Start and end of the 7 chunks
The 7 is not only the natural number between 6 and 8, odd and a prime number, but also almost magical in technical communication.
The Miller number
In technical communication, Miller’s number plays a crucial role in conveying information effectively. This concept, introduced by George A. Miller in the 1950s, states that human information processing is limited and that on average we can only process about 7 (+/- 2) pieces of information at a time. This phenomenon has direct implications for how we should structure technical content to support optimal absorption and processing.
When designing technical information, the primacy-recency effect should also be taken into account. This effect means that information placed at the beginning and end of a group of messages is best remembered. The group of messages can be bulleted lists, action steps, positions in a legend to an instructive figure, or simply compact paragraphs. Therefore, one is well advised to place the most important information at the beginning and at the end, to the extent possible.
And the chunks
To account for Miller’s Number and take advantage of the Primacy-Recency Effect, technical content should be divided into well-structured chunks. Chunks are small, discrete blocks of information, each representing a specific concept or unit of action. By using chunks, complex information can be broken down into easily digestible portions.
In technical communication, this means that important concepts or instructions should be placed at the beginning to take advantage of the primacy effect. This should be followed by more information in well-structured chunks to incorporate Miller’s findings. Finally, it is advisable to repeat key information again at the end of the information unit to take advantage of the recency effect and reinforce recall. If there are many more than 7 chunks to convey, then these could be structured to create multiple Miller units.
Consideration of Miller’s number and the use of chunks in technical communication are important factors in supporting that information is processed and remembered efficiently. Targeted structuring and the use of the primacy-recency effect can make technical content easier to understand and more user-friendly. This leads to more effective communication and improved information absorption.