Magic Number 7--again (was Septapartist Myth)

Subject: Magic Number 7--again (was Septapartist Myth)
From: Karen Schriver <ks0e+ -at- ANDREW -dot- CMU -dot- EDU>
Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 14:58:24 -0400

Hi there,
Sorry to be so late in responding to this topic. On rereading the old
posts, I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents about George Miller's work. I
have a personal hobby horse against the rampant misapplication of the
magic number seven. My significant other--John R. Hayes (a psychology
prof at Carnegie Mellon who studies writing, problem solving, and
creativity)--was George Miller's graduate student at MIT and worked with
Miller on the original research about the magic number seven. It makes
John Hayes see red when I come home from conferences and tell him that I
heard once again one of the following: No more than 7 bullets on an
overhead, 7 steps in a procedure, 7 items in a list, 7 paragraphs on a
page, or 7 rule lines on a page!!!! I keep telling him that he and Herb
Simon should co-author an article and set the record straight on a
number of issues. For example, what are the implications of the magic
number 7? And what the heck does a "chunk" really mean and what are its
implications for text design? I will keep you posted if the article ever
materializes. They just laugh at the idea of needing to set the record
straight because they can't believe anyone would extend research on
memorizing nonsense syllables to (a context in which the test is one of
short-term memory capacity/limitations) to making guidelines for
document design (a context in which the reader has a text, that is, an
external memory of the stuff to be mastered). The idea is that if you
have a source of external memory you don't need to worry about the
limitations of short-term memory. Thus, the number 7 research is not
relevant to document design and has nothing to do with how people
comprehend documents or any printed text for that matter. To me what
*IS* relevant in this work is the size and nature of a chunk. That issue
still needs to be clarified.

Happy birthday to Eric!

karen schriver
KSA, Document Design and Research
Oakmont, PA

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