RE: Chunking information (Was: multiple TWs for a project)

Subject: RE: Chunking information (Was: multiple TWs for a project)
From: "Higgins, Lisa" <LHiggins -at- carrieraccess -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 10:31:09 -0700


> "Chunking" is also a term used in psychology and Information Mapping. The
> principles are the same throughout. The human brain can only absorb 7
> plus/minus two new ideas/concepts/steps at a time. Therefore, Information
> Mapping recommends that procedures be "chunked" into 5-9 steps maximum.

This has been brought up on the list recently, but I thought I'd try to
clarify as best I can with my limited understanding. The 7 +/- 2 concept
involved unrelated pieces of data, such as the random digits that make up a
phone or social security number. We can remember longer strings of numbers,
but we'd normally have to relate them somehow. So, for example, if you
wanted to remember Richard Nixon's social security number, instead of
memorizing "five-six-seven-six-eight-zero-five-one-five," you split it out
into three chunks. "five-six-seven," "six-eight," and "zero-five-one-five,"
and/or strings like "five, sixty-seven, sixty-eight, zero-five, fifteen."
Things like that. (Maybe someone else has the URL to the essay that debunks
this--I don't have it here.)

The 7 +/- 2 rule is pretty much irrelevant to much of what we do not just
because procedures are related steps, but because the goal is not usually
memorization, anyway.

That said, I think it's worthwhile to break up long procedures in order to
make them a little less daunting to the users--providing them with handy
'bookmarks' so they can attack a project one piece at a time and go to the
vending machine for cheese and peanut butter crackers between sections; and
also to help them organize the procedures in their mind--screw this to the
wall, attach the cables, set the DIP switches, etc.

With longer procedures like the one you've described below, I do the same. I
provide a short overview, "You will 1. screw this to the wall, 2. attach the
cables, 3. set the dip switches, etc." then I go into the individual
procedures in detail.

This sort of chunking both breaks a tedious procedure into manageable bits
for the user and it provides us with nice little chunks of information that
we can reuse as they're applicable to other projects and media.

> I had one procedure which was well over 50 steps from start to finish, but
> when you broke it down into "Installing", "Configuring the DIP Switches",
> etc. there were several sub-procedures to accomplish a certain task. It
> it easier for the user to understand what they were doing and why.
> Susan


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