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Chunking is a term used in NLP to describe the process of grouping items into larger or smaller groups (or "chunks")

Chunking helps you to organise your thinking in order to better handle information.

In 1952, George A. Miller published a paper titled "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information" (The Psychological Review, 1956, vol. 63, pp. 81-97).

In it he argued that "the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember" is limited to between 5 and 9 pieces of information at any one time.

"By organizing the stimulus input simultaneously into several dimensions," wrote Miller, "and successively into a sequence or chunks, we manage to break (or at least stretch) this informational bottleneck."

Chunking allows us to become more efficient at categorising information. Items can be classified into different groups moving from the general to the specific, and vice versa.

For example, we remember remember phone numbers by clustering the digits into familiar-length groups. By comparison, it's difficult to remember phone numbers from another country because they're chunked differently.

Chunking Up (becoming more general)

As an example with an object;

  • Alcohol
  • Drink
  • Liquid
To chunk up, ask
part to whole what is this part of?
example to class what class is this an example of?
an outcome If I got this outcome, what else would that get for me?
a behaviour What is the intention behind this behaviour?

Chunking Down (becoming more specific)

As an example

  • Transport
  • Taxi
  • London Black Cab
  • Engine
To chunk down, ask
part to whole what is a part of this whole?
class to example what is an example of this class?
an outcome What prevents me achieving this outcome ?
a behaviour What other behaviour would also satisfy this intention?

When to use Chunking.

When you are confronted with a task that seems daunting. Chunk it down into smaller, more manageable mini-tasks.

When you are overwhelmed by details. Chunk up to find the overall meaning or purpose to "get the big picture" or "see the wood for the trees".

When you want to communicate more effectively. Package the information in chunks that are the right size for your audience.

When you want to find ways of reaching an agreement.

See Also Backwards Forwards Planning