Why a diagram is (sometimes) worth 10,000 words (01 Jan 1987)
This article explores the different computational requirements and affordances of textual and diagrammatic information. Differences between diagrams and informationally equivalent text passages are framed in terms of search (accessing information), recognition (matching information to knowledge in long-term memory), and inference (creating new knowledge). Diagrams typically allow dramatically more efficient recognition than do equivalent text stimuli. Spatial grouping can also facilitate search processes for diagrams. This research has had an impact on our basic understanding of mental representations, in terms of what elements are explicitly versus implicitly available in a representation, the importance of describing representation/process PAIRS rather than representations alone, and the cognitive uses of different classes of representations. Practically, this research has provided guidelines for determining how particular information should be conveyed to maximize its impact and usefulness.
Article URL: http://cognitrn.psych.indiana.edu/rgoldsto/cogsci/Larkin.pdf