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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Supervised machine learning for email thread summarization Ulrich, Jan


Email has become a part of most people's lives, and the ever increasing amount of messages people receive can lead to email overload. We attempt to mitigate this problem using email thread summarization. Summaries can be used for things other than just replacing an incoming email message. They can be used in the business world as a form of corporate memory, or to allow a new team member an easy way to catch up on an ongoing conversation. Email threads are of particular interest to summarization because they contain much structural redundancy due to their conversational nature. Our email thread summarization approach uses machine learning to pick which sentences from the email thread to use in the summary. A machine learning summarizer must be trained using previously labeled data, i.e. manually created summaries. After being trained our summarization algorithm can generate summaries that on average contain over 70% of the same sentences as human annotators. We show that labeling some key features such as speech acts, meta sentences, and subjectivity can improve performance to over 80% weighted recall. To create such email summarization software, an email dataset is needed for training and evaluation. Since email communication is a private matter, it is hard to get access to real emails for research. Furthermore these emails must be annotated with human generated summaries as well. As these annotated datasets are rare, we have created one and made it publicly available. The BC3 corpus contains annotations for 40 email threads which include extractive summaries, abstractive summaries with links, and labeled speech acts, meta sentences, and subjective sentences. While previous research has shown that machine learning algorithms are a promising approach to email summarization, there has not been a study on the impact of the choice of algorithm. We explore new techniques in email thread summarization using several different kinds of regression, and the results show that the choice of classifier is very critical. We also present a novel feature set for email summarization and do analysis on two email corpora: the BC3 corpus and the Enron corpus.

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