Abstract

We present a framework for generating natural language description from structured data such as tables; the problem comes under the category of data-to-text natural language generation (NLG). Modern data-to-text NLG systems typically use end-to-end statistical and neural architectures that learn from a limited amount of task-specific labeled data, and therefore exhibit limited scalability, domain-adaptability, and interpretability. Unlike these systems, ours is a modular, pipeline-based approach, and does not require task-specific parallel data. Rather, it relies on monolingual corpora and basic off-the-shelf NLP tools. This makes our system more scalable and easily adaptable to newer domains.

Our system utilizes a three-staged pipeline that: (i) converts entries in the structured data to canonical form, (ii) generates simple sentences for each atomic entry in the canonicalized representation, and (iii) combines the sentences to produce a coherent, fluent, and adequate paragraph description through sentence compounding and co-reference replacement modules. Experiments on a benchmark mixed-domain data set curated for paragraph description from tables reveals the superiority of our system over existing data-to-text approaches. We also demonstrate the robustness of our system in accepting other popular data sets covering diverse data types such as knowledge graphs and key-value maps.

1. Introduction

Structured data, such as tables, knowledge graphs, or dictionaries containing key-value pairs are popular data representation mechanisms used in a wide variety of industries to capture domain-specific knowledge. As examples, (1) in the finance domain, tabular data representing the financial performance of companies; (2) in healthcare, information about chemical composition of drugs, patient records, and so forth; and (3) in retail, inventory records of products and their features are a few among many other manifestations of structured data. Various artificial intelligence–based human–machine interaction applications such as question-answering or dialog involve retrieving information from such structured data for their end goals. A key component in such applications deals with Natural Language Generation (NLG) from the aforementioned structured data representations, known as the data-to-text problem. Another important use-case of this problem is story-telling from data, as in automatic report generation.

In literature, several approaches have been proposed for data-to-text, which can be categorized as rule-based systems (Dale, Geldof, and Prost 2003; Reiter et al. 2005), modular statistical techniques (Barzilay and Lapata 2005; Konstas and Lapata 2013), and, more recently, end-to-end neural architectures (Lebret, Grangier, and Auli 2016; Mei, Bansal, and Walter 2016; Jain et al. 2018; Nema et al. 2018). Rule-based approaches use heuristics or templates for specific tasks that cannot scale to accommodate newer domains unless heuristics are revised manually. On the other hand, the statistical and neural approaches require large amounts of parallel labeled data for training. Parallel data in NLG tasks are quite expensive to obtain; they require an annotator to frame a complete text as output for each input. To work on unseen domains and tasks, these data-hungry systems need to be trained again with parallel data for every new domain. To put this in the data-to-text NLG perspective, Table 1 shows lack of adaptability of supervised systems on unseen domain data. It can be seen that models do well for the domain in which they are trained on whereas they perform poorly on a different domain. In hindsight, such end-to-end systems are adversely affected by even slight changes in input vocabulary and may not generate language patterns other than what is seen during training.

Table 1 
Existing structured data-to-text systems WebNLGModel is a system trained on WebNLG training data (Gardent et al. 2017), and WikiBioModel is a system trained on WikiBio training data (Lebret, Grangier, and Auli 2016). As expected, the performance of both these models are good only on the data set they are trained on, showing a lack of adaptability across domains.
WikiBio Test data
Input Title : Thomas Tenison 
 Birth Date: 29 September 1636 
 Birth Place : Cottenham , Cambridgeshire , England 
 Death Date : 14 december 1715 
 Death Place : London , England 
 Archbishop of: Archbishop of Canterbury 
 Enthroned: 1695 
 Ended : 14 December 1715 
 Predecessor : John Tillotson 
 Successor : William Wake 
 
Reference: Thomas Tenison (29 September 1636 - 14 December 1715) was an English church leader, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 until his death. 
WebNLG Model: thomas , england and england are the main ingredients of thomas of archbishop , which is a member of the title of the thomas of archbishop . The birth date of the country is thomas. 
WikiBio Model: thomas tenison (29 september 1636 - 14 december 1715) was archbishop of canterbury from 1695 to 1715. 
 
WebNLG Test data 
Input Bacon Explosion , country , United States 
 United States , leader name , Barack Obama 
 United States , ethnic group , White Americans 
 
Reference: Bacon Explosion comes from the United States where Barack Obama is the leader and white Americans are an ethnic group. 
WebNLG Model: The Bacon Explosion comes from the United States where Barack Obama is the leader and White Americans are one of the ethnic groups. 
WikiBio Model: bacon explosion is a united states competitive american former competitive men ’s national team. united states (born october 16 , 1951) is a retired united states district judge for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states united states (born october 16 , 1949) is an american former white executive. 
WikiBio Test data
Input Title : Thomas Tenison 
 Birth Date: 29 September 1636 
 Birth Place : Cottenham , Cambridgeshire , England 
 Death Date : 14 december 1715 
 Death Place : London , England 
 Archbishop of: Archbishop of Canterbury 
 Enthroned: 1695 
 Ended : 14 December 1715 
 Predecessor : John Tillotson 
 Successor : William Wake 
 
Reference: Thomas Tenison (29 September 1636 - 14 December 1715) was an English church leader, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 until his death. 
WebNLG Model: thomas , england and england are the main ingredients of thomas of archbishop , which is a member of the title of the thomas of archbishop . The birth date of the country is thomas. 
WikiBio Model: thomas tenison (29 september 1636 - 14 december 1715) was archbishop of canterbury from 1695 to 1715. 
 
WebNLG Test data 
Input Bacon Explosion , country , United States 
 United States , leader name , Barack Obama 
 United States , ethnic group , White Americans 
 
Reference: Bacon Explosion comes from the United States where Barack Obama is the leader and white Americans are an ethnic group. 
WebNLG Model: The Bacon Explosion comes from the United States where Barack Obama is the leader and White Americans are one of the ethnic groups. 
WikiBio Model: bacon explosion is a united states competitive american former competitive men ’s national team. united states (born october 16 , 1951) is a retired united states district judge for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states district court for the united states united states (born october 16 , 1949) is an american former white executive. 

Further, because existing systems are designed as task-specific solutions, they tend to jointly learn both content selection from the input (what to say?) and the surface realization or language generation (how to say?). This is often undesirable, as the former, which decides “what is interesting” in the input, can be highly domain-specific. For example, which weather parameters (temperature, wind chill) are influential versus what body parameters (heart rate, body temperature) are anomalous is heavily dependent on the domain at hand, such as weather or healthcare, respectively. On the other hand, the surface realization part of language generation may not be as domain-dependent and can, thus, be designed in a reusable and scalable way. Therefore, it would be easier to develop scalable systems for language generation independently than developing systems that jointly learn to perform both content selection and generation.

In this article, we propose a general-purpose, unsupervised approach to language generation from structured data; our approach works at the linguistic level using word and sub-word level structures. The system is primarily designed for taking a structured table with variable schema as input and producing a coherent paragraph description pertaining to the facts in the table. However, it can also work with other structured data formats such as graphs and key-value pairs (in the form of JSONs) as input. Multiple experiments show the efficacy of our approach on different data sets having varying input formats without being trained on any of these data sets. By design, the system is unsupervised and scalable, that is, it assumes no labeled corpus and only considers monolingual, unlabeled corpora and WordNet during development, which are inexpensive and relatively easy to obtain.

