Department of Computer Science and Technology

Technical reports

Planning multisentential English text using communicative acts

Mark Thomas Maybury

December 1991, 329 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted July 1991 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, Wolfson College.

DOI: 10.48456/tr-239


The goal of this research is to develop explanation presentation mechanisms for knowledge based systems which enable them to define domain terminology and concepts, narrate events, elucidate plans, processes, or propositions and argue to support a claim or advocate action. This requires the development of devices which select, structure, order and then linguistically realize explanation content as coherent and cohesive English text.

With the goal of identifying generic explanation presentation strategies, a wide range of naturally occurring texts were analyzed with respect to their communicative structure, function, content and intended effects on the reader. This motivated an integrated theory of communicative acts which characterizes text at the level of rhetorical acts (e.g. describe, define, narrate), illocutionary acts (e.g. inform, request), and locutionary acts (ask, command). Taken as a whole, the identified communicative acts characterize the structure, content and intended effects of four types of text: description, narration, exposition, argument. These text types have distinct effects such as getting the reader to know about entities, to know about events, to understand plans, processes, or propositions, or to believe propositions or want to perform actions. In addition to identifying the communicative function and effect of text at multiple levels of abstraction, this dissertation details a tripartite theory of focus of attention (discourse focus, temporal focus and spatial focus) which constrains the planning and linguistic realization of text.

To test the integrated theory of communicative acts and tripartite theory of focus of attention, a text generation system TEXPLAN (Textual EXplanation PLANner) was implemented that plans and linguistically realizes multisentential and multiparagraph explanations from knowledge based systems. The communicative acts identified during text analysis were formalized over sixty compositional and (in some cases) recursive plan operators in the library of a hierarchical planner. Discourse, temporal and spatial models were implemented to track and use attentional information to guide the organization and realization of text. Because the plan operators distinguish between the communicative function (e.g. argue for a proposition) and the expected effect (e.g. the reader believes the proposition) of communicative acts, the system is able to construct a discourse model of the structure and function of its textual responses as well as a user model of the expected effects of its responses on the reader’s knowledge, beliefs, and desires. The system uses both the discourse model and user model to guide subsequent utterances. To test its generality, the system was interfaced to a variety of domain applications including a neuropsychological diagnosis system, a mission planning system, and a knowledge based mission simulator. The system produces descriptions, narratives, expositions and arguments from these applications, thus exhibiting a broader ranger of rhetorical coverage then previous text generation systems.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Maybury, Mark Thomas},
  title = 	 {{Planning multisentential English text using communicative
  year = 	 1991,
  month = 	 dec,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  doi = 	 {10.48456/tr-239},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-239}