Info Mapping : What is a Chunk ?

Subject: Info Mapping : What is a Chunk ?
From: Frederic Wronecki <frederic -dot- wronecki -at- WANADOO -dot- FR>
Date: Thu, 5 Sep 1996 09:15:13 -0700

Brad Connaster wrote :
> What constitutes a "piece of information" ? A letter ?
> A word ? A phrase ? A clause ? A sentence ? A paragraph ?

A chunk is any physical or abstract stimulus that can be handled as a
unique mental unit in the memory processing system.

Miller's idea is that, at any time, no more than seven stimuli can be
simultaneously handled.

But the notion of "chunk" is extremely variable :

1 - It may be a visual (text or picture) stimulus, as well as a sound, a
smell, etc. Miller's principle is then pure common sense : to be
"distracted" by a nasty smell or a loud noise simply means that your
global chunk processing capability is partly devoted to the distracting
stimulus, thus reduced for "useful" stimuli.

2 - The "scale" of a chunk is constantly changing : you can observe
different paintings on a museum wall (each one is a chunk), then focus on
one of them to examine the characters, the furniture or the landscape,
thus "forgetting" the other paintings. This splitting process (or its
reverse : grouping) can of course be "cascaded".

3 - Since it's related to mental processing, a chunk is a different thing
according to the subject's skill or experience : a professional musician
will see a set of chords on a score as a single unit, while a beginner
will have to read each note. A chess master sees the positions resulting
from the different possible moves as single units, while a beginner will
have to focus on each position to decompose it, etc.

4 - The "recoding" process helps us make a single chunk from a complex
set of information by generating a mental summary of it.

When it comes to writing, all these topics apply, for instance :

- Like a list, a flowchart should have 7 +/- 2 visible items. If there
must be more, make some visual groupings.
- A sentence can be a chunk in some cases, while it's just a part of a
chunk in others.
- Info Mapping's "labeling principle" means that you must drive the
reader's recoding, instead of letting him generate his own label (which
may be false).
- An experienced reader will handle each step of a procedure by its
title, while a beginner will have to read all the paragraph.
Frederic Wronecki
France Telecom, Paris, France
mailto:frederic -dot- wronecki -at- wanadoo -dot- fr

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