In the proposed approach, the generation of description from structured data happens in three stages, namely, (1) canonicalization, where the input is converted to a standard canonical representation in the form of tuples, (2) simple language generation, where each canonical form extracted from the input is converted into a simple sentence, and (3) discourse synthesis and language enrichment, where simple sentences are merged together to produce complex and more natural sentences. The first stage is essential to handle variable schema and different formats. The second stage gleans morphologic, lexical, and syntactic constituents from the canonical tuples, and stitches them into simple sentences. The third stage applies sentence compounding and co-reference replacement on the previously produced simple sentences to generate a fluent and adequate description. For the development of these modules, at most a monolingual corpus, WordNet, and three basic off-the-shelf NLP tools—namely, part-of-speech tagger, dependency parser, and named entity recognizer—are needed.

To test our system, we first curate a multidomain benchmark data set (referred henceforth as WikiTablePara) that contains tables and corresponding manually written paragraph descriptions; to the best of our knowledge, such a data set did not previously exist. Our experimental results on this data set demonstrate the superiority of our system over the existing data-to-text systems. Our framework can also be extended to different schema and datatypes. To prove this, we perform additional experiments on two data sets representing various domains and input-types, only using their test splits: (i) WikiBio (Lebret, Grangier, and Auli 2016), representing key-value pairs, and (ii) WebNLG (Gardent et al. 2017), representing knowledge graphs. Additionally, for the sake of completeness, we extend our experiments and test our system’s performance on existing data-to-text NLG data sets (for the task of tuple to text generation). We demonstrate that even though our system does not undergo training on any of these data sets, it nevertheless delivers promising performance on their test splits. The key contributions of this article are summarized as follows:

  • • 

    We propose a general purpose, unsupervised, scalable system for generation of descriptions from structured tables with variable schema and diverse formats.

  • • 

    Our system utilizes a modular approach enabling interpretability, as the output of each stage in our pipeline is in a human-understandable textual form.

  • • 

    We release a data set called WikiTablePara containing WikiTables and their descriptions for further research. Additionally, we also release data gathered for modules for sentence realizationfromtuples (refer to Sections 4 and 6), useful for general purpose tuple/set to sequence tasks. The data set and code for our experiments are available at https://github.com/parajain/structscribe.

We would like to remind our readers that our system is unsupervised, as it does not require parallel corpora containing structured data such as tables at the source side end and natural language description at the target side. Manually constructing such labeled data can be more demanding than some of the well-known language generation tasks (such as summarization and translation) because of the variability of the source structure and the non-natural association between the source and target sides. Our system does not require such parallel data and divides the problem into sub-problems. It requires only simpler data forms that can be curated from unlabeled sources.

We would also like to note that an ideal description generation system would require understanding the pragmatic aspects of the structure under consideration. Incorporating pragmatic knowledge still remains an open problem in the domain of NLG, and our system’s capability toward handling pragmatics is rather limited. As the state-of-the-art progresses, we believe that a modular approach such as the one proposed can be upgraded appropriately.

2. Central Challenges and Our Solution

This section summarizes the key challenges in description generation from structured data.

  • • 

    Variable Schema: Tables can have a variable number of rows and columns. Moreover, the central theme around which the description should revolve can vary. For example, two tables can contain column-headers [Company Name, Location], yet the topic of the description can be the companies or the locations of various companies. Also, two tables having column-headers [PlayersName, Rank] and [Rank, PlayersName] represent the same data but may be handled differently by existing methods that rely on ordered-sequential inputs.

  • • 

    Variation in Presentation of Information: The headers of tables typically capture information that is crucial for generation. However, presentations of headers can considerably vary for similar tables. For example, two similar tables can have column-headers like [Player, Country] and [Player Name, Played for Country], where the headers in the first table are single-word nouns but the first header of the second table is a noun-phrase and the second header is verb-phrase. It is also possible that the headers share different inter-relationships. Nouns such as [Company, CEO] should represent the fact that CEO is a part of the company, whereas entities in headers [temperature, humidity] are independent of each other.

  • • 

    Domain Influence: It is known that changing the domain of the input has adverse effects on end-to-end generators, primarily due to differences in vocabulary (e.g., the word “tranquilizer” in healthcare data may not be found in tourism data).

  • • 

    Natural Discourse Generation: Table descriptions in the form of discourse (paragraphs) should contain a natural flow with a mixture of simple, compound, complex sentences. Repetition of entities should also be replaced by appropriate co-referents. In short, the paragraphs should be fluent, adequate, and coherent.

End-to-end neural systems mentioned in the previous sections suffer from all of these challenges. According to Gardent et al. (2017), these systems tend to overfit the data they are trained on, “generating domain specific, often strongly stereotyped text” (e.g., weather forecast or game commentator reports). Rather than learning the semantic relations between data and text, these systems are heavily influenced by the style of the text, the domain vocabulary, input format of the data, and co-occurrence patterns. As per Wiseman, Shieber, and Rush (2017), “Even with recent ideas of copying and reconstruction, there is a significant gap between neural models and template-based systems, highlighting the challenges in data-to-text generation.” Our system is designed to address the challenges to some extent through a three-staged pipeline, namely, (a) canonicalization, (b) simple language generation, and (c) discourse synthesis and language enrichment. In the first stage, the input is converted to a standard canonical representation in the form of tuples. In the second stage, each canonical form extracted from the input is converted to simple sentences. In the final stage, the simple sentences are combined to produce coherent descriptions. The overall architecture is presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1 

Our proposed three-staged modular architecture for description generation from structured data.

Figure 1 

Our proposed three-staged modular architecture for description generation from structured data.

Note that our pipeline is designed to work with tables that do not have a hierarchy among its column headers and row headers. We believe that tables of such kind can be normalized as a preprocessing step and then fed to our system. To handle this preprocessing is beyond the scope of the current work. We discuss our central idea in the following sections.

3. Canonicalization of Structured Data

Our goal is to generate descriptions from structured data that can appear in various formats. For this, it is essential to convert the data to a canonical form that can be handled by our generation stages. Though our main focus is to process data in tabular form, the converter is designed to handle other input formats as well, as discussed subsequently.

3.1 Input Formats

  1. Table: Tables are data organized in rows and columns. We consider single-level row and column headers with no hierarchy. A table row can be interpreted as an n-ary relation. Currently, we simplify table row representation as a collection of binary relations (or triples).

  2. Graph: Knowledge graphs have entities represented as nodes and edges denote relations between entities. Here we consider only binary relations. A knowledge graph can be translated as a collection of binary relations or triples.

  3. JSON: This is data organized in the form of a dictionary of key-value pairs. We limit ourselves to single-level key-value pairs where the keys and values are literals. A pair of key-value pairs are converted to a triple by concatenating the value term of the first key-value pair with the second key-value pair.

