Chunking

Grouping Information So It's More Easily Understood

© iStockphoto/syagci

Think about the amount of information you have to process each day. 

You read reports and meeting notes, you discuss problems, you hold team briefings, and you chat by the water cooler.

Some of the information you receive is easy to understand and retain; some of it is not.

The difference is often in how the information is presented. 

Imagine you are playing the memory game “what’s missing”: you simply have to memorize all the items that are presented to you on a tray – then work out which one has been removed. Now, imagine that the tray is presented with all the items in a jumble. Can you figure out what’s missing? Next, imagine what it’s like if the items are organized according to size and color or shape. It’s so much easier to spot what’s missing this time!

When the items are categorized, the “information” on the tray is much easier to make sense of and retain. And there’s no need to look at each item individually: You can skim the tray and grasp exactly what is being presented. This process of grouping information so that the intended audience easily understands it is known as “chunking”.

Evidence that chunking works is all around us:

  • Phone numbers and credit card numbers are typically chunked. Both types of number are usually chunked in groups of three or four numbers.
  • When you encounter a phone number (or other familiar grouping) that is chunked differently than the way you are used to, it can be much harder to remember it.
  • Rather than memorizing the letters O – T – M – E – E – R, converting them to the word “REMOTE” makes the task much easier

When written or verbal information is chunked effectively it is logical, organized, and consistent. This enhances your audience’s ability to understand what is going on. A written format that is chunked and hierarchical gives readers quick access to the big picture. From there they can get into the details as needed. And a verbal format that is well structured and logically chunked helps listener follow and remember key ideas or details as necessary.

Using the Chunking Principle for Effective Communication

The chunking principle hinges on three key points:

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