British Columbia
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Fishbone diagram


The Fishbone Diagram is a skeleton of a fish. The fish skeleton consists of head, spine, ribs, and bones attached to the ribs. The fishbone diagram is an organizing tool.

It is often used to diagram cause/effects or effect/causes. This diagram is best used when there are several causes for one effect or several effects for one cause. The several causes or several effects may not occur sequentially-they happen.

Two other major uses of the fishbone diagram are

  1. Diagramming a process where each step is a rib and often are numbered

  2. Diagramming problem-solving or decision-making. There may not be definite sequential steps but rather a method is presented that is easily understood.

See fishbone diagram schematic.



  1. Turn your sheet of paper to a landscape position.

  2. Label the head of the fish.

  3. Add as many ribs to the fish's spine as you need. Each rib is a major idea/concept.

  4. Add as many smaller fish bones to this skeleton, as needed. Only single words or phrases are needed to express your ideas. Each detail or related detail is written on one fishbone.

  5. Use different colour for a major idea or concept and all its details. Many people find that colour is a great way to remember related ideas.

Fishbone Diagrams allow you to add ideas as they occur. If you write these ideas in a linear form, it is very difficult to add ideas. This kind of diagram allows you to see the various relationships between and among ideas. The linear format does not do this.

This sample is used in 3E — Special Habitats.

The fishbone diagram was adapted to illustrate applications of special habitats.

  Next: Multiple circles diagram


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