3.2 Canonical Form and Canonicalization

For our system to be able to handle various formats we have just listed, we need to convert them to a standard format easily recognizable by our system. Moreover, we require that the generation step can be trained without involving labeled parallel data so that they can be used in various domains where only monolingual corpora is available. Keeping this in mind, we arrived at a canonical form consisting of triples made of binary relations among two entities types. For example, consider the triple : 〈Albert Einstein ; birth place ; Ulm, Germany〉. The entity tags for named entities ‘Albert Einstein’ and ‘Ulm, Germany’ are PERSON and GPE, respectively. This leads to the canonicalized triple form:
PERSONbirth placeGPE

For tabular inputs, extraction of tuples requires the following assumption to be followed:

  • • 

    The column-headers of the table should be considered as the list of keywords that decide the structure of the sentences to be generated. In the event the table is centered around row headers (i.e., row headers contain maximum generic information about the table), the table has to be transposed first.

  • • 

    One column header is considered as the primary key, around which the theme of the generated output revolves. For simplicity, we chose the first column-header of the tables in our data set to be the primary key.

For each table, the table is first broken into a set of subtables containing one-row and two-columns, as shown in Figure 2. The first columns of the subtables represent the primary key of the table. For a table containing M rows and N columns (excluding headers), a total number of M × (N − 1) subtables are thus produced. The subtables are then flattened to produce a triple by dropping the primary key header and concatenating the entries of the subtables, as shown in Figure 2. This produces standard entity-relationship triples 〈e1, r, e2〉, where e1, and e2 are entities that are entries and r is the relationship, which is captured by the column header.

Figure 2 

Example of extraction of canonical triples from tabular inputs.

Figure 2 

Example of extraction of canonical triples from tabular inputs.

The entities e1 and e2 are tagged using a named entity recognizer (NER), which assigns domain-independent place-holder tags such as PERSON and GPE for persons and geographical regions, respectively. For tagging we use the Spacy (spacy.io) NER tagger, an off-the-shelf tagger that performs reasonably well even on words and phrases. We also use a DBPedia lookup1 based on exact string matching in situations where NER is unable to recognize the named entity. String matching is done with either the URI-labels or the anchor-texts referring to the URI to identify the relevant tag. This is helpful in the detection of peculiar multiword named entities like The Silence of the Lambs, which will not be recognized by Spacy due to lack of context. All DBPedia classes have been manually mapped to 18 Spacy NER types. As a fallback mechanism, any entity not recognized through DBPedia lookup is assigned with the UNK tag. This process produces somewhat domain-independent canonical representations from the tables, as seen in Figure 2. The NER tags and the corresponding original entries are carried forward and remain available for use in stages 2 and 3. At stage 2, these tags are replaced with the original entries to form proper sentences. The tags and the original entries are also used for language enrichment in stage 3.

Unlike tables, for input types like knowledge graphs and key-value pairs, extraction of canonical triples is straightforward. Knowledge graphs typically follow the triple form with nodes representing entities and edges representing relations. Similarly, a pair of key-value entries can be flattened and a triple can be extracted. All these formats, thus, can be standardized to a collection of canonical triples with named entity (NE) tags acting as placeholders.

In the following section, we describe how a simple sentence can be extracted from each canonical triple. A collection of canonical triples obtained from a table (or other input types) will produce a collection of simple sentences, which is compounded to form a coherent description.

4. Simple Language Generation

The simple language generation module takes each canonical triple and generates a simple sentence in natural language. For instance, the triple 〈PERSON birth place GPE〉 will be translated to a simple sentential form like the following:
PERSONwasborniGPE
This will finally be replaced with the original entities to produce a simple sentence as follows: Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany. The canonical triple set in Figure 2 should produce the following (or similar) simple sentences (refer to Data set 1):
Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, GermanyAlbert Einstein has birthday on 14 March 1879Elsa Lowenthal is the wife of Albert Einstein
(1)

This is achieved by the following steps: (1) Preprocessing, which transforms the canonical triple to a modified canonical triple; (2) TextGen, which converts the modified canonical triple to a simple sentential form like 〈PERSON was born in GPE〉; (3) Postprocessing, which puts back the original entities to produce a simple sentence like Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany; and lastly, (4) Ranking, which selects the best sentence produced in step 3 when multiple variants of TextGen are run in parallel. The details of these steps are shared in the following sections.

4.1 Preprocessing

It is possible that the canonical triples will contain words that cannot be easily converted to a sentence form without additional explicit knowledge. For example, it may not be easy to transform the vanilla triple 〈PERSON game Badminton〉 to a syntactically correct sentence 〈PERSON plays Badminton〉.

To convert the relation term into a verb phrase we utilize a preprocessing step. The step requires two resources to be available—(1) WordNet and (2) Generic Word embeddings, at least covering the default vocabulary of the language (English). We use the 300-dimensional glove embeddings for this purpose (Pennington, Socher, and Manning 2014).

The preprocessing step covers the following two scenarios:

  1. Relation term is a single-word term: In this case, the word is lemmatized and the root form is looked up in a verb lexicon pre-extracted from WordNet. If the look-up succeeds, the lemma form is retained in the modified triple. Otherwise, the top N verbs2 that are closest to the word are extracted using glove vector-based cosine similarity. For example, through this technique, for the original word “game,” which is not a verb, related verbs such as “match” and “play” can be extracted. The verb “play” will be the most suitable one for generating a sentence later. The most suitable verb is decided as follows. For each extracted verb v related to the original word o, the synsets for v and o are extracted from WordNet. The glosses and examples for each synset of o are extracted from WordNet and combined to form a textual representation (Fo). Similarly, the textual representation (Fv) considering the glosses and examples of synsets of v is formed. The degree of co-occurrence of words v and o is computed using the normalized counts of co-occurrences of v and o in Fo and Fv. The candidate verb having the highest degree of co-occurrence is selected as the most appropriate verb. Through this, the word “play” would be selected as the most appropriate verb for the word “game,” as both words will co-occur in the glosses and examples of synsets of both “game” and “play.”

  2. Relation term is a multiword term: The relation term, in this case, would contain both content (i.e., non-stopwords) and function words (i.e., stopwords). Examples of multiword terms are “country played for” and “number of reviews.” When such terms are encountered, the main verb in the phrase is extracted through part-of-speech (POS) tagging. If a verb is present, the phrase is altered by moving the noun phrase preceding the verb to the end of the phrase. So, the phrase “country played for,” through this heuristic, would be transformed to “played for country.” This is based on the assumption that in tabular forms, noun phrases that convey an action are actually a transformed version of a verb phrase.

These preprocessing techniques modify the input triple, which we refer to as modified canonical triple. This step is useful for the triple2text generation step, as discussed next.

4.2 TextGen

The objective of this step is to generate simple and syntactically correct sentences from the (modified) canonical triples. We propose three ways to generate sentential forms, as elaborated below. All three ways are different alternatives to generate a simple sentential form; hence they can be executed in parallel.

