The University of Edinburgh -
Division of Informatics
Forrest Hill & 80 South Bridge

PhD Thesis #8903

Title:Generating Explanatory Discourse: a Plan-Based Interactive Approach.
Date: 1989
Abstract:This thesis presents a computer model of "explanatory discourse". As computers are increasingly used to present advice, help or explanations to novice users, it is important to consider how best to structure the resulting discourse. This involves organising what to say (depending on the user's knowledge and the structure of the domain knowledge), and managing any dialogue (such as interruptions). In a tutorial context it may also involve responding to perceived misconceptions, involving the novice in the explanation and checking their understanding. As the explanatory dialogue progresses, assumptions about the user's knowledge must be updated. No previous system incorporates all these aspects in an integrated model. Yet each aspect of the system depends on the others. The structure of the text is related to the conceptual structure of the domain (and hence to the model of the user's knowledge) while the goal of inferring what the user knows may influence the dialogue. The model described in this thesis is based on analyses of human face-to-face explanation, and on related work on tutorial dialogues, discourse analysis and text generation. The main examples used throughout are tutorial explanations of how simple circuits work. However, the framework developed generalises both to other domains and to other types of discourse. The model is fully implemented and an initial evaluation has been done, suggesting that it has potential as a practical approach to generating explanations in tutorial, help or advice systems. It therefore contributes both to our understanding of human explanatory discourse, and to our understanding of how to use computers more effectively to give complex explanations.

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