In Visio Professional, you can drag computer, Ethernet local area network, and other predesigned shapes from task-specific stencils and drop them onto a drawing page to create a network diagram resembling this one.

To create a diagram that uses a drawing scale.

Office layout created in Visio

When creating a precise diagram such as this office layout, you can align and arrange shapes using the gridlines and a dynamic grid available with each Visio drawing page.

To track or reflect information that you have stored in a database or worksheet.

Organization chart with employee data

In this Visio organization chart, data from an employee database is associated with each position shape.

To create a technical diagram that conforms to industry standards.

Process flow diagram created in Visio Professional

Using the Visio Professional Process Engineering solution, you can create piping and instrumentation diagrams that conform to industry specifications.