4.2.1 TRIPLE2TEXT.

This module is the simplest and is developed using a seq2seq (Klein et al. 2017) network, which is trained on the curated Triple2Text data set (refer to Section 6 Data set 3). The data set consists of triples curated from various sources of knowledge bases extracted from open Web-scale text dumps using popular information extraction techniques (such as Banko et al. 2007; Schmitz et al. 2012). Additionally, existing resources such as Yago Ontology (Suchanek, Kasneci, and Weikum 2007) and VerbNet (Schuler 2005) are utilized. The criteria for constructing triples and simple sentence pairs (used as target for training seq2seq) are different for different resources. We note that no annotation was needed for creation of this data set, as the simple sentences were constructed by concatenation of elements in the triples (discussed in Section 6 Data set 3). Only this variant of generation requires a modified canonical triple, obtained using the preprocessing step mentioned above. The other variants can work with the canonical triple without such modification.

4.2.2 MORPHKEY2TEXT (v1 and v2).

The conversion of any canonical triple to a sentence demands the following linguistic operations:

  1. Determining the appropriate morphological form for the words/phrase in the canonical triple, especially the relation word/phrase (e.g., transforming the word “play” to “played” or “plays”).

  2. Determining the articles and prepositions necessary to construct the sentences (e.g., transforming “play” to “plays for”).

  3. Adding appropriate auxiliary verbs when necessary. This is needed especially for passive forms (e.g., transforming “location” to “is located at” by adding the auxiliary verb “is”).

Ideally, any module designed for canonical-triple to sentence translation should dynamically select a subset of the above operations based on the contextual clues present in the input. To this, we propose the morphkey2text module, a variant of seq2seq network empowered with attention and copy mechanisms. Figure 3 shows a working example of the morphkey2text system. We skip explaining the well-known seq2seq framework for brevity. As input, the module takes a processed version of the canonical triple in which (a) NE tags are retained (b) stopwords are removed if they appear in the relation terms in the canonical triples, and (c) the coarse POS tags for both the NE tags and words are appended to the input sequence. The module is expected to generate a sequence of words along with the fine-grained POS tags (in PENN tagset format) for the verbs appearing in their lemma form. The rationale behind such an input-output design is that dealing with the lemma forms at the target side and incorporating additional linguistic signals in terms of POS should enable the system to apply appropriate changes at morphological and lexical levels. This will, in turn, help address the problem of lexical and morphological data-sparsity across domains better. As seen in Figure 3, the canonical triple 〈PERSONplaying countryGPE〉 is first transformed into a list of content words and their corresponding coarse-grained POS tags. During generation, the input key-word and POS “playing VERB” are translated to “play VBD” and the output is post-processed to produce the word “played.” As the system has to deal with lemma forms and NE and POS tags at both input and output sides, it allows the system to just copy input words, which makes the system robust across domains.

Figure 3 

Example demonstrating the working of the morphkey2text TextGen system. Generated words shown in red are produced via copy operation and those in black are produced via generation operation.

Figure 3 

Example demonstrating the working of the morphkey2text TextGen system. Generated words shown in red are produced via copy operation and those in black are produced via generation operation.

Preparing training data for the morphkey2text design requires only a monolingual corpus and a few general purpose NLP tools and resources such as POS tagger, NE Tagger, and WordNet. A large number of simple sentences extracted from Web-scale text dumps (such as Wikipedia) are first collected. The sentences are then POS tagged and the named entities are replaced with NE tags. Stopwords (function words) such as articles and prepositions are dropped from the sentences by looking up in a stopword lexicon. Because the POS tagger produces fine-grained POS tags, the tags are converted to coarse POS tags using a predefined mapping. This produces the source (input) side of the training example. As the target (output), the named entities in the original sentences are replaced with NE tags, the other words are lemmatized using WordNet lemmatizer, and the fine-grained POS tags of the words are augmented if the lemma form is not the same as the base form. Figure 4 illustrates construction of a training example from unlabeled data.

Figure 4 

Extraction of a single training instance from an unlabeled sentence for the morphkey2text TextGen system.

Figure 4 

Extraction of a single training instance from an unlabeled sentence for the morphkey2text TextGen system.

We implement two different variants of the morphkey2text system. The morphkey2text V1 module is trained based on the MorphKey2Text data set (version v1) that was created from monolingual corpora (explained in Section 6 Data set 2). The morphkey2text v2 is trained on a different version (v2) of the MorphKey2Text data set (details in Section 6 Data set 2).

4.3 Postprocessing

This step restores the original entities from the input by replacing the tagged forms generated from the step above. Additionally, if possessive nouns are detected in the sen- tence, apostrophes are added to such nouns. Possessives are checked using the following heuristic: if the POS tag for the word following the first entity is not a verb, the word is a potential possessive candidate. Postprocessing is applied to each of the competing modules enlisted in the above step.

The variants triple2text, morphkey2text v1, and morphkey2text v2 can run in parallel to produce different translations of the canonical triple. Out of these, the best produced sentence are selected by the ranking step mentioned next.

4.4 Scoring and Ranking

To select the most appropriate output from the TextGen systems discussed earlier, a Ranker is utilized; it sorts the sentence based on a composite score as given here:
score(i,s)=f(s)×g(i,s)
(2)
where i and s represent the canonical triple and generated sentence. Functions f(.) and g(.) represent the fluency (grammaticality) of the output sentence and adequacy (factual overlap between input and output). The fluency function f is defined as:
f(s)=LM(s)=LM(w1,w2,,wN)
(3)
where for a sentence of N words w1,w2, …, wN, the LM, an n-gram language model, returns the likelihood of the sentence. For this, a 5-gram general purpose language model is built using Wikipedia dump and KenLM (Heafield 2011). The adequacy function g is defined as:
g(i,s)=#co-occuringwordsiniands#wordsini
(4)

Before applying the Ranker, we use heuristics to filter incomplete and unnatural sentences. Sentences without verbs or entities and sentences that are disproportionately larger or smaller than the input are discarded. Once the Ranker produces the best simple sentence per input triple, the simple sentences are then combined into a coherent paragraph, as explained subsequently.

5. Discourse Synthesis and Language Enrichment

In this section, we discuss how to combine the collection of generated simple sentences set 1 from Section 4 to produce a paragraph by merging sentences as shown here:

Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany and has birthday on 14 March 1879. Elsa Lowenthal is the wife of Albert Einstein.

This paragraph is produced by a sentence compounding module followed by a coreference replacement module to produce the final coherent paragraph:

Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany and has birthday on 14 March 1879. Elsa Lowenthal is the wife of him.

5.1 Sentence Compounding

This module takes a pair of simple sentences and produces a compound or complex sentence. Every simple sentence is split into a 〈e1, rvp,e2〉 form where e1 and e2 are entities that appear in the input and rvp is the relation verb phrase. For a pair of sentences, if both sentences share the same first entity e1 or both have the same second entity e2, then the compounded version can be obtained by ‘AND’-ing of the relation phrases. In cases where the second entity of one matches the first entity of the following sentence, then a clausal pattern can be created by adding “who” or “which.” In all other cases, the sentences can be merged by ‘AND’-ing both the sentences. Algorithm 1 elaborates on this heuristic. This module can also generate different variations of paragraphs based on different combinations of sentences.

graphic

5.2 Coreference Replacement

To enhance paragraph coherence, it is often desirable to replace entities that repeat within or across consecutive sentences with appropriate coreferents. For this, we use a heuristic that replaces repeating entities with pronominal anaphora.

