Interpreting Hand-Written How-To Documentation

Hand-written instructions are a common way of disseminating how-to information. However, studies have shown that written instructions are difficult to follow. Users could benefit from a system that understands hand-written instructions and provides users with assistance in following them. While general natural language understanding is extremely difficult, we believe that understanding should be possible in the more limited domain of how-to instructions. In this paper, we present an investigation of parsing and understanding hand-written instructions. We began by collecting a corpus of instructions for 43 web-based tasks. A qualitative study of these instructions revealed that despite a wide variation in quality, there is a common set of verbs and nouns that are used to describe tasks on web sites. We then implemented and compared three how-to instruction interpreters: one based on keyword matching, one based on a grammar, and one using machine learning. The best of these interpreters achieved 53% accuracy in interpreting instructions in our corpus.

By: Tessa Lau; Clemens Drews; Jeffrey Nichols

Published in: RJ10438 in 2008


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