Theses Doctoral

Adapting Automatic Summarization to New Sources of Information

Ouyang, Jessica Jin

English-language news articles are no longer necessarily the best source of information. The Web allows information to spread more quickly and travel farther: first-person accounts of breaking news events pop up on social media, and foreign-language news articles are accessible to, if not immediately understandable by, English-speaking users. This thesis focuses on developing automatic summarization techniques for these new sources of information.

We focus on summarizing two specific new sources of information: personal narratives, first-person accounts of exciting or unusual events that are readily found in blog entries and other social media posts, and non-English documents, which must first be translated into English, often introducing translation errors that complicate the summarization process. Personal narratives are a very new area of interest in natural language processing research, and they present two key challenges for summarization. First, unlike many news articles, whose lead sentences serve as summaries of the most important ideas in the articles, personal narratives provide no such shortcuts for determining where important information occurs in within them; second, personal narratives are written informally and colloquially, and unlike news articles, they are rarely edited, so they require heavier editing and rewriting during the summarization process. Non-English documents, whether news or narrative, present yet another source of difficulty on top of any challenges inherent to their genre: they must be translated into English, potentially introducing translation errors and disfluencies that must be identified and corrected during summarization.

The bulk of this thesis is dedicated to addressing the challenges of summarizing personal narratives found on the Web. We develop a two-stage summarization system for personal narrative that first extracts sentences containing important content and then rewrites those sentences into summary-appropriate forms. Our content extraction system is inspired by contextualist narrative theory, using changes in writing style throughout a narrative to detect sentences containing important information; it outperforms both graph-based and neural network approaches to sentence extraction for this genre. Our paraphrasing system rewrites the extracted sentences into shorter, standalone summary sentences, learning to mimic the paraphrasing choices of human summarizers more closely than can traditional lexicon- or translation-based paraphrasing approaches.

We conclude with a chapter dedicated to summarizing non-English documents written in low-resource languages – documents that would otherwise be unreadable for English-speaking users. We develop a cross-lingual summarization system that performs even heavier editing and rewriting than does our personal narrative paraphrasing system; we create and train on large amounts of synthetic errorful translations of foreign-language documents. Our approach produces fluent English summaries from disdisfluent translations of non-English documents, and it generalizes across languages.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Computer Science
Thesis Advisors
McKeown, Kathleen
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 27, 2019