If an entity is encountered twice in a sentence or appears in consecutive sentences, it is marked as a potential candidate for replacement. The number and gender of the entity are decided using POS tags and an off-the-shelf Gender Predictor module. The module is a CNN-based classifier that trains on people’s names gathered from various Web sites. The entity’s role is determined based on whether it appears to the left of the verb (i.e., Agent) or to the right (Object). Based on the gender, number, role, and possessives, the pronouns (he/she/their/him/his, etc.) are selected, and they replace the entity. We ensure that we replace only one entity in a sentence to avoid incoherent construction due to multiple replacements in close proximity.

We remind our reader about Figure 1, which presents an overview of our system. Thanks to its modular nature, our system enjoys interpretability; each stage in the pipeline is conditioned on the output of the previous stage. Moreover, all the modules, in principle, can adapt to newer domains. The data sets used for training do not have any domain-specific characteristics and thus these modules can work well across various domains, as will be seen in Section 7 (Experiments). The whole pipeline can be developed without any parallel corpora of structured table to text. Any data used for training any individual module can be curated from monolingual corpora. The subsequent section discusses such data sets in detail.

6. Data Sets

The section discusses three data sets; Data set 1 contains tables from various domains and their summaries and can be used for benchmarking any table descriptor generator. Data sets 2 and 3 are developed to train our TextGen modules (Section 4). These data sets can be downloaded for academic use from https://github.com/parajain/structscribe. We also release the code and resources to create similar data sets on a larger scale.

6.1 Data Set 1: Descriptions from WikiTable (WikiTablePara)

We prepare a benchmark data set for multi-sentence description generation from tables. For gathering input tables, we rely on the WikiTable data set (Pasupat and Liang 2015), which is a repository of more than 2,000 tables. Most of the tables still suffer from the following issues: (a) they do not provide enough context information, as they were originally a part of a Wikipedia page, (b) they are concatenations of multiple tables, and (c) they contain noisy entries. After filtering such tables, we extract 171 tables. Four reference descriptions in the form of paragraphs were manually generated. The average number of sentences for each description in each reference is 12 and the average number of words is between 740 and 780, respectively. The descriptions revolve around one column of the table, which acts as the primary-key.

6.2 Data Set 2: Morphologic Variation–Based Keywords-to-Text (MorphKey2Text)

This is created from monolingual corpora released by Thorne et al. (2018), which is a processed version of Wikipedia dump. We create the first version of the data set following the technique discussed in Section 4.2.2, using POS- and NE taggers.

The second version (v2) is slightly different in the sense that it uses a higher-recall–oriented entity tagging mechanism with the help of POS tags and dependency parse trees of sentences. This is necessary as there are entities such as “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which will not be recognized by the NE tagger used to create v1. Such multiword entities can be detected by a simple heuristic that looks for a sequence of proper nouns (in this case “Song,” “Ice” and “Fire”) surrounded by stopwords but do not include any punctuation. Moreover, it should not have any verb marked as root by the dependency parser. Through this technique, it is also possible to handle cases where an entity such as “Tony Blair,” which is detected as two entity tags PERSON and UNK by popular NE taggers such as Spacy, instead of the single entity-tag PERSON.

6.3 Data Set 3: Knowledge Base Triples to Text (Triple2Text)

For this, a large number of triples and corresponding sentential forms are gathered from the following resources. (i) Yago Ontology: A total of 6,198,617 parallel triples and sentences extracted from Yago (Suchanek, Kasneci, and Weikum 2007). Our improvised NER discussed in Section 3 is used for obtaining tags for entities in the triples. (ii) OpenIE on WikiData: A total of 53,066,988 parallel triples and sentences synthesized from relations from Reverb Clueweb (Banko et al. 2007) and all possible combinations of NE tags. (iii) VerbNet: A total of 149,760 parallel triples and sentences synthesized from verbs (in the first person singular form) from VerbNet (Schuler 2005) and possible combinations of NE tags. For all the knowledge resources considered for this data set, concatenation of the elements in the triples yielded simple sentences; hence there was no manual effort needed for creation of this data set.

Various statistics for Data Sets 2 and 3 are presented in Table 2. For training the TextGen systems, the data sets were randomly divided into train, validation, and test splits of 80%:10%:10%.

Table 2 
Statistics for Data sets 2 and 3.
Data set# InstancesAvg. # words in target# Target vocabulary
Triple2Text 33,188,424 3.45 5,594 
MorphKey2Text-V1 9,481,470 9.74 876,153 
MorphKey2Text-V2 9,346,617 8.51 477,302 
Data set# InstancesAvg. # words in target# Target vocabulary
Triple2Text 33,188,424 3.45 5,594 
MorphKey2Text-V1 9,481,470 9.74 876,153 
MorphKey2Text-V2 9,346,617 8.51 477,302 

7. Experiments

The simple language generator in Section 4 requires training seq2seq networks using the MorphKey2Text (v1 and v2) and the Triple2Text data sets. For this we use the OpenNMT framework in PyTorch, using the default hyperparameter settings. The best epoch model is chosen based on accuracy on the validation split of these data sets. Once these modules are trained, they are used in inference mode in our pipeline.

Through experiments, we show the efficacy of our proposed system on WikiTablePara and other public data-to-text benchmark data sets even though it is not trained on those data sets. Additionally, we also assess the generalizability of our and other existing end-to-end systems in unseen domains. We use BLEU-4, METEOR, ROUGE-L, and Skip-Thoughts–based Cosine Similarity (denoted as STSim) as the evaluation metrics.3 We also perform a human evaluation study, where a held-out portion of the test data is evaluated by linguists who assign scores to the generated descriptions pertaining to fluency, adequacy, and coherence. Mainly, we try to answer the following research questions through our empirical study:

  1. Can other existing end-to-end systems adapt to unseen domains? For this, we consider two pretrained representative models: (a) WikiBioModel (Nema et al. 2018), a neural model trained on the WikiBio data set (Lebret, Grangier, and Auli 2016), and (b) WebNLGModel4 , a seq2seq baseline trained on the WebNLG data set (Colin et al. 2016; Gardent et al. 2017). These models are tested on the WikiTablePara data set, which is not restricted to any particular domain. Additionally, they are also tested on two popular tuple-to-text data sets such as E2E (Novikova, Dusek, and Rieser 2017) and WikiTableText (Bao et al. 2018). Thus, the performance of the existing systems can be assessed on a wide variety of domains that may not have been present in the data sets used for developing the systems.

  2. How well does our system adapt to new domains? We evaluate our proposed system also on the table-to-descriptions WikiTablePara benchmark data set to contrast the performance with the above pretrained models. Additionally, we also assess our system on related (table-to-text summarization) data sets: (1) WebNLG, (2) WikiBio, (3) WikiTableText, and (4) E2E. The WikiTableText data set, like ours, is also derived from WikiTables. However, it contains only tabular-rows and their summary in one sentence. The generation objective becomes different from ours, as it does not require paragraph level operations such as compounding and coreference resolution. Therefore, for brevity, we only report our system’s performance on the data set without further analysis.

