## Re: The semi-magic number 7? Not for lists.

Subject: Re: The semi-magic number 7? Not for lists.
From: "Nagai, Paul" <pnagai -at- VISA -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 7 May 1999 08:27:53 -0700

> But then Miller shows that actually, bits is the wrong measure.
> You can increase the amount of information that you can hold in
> your short-term memory by using decimal digits instead of
> binary digits. If you can remember a string of nine decimal
> digits, that's 10^9 distinctions, or 1,000,000,000 distinct
> strings of decimal digits. The proper measure of short-term
> memory, he says, is *items* (or "chunks"), not bits.
>
> And finally, Miller observes that in fact we defeat the limit of
> 7 +/- 2 chunks all the time, and that understanding how we do so
> would be a worthy thing to find out. Coalescing sequences of
> small chunks into larger chunks is one method: people can be
> trained to recite strings of around *forty* binary digits by
> learning to translate little groups of, say, four bits into a
> single hexadecimal digit and holding just the latter in their
> short-term memory.
>
We're quibbling here, but no one "defeats" the 7+/- 2 short term memory
limitations. They can, however, learn to increase the amount of information
stored in each of those 7 +/- 2 registers.

Regardless, the application of Miller's research to technical communication
shouldn't be much different: Know your audience. Present complex, detailed
information to novices in small, manageable chunks ... or risk confusing
them. Present simple information to experts in large chunks ... or risk
boring them. Most of your work will be somewhere in between those two
extremes.

And we knew that ... even without Miller.

> Here's the citation, by the way:
>
> George A. Miller. "The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two:
> Some Limitations on Our Capacity for Processing Information."
> _Psychological Review_ 63 (1956), pp. 81-97. Reprinted in _The
> Psychology of Communication: Seven Essays_, New York: Basic
> Books; and _Psychological Review_ 101, no. 2 (1994), pp. 343-352.
>
I just recently posted these on a different #7 thread, but maybe some of you
missed them if you delete as heavily as I do:

Miller's research:
http://www.well.com/user/smalin/miller.html

Related research focussing on interface design:
http://www.research.microsoft.com/users/marycz/chi981.htm

------
Paul Nagai

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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