What Is an Electrical Symbol?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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An electrical symbol is a visual symbol that represents a particular type of electrical component in a wiring diagram or similar schematic. It can describe anything from a type of circuit to a wired connection. The diagram may also include reference designators, codes that refer to specific components and may provide some additional context through the documentation that accompanies the diagram. The person drawing the diagram may use such designations to limit confusion.

Electrical symbols are not globally standardized. There are some standard guides available for use, including some set by international organizations that encourage their members to use their schematics. Some advocates also push for a universal global standard for ease of use of electrical diagrams in any setting. In other cases, electricians and other personnel who work with electrical diagrams may use their own reference system, which could be associated with a specific organization, company, or internal and private code.

Many symbols can be seen in multiple standards because they are relatively obvious, while others can be more variable. The lack of standardization can be an issue if people are communicating across organizational barriers, as a diagram could be unclear or confusing because of the electrical symbols it uses. In some cases, an electrical symbol chart may accompany a diagram for the benefit of readers, or the diagram will note which system it uses to allow people to check references if they aren't sure about the meaning of an electrical symbol.


Using an electrical symbol in a diagram provides an easy way to clearly and visually lay out information. It can be difficult to describe complex systems verbally, and a simple drawing or photograph might obscure important information. The diagram, with symbols to represent key components, provides a clear visual overview and ample information for someone who might need to build, repair, or work on an electrical system. Such diagrams can be seen in technical documentation, patents, and other documents that pertain to a electronic product.

It is also possible to see electrical symbols in use in an academic setting. When students work with electrical diagrams, their instructors may pose problems to solve or ask them to develop a diagram to describe a system or respond to a prompt. Students should make sure to use the standard preferred by the instructor, unless they have a compelling reason to adopt an electrical symbol from another source, in which case they may want to discuss the issue before turning in their work.


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