  3. How interpretable is our approach? By leveraging the modularity of our system, we analyze the usefulness of major components in the proposed system and perform error analysis.

7.1 Experimental Set-up

We now discuss how the various systems are configured for evaluation on multiple data sets.

  • • 

    Proposed System: Our proposed system is already designed to work with the format of the WikiTablePara data set. Each table in the data set is converted to M × (N − 1) canonical triples leading to the output table description (refer to Section 3). To test our system for other input types such as Knowledge Graphs and Key-Value dictionaries, we use the WebNLG and WikiBio data sets, respectively. From the WikiBio data set, JSONscontaining N key-valuepairs 〈key1:value1, key2:value2, … , keyN:valueN〉 are converted to N − 1 triples. Each triple is in the form 〈value1, keyI, valueI〉, where I≠1. It is assumed that the first key is the primary key and typically contains names and other keywords for identifying the original Wikipedia infobox. For the WebNLG data set, the triples in a group are directly used by our system to produce the output. For the WikiTableText data set, which contains one tuple per instance, each input is converted into N − 1, triples, in a similar manner as the WikiTablePara data set. For the E2E data set, each instance already is in triple-to-text form, and is used as is.

  • • 

    WebNLGModel: The WebNLGModel is designed to be trained and tested on the WebNLG data set. An already trained WebNLGModel model (similar to the one by Gardent et al. 2017) is evaluated on WikiTablePara and WikiBio data sets. For the WikiTablePara data set, we convert every table to M × (N − 1) triples. For each triple, the model infers a sentence and sentences for all the triples representing a table are concatenated to produce a paragraph description. For the WikiBio data set, each JSON is converted to N − 1 triples for N key-value pairs, which are then passed to the model for final output. Tuples in WikiTableText data set are converted to N − 1 triples; and instances in E2E data set, which are already in triple-to-text, are used directly without any transformation.

  • • 

    WikiBioModel: The WikiBioModel is designed to get trained and tested on the WikiBio data set that contains key-value pairs at the input side and summaries at the output. An already trained model (similar to the one by Nema et al. 2018) is evaluated on WikiTablePara and WebNLG data sets. For the WikiTablePara data set, we convert every table to M × (N − 1) JSONs in WikiBio format. Each JSON contains a pair of key-value pairs, where the first key-value pair always represents the primary-key and its corresponding entry in the table (hence, N − 1 JSONs are produced). The inferred sentences for all M × (N − 1) JSONs from the model are concatenated to produce the required paragraph description. For the WebNLG data set, each triple is converted to a JSON of a pair of key-value pairs. A triple 〈e1, r , e2〉 is converted to a JSON format of {default_key : e1,r : e2} (the default key is set to “name”). For each instance in the WebNLG data set, sentences are inferred for all the triples belonging to the instance, and they are concatenated to produce the final output. Inputs from WikiTableText and E2E data sets are converted to JSON, as explained above.

Please note that both WikiBioModel and WebNLGModel are capable of processing single and multi-tuple inputs. For our data set, we try giving these models inputs in both single and multi-tuple format. In single-tuple input mode, the model processes one triple at a time and produces a sentence; the sentences are concatenated to produce paragraphs. In multi-tuple mode, all triples extracted from a single row of the table are simultaneously passed to the model as input. The model variants with subscript “M” represent these cases in the result tables. For the above evaluations, only the test splits for WikiBio and WebNLG data sets are used, whereas there is no train:test split for the WikiTablePara data set (the entire data set is used for evaluation). The results for these are summarized in Tables 3 and 4.

Table 3 
Various models on WikiTablePara data set.
SystemBLEUMETEORROUGE-LSTSim
WikiBioModel 0.0 15.5 14.8 64.1 
WebNLGModel 7.9 24.8 27.9 78.2 
Proposed 33.3 39.7 64.1 86.5 
SystemBLEUMETEORROUGE-LSTSim
WikiBioModel 0.0 15.5 14.8 64.1 
WebNLGModel 7.9 24.8 27.9 78.2 
Proposed 33.3 39.7 64.1 86.5 
Table 4 
Evaluation of all models across data sets (domains). Suffix M represents multi-tuple input.
ModelData setBLEUMETEORROUGE-LSTSim
Proposed WebNLG 24.8 34.9 52.0 82.6 
WikiTableText 12.9 33.6 37.1 73.2 
WikiBio 2.5 17.6 19.3 72.9 
E2E 6.6 27.1 29.2 71.1 
WikiTablePara 33.3 39.7 64.1 86.5 
 
WikiBioModel WebNLG 2.8 16.9 26.4 72.1 
WikiTableText 1.3 10.5 21.5 66.5 
E2E 1.3 9.0 22.7 61.6 
WikiTablePara 0.0 15.5 14.8 64.1 
WikiTableParaM 0.0 10.3 13.7 65.8 
 
WebNLGModel WikiTableText 3.6 16.5 25.2 68.9 
WikiBio 1.6 9.3 18.6 69.4 
E2E 2.1 13.2 19.0 66.0 
WikiTablePara 7.9 24.8 27.9 78.2 
WikiTableParaM 0.5 20.0 26.1 75.6 
ModelData setBLEUMETEORROUGE-LSTSim
Proposed WebNLG 24.8 34.9 52.0 82.6 
WikiTableText 12.9 33.6 37.1 73.2 
WikiBio 2.5 17.6 19.3 72.9 
E2E 6.6 27.1 29.2 71.1 
WikiTablePara 33.3 39.7 64.1 86.5 
 
WikiBioModel WebNLG 2.8 16.9 26.4 72.1 
WikiTableText 1.3 10.5 21.5 66.5 
E2E 1.3 9.0 22.7 61.6 
WikiTablePara 0.0 15.5 14.8 64.1 
WikiTableParaM 0.0 10.3 13.7 65.8 
 
WebNLGModel WikiTableText 3.6 16.5 25.2 68.9 
WikiBio 1.6 9.3 18.6 69.4 
E2E 2.1 13.2 19.0 66.0 
WikiTablePara 7.9 24.8 27.9 78.2 
WikiTableParaM 0.5 20.0 26.1 75.6 

7.1.1 Ablation Study.

Apart from comparing our system with the existing ones, we also try to understand how different stages of our pipeline contribute to the overall performance. For such an ablation study, we prepare the different variants of the system based on the following two scenarios and compare their performance against that of the complete system.

  • • 

    Instead of using the ensemble (Ranker), each participating TextGen system (viz., triple2text, morphkey2text v1, and morphkey2text v2) is treated as a separate system. The intention is to show the advantage of using an ensemble of generators and the ranking mechanism.

  • • 

    Language enrichment modules such as compounding and coreference replacement modules are removed both individually and together. Simple sentences are just concatenated to produce the table descriptions. The intention is to test our hypothesis that removing such modules will make the generated paragraphs somewhat incoherent and deviate from constructs produced by humans, thereby resulting in a reduced system performance.

8. Results and Discussion

Table 3 illustrates how the various pretrained models fare on the WikiTablePara benchmark data set compared with our proposed system. We observe that the end-to-end WebNLGModel does better than WikiBioModel. However, our proposed system clearly gives the best performance, demonstrating the capability of generalizing in unseen domains and structured data in a more complex form such as a multi-row and multi-column table.

