The second of our investigations into the memorability and impact of information nuggets focuses on work documents that I read decades ago. I used to draw lines next to text I thought significant, so our experiment has taken a random sample of nineteen such documents, removed the marks I drew back then, and had me re-read and re-mark them.
Identifying and preparing the documents was quite a demanding process in its own right. My collaborator, Peter Tolmie, sent me document reference numbers identified by using a random number generator to select items from the 17,000+ entries in my document index. I then used Windows Explorer to pick up the first file in each reference number folder (making sure that the descriptive part of the file name was not visible) and sent the files to Peter who assessed if they possessed any marks. It took us about 5 iterations of this process, working with around 200 Ref Nos in all, to obtain nineteen suitable documents. Peter then removed all marks from the digital documents by a combination of cropping and overlaying white boxes, and sent the finished files to me.
I marked up the documents over 14-15th August, using the same reading approach I believe I have always used since those days i.e. not a detailed line by line read but more of a rapid scan through to pick up the gist of the contents and to identify key text to which I pay more attention and from which nuggets are drawn. There were about 190 pages to get through across the nineteen documents, and I used my PDF application to mark up the nuggets in a tasteful shade of green.
I had vague recollections of some of the documents, and no recollection at all of others. However, I don’t feel this particularly affected my choice of nuggets. Nor do I think that the context in which I was re-reading the documents (i.e my current retired state as opposed to the work I was doing at the time when I originally encountered the documents) was influencing my nugget selection. I started to think that perhaps my selections would be the same as the selections made by anyone – almost as though each document possesses some elements which are inherently nuggets in their own right regardless of reader. However, I did come across a few exceptions to this: for example, I marked up one short para simply because it mentioned the name of someone I knew. Another document was very specific to the organisation I worked for and I suspect my choice of nuggets was influenced by my own particular perspectives on the topics being addressed. This observation has made me muse about the possibility that each document may possess more or less ‘inherent’ nuggets depending on its place in a spectrum of document types ranging from general purpose article to company specific work text.
The exercise has also got me thinking about the difference between summary text and nuggets. Sometimes a short para summarising some key points is worth highlighting simply because it’s a quick route into the document. However, it begs the question as to whether the points being made within the summarising para, are of any great value.
These are all questions which I’m anticipating we will address at some point downstream. However, the immediate priority is to analyse the results of the exercises we have conducted. For this latter marking up exercise, my new mark- ups will be compared against the original mark-ups to see if there is any similarity. We’ll be posting the results here sometime in the next 12 months.