Use Your Mind and Learn to Write: The Problem of Producing Coherent Text

To produce written text can be a daunting task, presenting a challenge not only for high school students or second-language learners, but actually for most of us, including scientists and PhD students writing in their mother tongue. Text production involves several tasks: ideation (what to say?), text structuring (message grouping and linearization), expression (mapping of content onto linguistic forms) and revision. We will address here only one of them, text structuring, which is probably the most challenging task as it implies the grouping (chunking), ordering and linking of messages, which at the end of conceptual input lack this kind of information. Our goal is to find out whether part of this task can be automatized, the user providing a set of inputs (messages to be conveyed) and the computer then building automatically one or several topic trees from which the user will choose. While these trees still lack rhetorical information, functionally speaking they have a similar role as an outline: reduce the cognitive load of the writer and the reader. They help the writer to get some control over the information glut, telling him when to “say” what (order of sentences and paragraphs), and they help the reader to understand the functions of the different parts, i.e. how do the different parts relate to each other? As we can see, this is a very complex task. Having just begun to work on it, we will present here only preliminary results based on a very simple example and confined to a specific text type, descriptions. Yet, if ever this method works well for this type, it should also work, be it only partially, for other text types.

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