It may be argued that although the proposed model is not trained on parallel data, it takes advantage of the fact that the textual resources used for development come from the same sources as the test data (i.e., Wikipedia). Thus, the better performance can be attributed to having a better vocabulary coverage (covering more entities, verbs, nouns, etc.), which WebNLGModel and WikiBioModel are deprived of. This is not true, however, because of two reasons: (1) the WikiBio and WebNLG data sets use information from Wikipedia (in the form of Infoboxes and DBPedia entries), or (2) use pretrained GloVe embeddings (Pennington, Socher, and Manning 2014), which offer a much richer vocabulary than what is considered in our setting. Hence, it is evident that the performance of these baseline systems is low on the WikiTablePara data set not because of vocabulary unseenness but for the very fact that these systems are rigid with respect to the language patterns seen in the data they are trained on.

It may also seem unfair to compare standalone systems like WikiBioModel and WebNLGModel with an ensemble model like ours, as the latter may have infused more knowledge because of the inclusion of supporting modules. Again, this is not entirely true. The WikiBioModel under consideration is more sophisticated than a vanilla sequence-to-sequence model and uses attention mechanisms at various levels to handle intricacies in content selection and language generation (Nema et al. 2018). The WebNLGModel utilizes various normalization and postprocessing steps to adapt to newer domains and language patterns. In sum, these models are capable of handling nuances in data-to-text generation and, hence, we deem them fit for comparison.

Table 4 shows the performance of our proposed system on the test splits of various data sets (including the whole WikiTablePara data set). The performance measures (especially the STSim metric) indicate that our system can be used as it is for other input types coming from diverse domains. Despite the fact that the WikiTableText, WebNLG, and WikiBio data sets are summarization data sets and are not designed for complete description generation, our system still performs reasonably well, without having been trained on any of these data sets. It is clearly observed that the existing end-to-end models such as WebNLGModel and WikiBioModel exhibit inferior cross-domain performance compared with our system.5 For example, our system attains BLEU scores of 24.8 and 2.5 on WebNLG and WikiBio data sets, respectively, whereas the WikiBioModel performs with a BLEU score of 2.8 (with a reduction of 89%) on the WebNLG data set and the WebNLGModel performs with a BLEU score of 1.6 (with a reduction of 36%) on the WikiBIO data set. For other data sets such as WikiTableText and E2E, on which none of the proposed or comparison systems are trained, our system’s performance is significantly better than the comparison systems. For the E2E data set, we observe that our system’s outputs convey similar semantics as the reference texts but have considerable syntactic differences. For example, the triples 〈Taste of Cambridgeeattyperestaurant〉, and 〈Taste of Cambridgecustomerrating3 out of 5〉 are translated to “Taste of Cambridge is an eat type of restaurant and has a customer rating of 3 out of 5.” by one of our model variants, but the reference text is “Taste of Cambridge is a restaurant with a customer rating of 3 out of 5.” This may have affected the BLEU scores; the METEOR and semantic relatedness scores are still better.

We performed ablation on our proposed system at multiple levels; Table 5 shows the performance of individual simple language generation systems and also the performance of the Ranker module. The results suggest that Ranker indeed improves the performance of the system. To measure the effectiveness of our proposed sentence compounding and coreference replacement modules, we replaced these modules with a simple sentence concatenation module. As observed in the same table, the performance of the system degrades compared with when compounding and coreference replacement modules are individually used. Best results are obtained when both the modules are activated. One of the possible reasons is that a simple sentence concatenation results in generated paragraphs having more redundant occurrences of entity terms and phrases, which all of the evaluation metrics tend to penalize heavily. Overall, this study shows that the enrichment modules indeed play an important role, especially when it comes to paragraph description generation.

Table 5 
Ablation study: Performance of individual TextGen systems with the ensemble system enabled with Ranker. Here, MKT denotes MorphKey2Text, CP refers to the Compounding Module, and CR means Coreference Replacement. The symbols ‘ +’ and ‘−’ signify “with” and “without,” respectively.
RankerMKTv1MKTv2triple2text
BLEU − CP − CR 17.7 16.2 14.9 20.3 
+ CP − CR 30.1 29.7 27.9 30.3 
− CP + CR 29.6 29.3 28 27.8 
+ CP + CR 33.3 30.6 29.4 30.5 
 
METEOR − CP − CR 33.1 33.4 32.6 31.6 
+ CP − CR 38.8 39.3 38.4 36.7 
− CP + CR 37.1 37 37 34.8 
+ CP + CR 39.7 38.1 38.1 35.4 
 
ROUGE-L − CP − CR 50.2 51 49.1 50.6 
+ CP − CR 61.8 62.3 60.7 61 
− CP + CR 59.2 59 58.7 58.4 
+ CP + CR 64.1 63.9 62.2 62.2 
 
STSim − CP − CR 44.1 40.2 40.2 57.8 
+ CP − CR 85.3 85.6 85.2 83.3 
− CP + CR 82.3 82 82 79.8 
+ CP + CR 86.5 85.9 85.9 83.9 
RankerMKTv1MKTv2triple2text
BLEU − CP − CR 17.7 16.2 14.9 20.3 
+ CP − CR 30.1 29.7 27.9 30.3 
− CP + CR 29.6 29.3 28 27.8 
+ CP + CR 33.3 30.6 29.4 30.5 
 
METEOR − CP − CR 33.1 33.4 32.6 31.6 
+ CP − CR 38.8 39.3 38.4 36.7 
− CP + CR 37.1 37 37 34.8 
+ CP + CR 39.7 38.1 38.1 35.4 
 
ROUGE-L − CP − CR 50.2 51 49.1 50.6 
+ CP − CR 61.8 62.3 60.7 61 
− CP + CR 59.2 59 58.7 58.4 
+ CP + CR 64.1 63.9 62.2 62.2 
 
STSim − CP − CR 44.1 40.2 40.2 57.8 
+ CP − CR 85.3 85.6 85.2 83.3 
− CP + CR 82.3 82 82 79.8 
+ CP + CR 86.5 85.9 85.9 83.9 

8.1 Human Evaluation

Because quantitative evaluation metrics such as BLEU and Skip-Thought similarity are known to have limited capabilities in judging sentences that are correct but different from the gold-standard reference, we perform a human evaluation study. For this, the first 50 instances from the WikiTablePara data set were selected. For each instance, the table, the reference paragraph, and outputs from our proposed system and WikiBio and WebNLG models were shuffled and shown to four linguists. They were instructed to assign three scores related to fluency, adequacy, and coherence of the generated and gold-standard paragraphs. The minimum and maximum scores for each category are 1 and 5, respectively. Table 6 reports the evaluation results. Although we expected that the gold-standard output would obtain maximum average scores in all aspects, the scores for our proposed systems are quite superior to the existing systems and are also sometimes close to those for the gold-standard paragraphs. This shows that a modular approach like ours can be effective for generating tabular descriptions. Moreover, the average Pearson correlation coefficient values for scores across systems and evaluator-pairs are high, showing a strong inter-evaluator agreement.

