What Is a Fishbone Diagram? | Templates & Examples

A fishbone diagram is a problem-solving approach that uses a fish-shaped diagram to model possible root causes of problems and troubleshoot possible solutions. It is also called an Ishikawa diagram, after its creator, Kaoru Ishikawa, as well as a herringbone diagram or cause-and-effect diagram.

Fishbone diagrams are often used in root cause analysis, to troubleshoot issues in quality management or product development. They are also used in the fields of nursing and healthcare, or as a brainstorming and mind-mapping technique many students find helpful.

How to make a fishbone diagram

A fishbone diagram is easy to draw, or you can use a template for an online version.

  1. Your fishbone diagram starts out with an issue or problem. This is the “head” of the fish, summarized in a few words or a small phrase.
  2. Next, draw a long arrow, which serves as the fish’s backbone.
  3. From here, you’ll draw the first “bones” directly from the backbone, in the shape of small diagonal lines going right-to-left. These represent the most likely or overarching causes of your problem.
  4. Branching off from each of these first bones, create smaller bones containing contributing information and necessary detail.
  5. When finished, your fishbone diagram should give you a wide-view idea of what the root causes of the issue you’re facing could be, allowing you to rank them or choose which could be most plausible.
Be careful not to make your fish too “bony”! Too many smaller bones or long explanations can lead to confusion and distractions, and defeat the purpose of the exercise in the first place.

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Fishbone diagram templates

There are no built-in fishbone diagram templates in Microsoft programs, but we’ve made a few free ones for you to use that you can download below. Alternatively, you can make one yourself using the following steps:

  1. In a fresh document, go to Insert > Shapes
  2. Draw a long arrow from left to right, and add a text box on the right-hand side. These serve as the backbone and the head of the fish.
  3. Next, add lines jutting diagonally from the backbone. These serve as the ribs, or the contributing factors to the main problem.
  4. Next, add horizontal lines jutting from each central line. These serve as the potential causes of the problem.

Lastly, add text boxes to label each function.

You can try your hand at filling one in yourself using the various blank fishbone diagram templates below, in the following formats:

Fishbone diagram template Excel

Download our free Excel template below!

fishbone-template-excelDownload Excel template

Fishbone diagram template Word

Download our free Word template below!

Download Word template

Fishbone diagram template PowerPoint

Download our free PowerPoint template below!

Download PowerPoint template

Fishbone diagram examples

Fishbone diagrams are used in a variety of settings, both academic and professional. They are particularly popular in healthcare settings, particularly nursing, or in group brainstorm study sessions. In the business world, they are an often-used tool for quality assurance or human resources professionals.

Fishbone diagram example #1: Climate change

Let’s start with an everyday example: what are the main causes of climate change?

Fishbone Diagram example

Fishbone diagram example #2: Healthcare and nursing

Fishbone diagrams are often used in nursing and healthcare to diagnose patients with unclear symptoms, or to streamline processes or fix ongoing problems. For example: why have surveys shown a decrease in patient satisfaction?

Fishbone Diagram example

Fishbone diagram example #3: Quality assurance

QA professionals also use fishbone diagrams to troubleshoot usability issues, such as: why is the website down?

Fishbone Diagram example

Fishbone diagram example #4: HR

Lastly, an HR example: why are employees leaving the company?

Fishbone Diagram example

Advantages and disadvantages of fishbone diagrams

Fishbone diagrams come with advantages and disadvantages.


  • Great tool for brainstorming and mind-mapping, either individually or in a group project.
  • Can help identify causal relationships and clarify relationships between variables.
  • Constant iteration of “why” questions really drills down to root problems and elegantly simplifies even complex issues.


  • Can lead to incorrect or inconsistent conclusions if the wrong assumptions are made about root causes or the wrong variables are prioritized.
  • Fishbone diagrams are best suited to short phrases or simple ideas—they can get cluttered and confusing easily.
  • Best used in the exploratory research phase, since they cannot provide true answers, only suggestions.

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Other interesting articles

If you want to know more about the research process, methodology, research bias, or statistics, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Frequently asked questions about fishbone diagrams

What’s the difference between a fishbone diagram and a herringbone diagram or Ishikawa diagram?

Fishbone diagrams have a few different names that are used interchangeably, including herringbone diagram, cause-and-effect diagram, and Ishikawa diagram.

These are all ways to refer to the same thing– a problem-solving approach that uses a fish-shaped diagram to model possible root causes of problems and troubleshoot solutions.

What fields use fishbone diagrams?

Fishbone diagrams (also called herringbone diagrams, cause-and-effect diagrams, and Ishikawa diagrams) are most popular in fields of quality management. They are also commonly used in nursing and healthcare, or as a brainstorming technique for students.


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Tegan George

Tegan is an American based in Amsterdam, with master's degrees in political science and education administration. While she is definitely a political scientist at heart, her experience working at universities led to a passion for making social science topics more approachable and exciting to students.