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Background: Seeing the information trees

A most common information structure in our world is the tree. They are not always called trees, instead they are called in many ways: Folders in MS Windows, indented paragraphs in text documents, hierarchies, menus, outlines, tables of contents, chapters and sub-chapters, categories and their elements.

The first computer programs which allowed structuring of information were the so-called outliners. But trees are everywhere, they are in computer programs, newspapers, calendars, device manuals and so on. A heading with one or two items below is already a small hierarchy, a small tree.

An important feature of the tree is its creative power, and it is beneficial to be aware of it, for example that even the most chaotic looking information sources can be broken down into trees.

A tree is a hierarchy of lists and each list can contain (sorted or unsorted) elements. A tree is sufficient to show one perspective of a complex situation or problem. We get one perspective (the one we are interested in) and we get a clear instruction how to process this information, because the elements are ordered linearly. If the elements are tasks, then we get a clear todo-list.

If you have to solve a problem and you don't know how to start, then start with a tree! Already students learn that the path to success is to structure a word problem, or else risk to fail. A tree to solve a word problem would be like the following. The upper levels still have general character, deeper (e.g. more problem-specific) levels are not shown here.

1.Text analysis
1.1read and determine the question
1.2highlight crucial information, ignore (or delete) irrelevant information
1.3look at the crucial information again and bring it into a more concise form
1)break long sentences into short ones without destroying information
2)replace quantity phrases by variable-value-pairs, use common units in values
3)categorize the information

- given information

- requested information

1.4represent the information as picture if possible and helpful
2.Find a solution
2.1interconnect information (variables) by writing equations
2.2solve the equations
1)try to reduce the number of unknowns by substitution
2)solve the remaining equations
3.Check the solution

And not to forget, a solution can also be searched by adding parent levels. We create a new tree and attach the current tree as sub-branch. Parent levels in the example above could answer the questions: Should the problem be solved at all (maybe a wrong goal was defined), would it be more efficient to postpone this task (and solve something else earlier), and who should solve the problem.

See also: Information chunking in record time

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