Re: Chunking information

Subject: Re: Chunking information
From: "Tim Altom" <taltom -at- simplywritten -dot- com>
To: "SusanP" <susanp -at- astound -dot- com>, "TechDoc List" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 14:12:34 -0500

Ummm...once again we must burst this particular magical "7" bubble.

The original research that's so often quoted was for one tiny, circumscribed
circumstance: short-term memory retention. It was shown only that people can
keep between 5 and 9 items in short-term memory at one time. That's all. Ask
anyone who's actually READ the paper; it's so often quoted, so infrequently
read. Don't rely on Info Mapping to substitute for it.

I have a copy of the study around here somewhere. If there's any interest,
let me know and I'll post a link to a place where you can read it whenever
you want.

Note that Info Mapping does not specifically prohibit more than 9 steps. Nor
does doing so make any sense, if you spend a few seconds watching a user
actually work with a manual. The actual sequence is that the user reads a
step or two, looks away to carry out the steps, then returns to the steps
again for another "load". Often a user will forget the step just four or
five before the current one, because the mind in a "do-this" mode is quite
different from one in a "remember-this" mode.

The major problem with longer step sequences isn't that they're inherently
too hard to use, but that such sequence can become hard to return to. It's
too easy to lose one's place in the column. And a sequence of dozens of
steps can be intimidating. But that's more a function of the user profile
than of any hard-and-fast rules. Trained technicians often perform
operations that encompass dozens of steps, but they have a framework for the
steps. A newbie shouldn't be expected to deal with such an onslaught of

Tim Altom
Simply Written, Inc.
Featuring FrameMaker and the Clustar Method(TM)
"Better communication is a service to mankind."
Check our Web site for the upcoming Clustar class info

> "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.

Previous by Author: Re: Can a technical writer be a Web designer?
Next by Author: Magical Number Seven
Previous by Thread: Need document management system for Solaris
Next by Thread: Magical Number Seven

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads