Variable-Length On-Line Document Generation

Mick O'Donnell
Department of Artificial Intelligence
University of Edinburgh

(For .ps file click here)


1. Introduction

Adaptive hypertext involves variation in either the content of, or linking between, hypertext documents in response to some variation in the context of browsing. This paper is concerned with one form of content adaption: the adaption of the length of a document to suit the needs of the user. Such documents we call variable length documents (VLDs). In such documents, the user designates how long the document should be, and it is presented at that length.

The value of such a technique is obvious -- some users want more detail and explanation, while others want or need less. A static hypertext document can only offer one level of detail. A variable-length document allows the user to choose their level of verbosity (see for work by Veli J. Hakkoymaz, applying this idea to multimedia presentations).

However, VLDs have not been practical given the current level of technology. Some approaches (e.g., Rino & Scott 1996) have discussed document summarisation on the basis of full natural language generation (NLG). However, the cost of authoring knowledge to support fully-generated documents has prohibited this approach, even if we allow that NLG has reached the required degree of robustness. Ono et al (1994) proposes building VLDs on the basis of automatic document structure recognition. However, I am yet to be convinced that such recognition is reliable on free text as yet.

This paper proposes an alternative technique for establishing VLDs, which substantially reduces the effort needed to get such documents on-line. Our technique involves the marking up of an existing natural language document using a document mark-up tool which we have developed, called the RST-Tool (see O'Donnell 1997b). The mark-up of the document is used to determine optimal locations for pruning of the text. Documents so marked-up can then be used for variable-length presentation, on the web or in some other hypertext environment.

Document mark-up involves indicating the rhetorical structure of the text, in terms of Rhetorical Structure Theory (RST -- Mann & Thompson 1987). RST structures a text in terms of a dependency structure, showing the rhetorical dependence between units of text. For instance, the first sentence of this paper is dependent on the second sentence, and stands in the relationship of BACKGROUND. The head of the dependency relation is called the nucleus, while the dependent text is called the satellite.

A common hypothesis about RST is that satellites are less essential to the text's goals than the nuclei. Thus, to produce a document of a particular length, we need only prune off branches of the RST tree until the required word limit is reached. The method of pruning is described in section 2. (Ono et al (1994) also prunes RST structures to achieve text summarisation. See O'Donnell (1997a) for a comparison of the two approaches).

Strictly speaking, hypertext involves text which can be clicked upon to reach some other body of related text. The technique described here does not so much apply to hyperlinking, but to the content of the nodes which are linked. Applying the technique to a hypertext document would change the contents (length) of each node in the document. A future development of the system will allow the user to zoom in on text by clicking on it: as a result of clicking on sentence punctuation, the full text dependent on that sentence will be presented. The work reported here has been carried out as part of the ILEX project, whose goal is to produce dynamically generated descriptions of objects in museums. See Knott et al (1996) for details.

2. Variable-Length Document Presentation

After a text has been marked up with the RST-Tool, it can be be registered with a cgi-script which knows how to present the document at variable lengths. The document is initially presented full-length (see figure 1), but the user can select from a set of reduced lengths. Figure 2 shows two versions of the same document, although with a 200 word limit set (see section 2.3 for more detail on user-model variation). 

Figure 1: The VLDP interface

   How&Why Summary: Alexander III, King of Scots, died. The successor to the Scottish throne was his granddaughter Margaret. The earls and other great magnates had accepted Margaret as the heir to the throne and arrangements were made to bring her to Scotland. Several Guardians were appointed to govern the realm. Discussions were held with Edward I to prevent any instability. A treaty was signed whereby the new queen was to marry Edward's own son. Margaret died. Edward brought out his claims of overlordship. He used the treaty of Falaise. ...

Where&When Summary: In 1286, Alexander III, King of Scots, died at Kinghorn in Fife. The successor to the Scottish throne was his granddaughter Margaret. The earls and other great magnates had accepted Margaret as the heir to the throne and arrangements were made to bring her to Scotland. In the meantime, several Guardians were appointed. Discussions were held with Edward I. A treaty was signed. Margaret died in Orkney. After her death, Edward brought out his claims of overlordship of Scotland. ...
Figure 2: Summaries with different weighting sets

The marked-up document is structured as a dependency tree, with each node of the tree being a segment of text. Each branch of the tree represents the relationship between a node (a nucleus) and an item of text whose occurrence is dependent on that text (the satellite). Figure 3 show the dependency analysis of a single sentence of the text. Note that while RST usually does not deal with dependency within the clause, for this application I provided a set of intra-clausal relations. Pruning of clausal adjuncts is an important source of summarisation without meaning-loss. The mark-up tool also allows the inclusion of multinuclear structures (a node whose children are text nodes of equal status, e.g., Sequence, Joint), and schemas, what are sometimes called ``story grammars'' allowing a sequence of named elements of structure, e.g., INTRODUCTION, BODY, CONCLUSIONS, BIBLIOGRAPHY, etc. Both of these structures are handled similarly to RST structures, so will not be discussed further.

Figure 3: A Typical RST Analysis

2.1 Assigning Relevance Scores to Text Nodes

Each RST-relation type is assigned a relevance rating. For instance, ELABORATION may have a score of 0.40 (low relevance), while PURPOSE might be scored more highly. The first step, before pruning, is to assign each segment of the text a relevance score, between 0.0 and 1.0. The root of the tree is assigned a relevance value of 1.0. Each of its satellites is then assigned a relevance based on this value times the relevance value of the relationship linking it. Through a process of recursive descent, we assign each node in the tree the relevance level of its parent, multiplied by the relevance score of the relation which connects it. For instance, if the top-node in figure 3 had a relevance of 0.70, and the COOCURRENCE relation was valued at 0.6, then the text when he fell off a cliff would have relevance 0.42. Nodes lower in the RST-tree (less nuclear) will thus have lower relevance than higher nodes (more nuclear), and will thus be the first to be pruned.

This is a simple mechanism, but it has shown good results in producing reasonable texts at whatever degree of verbosity. There are however some cases where this method breaks down -- nuclearity does not always reflect centrality of information. Sometimes an author introduces information in a rhetorically unimportant place, yet that information may be needed later to understand the argument. One example of this in the summary shown earlier is where the original text had said: he was faced with constant pressure from Edward to sign. He refused to do so. In the summary, ``to sign'' was pruned, but it was actually a central concept, and the anaphoric ``so'' failed because of its pruning.

The text-nodes are then placed in a queue, position based on their relevance score.

2.2 Pruning the RST-tree

When a request is received to display the text at a particular length, the system needs to determine which text-nodes to display. Taking each node in turn from the relevance queue (starting with the most relevant), the program checks to see if including this text node will push the word-count over the limit. If not, it adds the node to the nodes-to-be-expressed list, and increments the words-so-far count. When the word-limit is exceeded, the procedure then turns to expressing the selected nodes. The nodes are expressed in the order in which they appeared in the original full text.

Note that the satellites of a node will always have lower or equal relevance than the node itself, so we never include a satellite in the nodes-to-be-expressed list if its nucleus is not, which can produce incoherent text.

2.3 User-Variation of Relation Weightings

The actual values associated with each relation are not fixed, but can be varied by the user. The user can select values which reflect their interests, highlighting some types of rhetorical relations, and ignoring others. For instance, figure 2 demonstrated the slight difference of information (bold font) included in the text when switching between a relation set preferring spatial and temporal location/extent vs. a system which emphasises causes, purposes, reasons, etc.

3. Preserving Coherence in Dynamic Document Presentation

When summarising a document, we do damage to various aspects of the document's coherency. Four areas which are at risk are:

4. Summary

This paper has described a system for presenting variable-length on-line documentation, which allows the user to select the degree of verbosity of the text presented. The results so far on a small-scale have shown that reasonable-quality texts can be produced dynamically. The cost of document mark-up stops this approach being used on texts of short display-life, but makes it economical for documents of longer duration where length-variability has value.

Apart from text-length, VLDs allow the user a small degree of content-control, in that the user can determine the relevance of each RST relation (or of elements of a schema).

The major problem for the system involves restoring coherence after text-pruning, particularly in areas of reference, discourse markers, paragraphing and punctuation. The problems of paragraphing and punctuation have been solved, and solutions are suggested for the other two areas.

Regardless of the problems of this approach, the system is up and running on-line. New documents are being added as time allows, to test the generalisability of the approach.

5. Bibliography

Mann, William C. & Sandra Thompson. 1987. ``Rhetorical Structure Theory: A Theory of Text Organization". Technical Report ISI/RS-87-190.

O'Donnell, Michael 1997a ``Variable-Length On-Line Document Generation". Proceedings of the 6th European Workshop on Natural Language Generation. March 24 - 26, 1997 Gerhard-Mercator University, Duisburg, Germany.

O'Donnell, Michael. 1997b. ``RST-Tool: An RST Analysis Tool". Proceedings of the 6th European Workshop on Natural Language Generation, March 24 - 26, 1997, Gerhard-Mercator University, Duisburg, Germany.

Ono, Kenji, Kazuo Sumita, & Seiji Miike. 1994. ``Abstract generation based on rhetorical structure extraction''. Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Computational Linguistics (COLING-94), Vol. 1. August 5-9, Kyoto, Japan.

Rino, L.H.M. & Scott, D.R. 1996. ``A Discourse Model for Gist Preservation''. In Dibio L. Borges and Celso A.A. Kaestner (eds.), Advances in Artificial Intelligence (Proceedings of the 13th Brazilian Symposium on Artificial Intelligence), pp. 131-140. Springer-Verlag, Germany.

Sparck Jones, Karen. 1993. ``What might be in a summary?", Information Retrieval 93: Von der Modellierung zur Anwendung (Ed. Knorz, Krause and Womser-Hacker), Konstanz: Universitatsverlag Konstanz), 9-26.