Table 6 
Human evaluation using 50 samples from the WikiTablePara data set. The fluency, adequacy, and coherence scores are averaged across evaluators and instances. Evaluator correlation is the Pearson correlation, which shows the agreement between evaluators.
SystemFluencyAdequacyCoherence
WikiBioModel 1.44 1.24 1.08 
WebNLGModel 2.04 2.05 1.66 
Proposed 3.29 4.20 3.72 
 
GOLD-standard 4.53 4.78 4.59 
 
Evaluator Correlation 0.74 0.80 0.76 
SystemFluencyAdequacyCoherence
WikiBioModel 1.44 1.24 1.08 
WebNLGModel 2.04 2.05 1.66 
Proposed 3.29 4.20 3.72 
 
GOLD-standard 4.53 4.78 4.59 
 
Evaluator Correlation 0.74 0.80 0.76 

On manual inspection of the descriptions generated by our system across data sets (some examples are shown in Figure 5), we find that our system results in a promising performance in addition to the quantitative evaluation metrics mentioned before.

Figure 5 

Examples of generated descriptions by our proposed system on different data sets.

Figure 5 

Examples of generated descriptions by our proposed system on different data sets.

8.2 Effectiveness of the Individual Modules

We also examine whether, for TextGen, using an ensemble of generators followed by a ranking mechanism was effective. We intend to study whether all the participating systems were chosen by the Ranker for a significant number of examples. Figure 6 shows the percentage of the times the output of the three TextGen systems were selected by the Ranker. As we can see, all systems are significantly involved in producing the correct output in the test data. However, the triple2text system is selected a fewer number of times than the other two systems. This is a positive result, as the triple2text system requires data obtained from specific resources such as OpenIE and Yago as opposed to the morphkey2text systems that require just a monolingual corpus.

Figure 6 

Contribution of each TextGen system in terms of percentage of times the output of these systems was selected by the Ranker for the WikiTablePara data set.

Figure 6 

Contribution of each TextGen system in terms of percentage of times the output of these systems was selected by the Ranker for the WikiTablePara data set.

8.3 Error Analysis

Because our system is modular, we could inspect the intermediate outputs of different stages and perform error analysis. We categorize the errors into the following:

  • • 

    Error in Tagging of Entities: One of the crucial steps in the canonicalization stage is tagging the table entries. Our modified NE taggers sometimes fail to tag entities primarily because of lack of context. For example, the original triple in our data set 〈Chinese Taipei, gold medals won, 1〉 is converted to a triple 〈UNK, gold medals won, CARDINAL〉. Because of the wrong NE tagging of the entity Chinese Taipei, the text generation stage in the pipeline did not get enough context and failed to produce a fluent output as shown here:

    Chinese Taipei’s gold medals have been won by 0.

    This error affected all the subsequent stages. Although it is hard to resolve this with existing NLP techniques, maintaining and incrementally building gazetteers of domain-specific entities for look-up–based tagging can be a temporary solution.

  • • 

    Error in the TextGen: We observe that all the TextGen systems discussed in Section 4.2 are prone to syntactic errors, which are mostly of types subject-verb disagreement, noun-number disagreement, and article and preposition errors. An example of such an erroneous output is shown below:

    Republican’s active voters is 13,916. Republican was inactive in voters 5,342

    We believe such errors can be avoided by adding more training examples, judiciously prepared from large-scale monolingual data from different domains.

  • • 

    Error in Ranking: This error impacts the performance of our system the most. We consistently observe that even though one of the individual systems is able to produce fluent and adequate output, it is not selected by the Ranker module. In hindsight, scorers based on simple language models and content-overlaps (Equation (2)) are not able to capture diverse syntactic and semantic representations of the same context (e.g., passive forms, reordering of words). Moreover, language models are known to capture n-gram collocations better than the overall context of the sentences, and tend to penalize grammatically correct sentences more than the incorrect sentences that have more likely collocations of n-grams. Furthermore, longer sentences are penalized more by the language model than shorter ones. To put this into perspective, consider the following example from our data set. For the input triple 〈Bischofsheim, building type, Station building〉, the output from the TextGen systems are as follows:

    • triple2text: Bischofsheim has building type Station Building.

    • morphkey2text-v1: Bischofsheim’s building is a type of Station Building.

    • morphkey2text-v2: Bischofsheim is a building type of Station Building.

    The Ranker unfortunately selects an imperfect output produced by the morphkey2text-v2 system. We believe that the presence of highly probable bigrams such as building type and type of would have bolstered the language model score and, eventually, the overall score. A possible solution to overcome this would be to train neural knowledge language models (Ahn et al. 2016) that not only consider contextual history but also factual correctness of the generated text. Gathering more monolingual data for training such models may help as well.

  • • 

    Error in Coreference Determination: Error in coreference determination happens due to two reasons : (a) The entities are incorrectly tagged (e.g., a PERSON is mis-tagged as ORG, leading to a wrong pronominal anaphora), and (b) The gender of the entity is incorrectly classified (e.g., Esther Ndiema’s nationality is Kenya and his rank is 5). Although improving the tagger is important for this and the overall system, the gender detector could be improved through more training data and better tuning of hyperparameters. The current module does have limitations due to the fact that it is based on a very small number of heuristics and relies on data-driven POS-taggers and gender predictors, which may not provide accurate information about the number and gender of the mentions. For example, for an entity “Mariya Papulov,” even though POS tagger and the canonicalized entity tag (PERSON) help determine the number of the coreference correctly, the gender predictor assigns the gender tag as male. This results in a wrong co-reference assignment.

A deeper issue with the sentence enrichment modules is that they are agnostic of the sentence order. If the TextGen systems do not provide sentences in an appropriate order to these modules, the cohesiveness of the generated paragraph is compromised. For example, the output from our system “Melania Corradini played for Italy and was on the run of distance 54.72 KMs. She had the rank of 5.” provides a less natural feel than “Melania Corradini played for Italy and had the rank of 5. She was on the run of distance 54.72 KMs.” This clearly calls for a technique to determine the optimal order of sentences to ensure more naturalness in the output.

We would also like to point out that language enrichment through simple concatenation and heuristic based replacement is a rudimentary solution. Better solutions for compounding and producing coherent paragraphs may involve syntactic analysis and restructuring of sentences (Narayan et al. 2017) and discourse aware coherent generation (Kibble and Power 2004; Narayan et al. 2017; Bosselut et al. 2018).

9. Related Work

Data-to-text NLG has received considerable attention recently, especially due to the increasing demands of such systems for industrial applications. Several such systems are based on rule-based, modular statistical and hybrid approaches and are summarized by Nema et al. (2018). Recently, end-to-end neural generation systems have been preferred over others. Some of the most recent ones are based on the WikiBio data set (Lebret, Grangier, and Auli 2016), a data set tailor-made for summarization of structured data in the form of key-value pairs. Such systems include the ones by Lebret, Grangier, and Auli (2016), who use conditional language model with copy mechanism for generation, Liu et al. (2017), who propose a dual attention Seq2Seq model, Nema et al. (2018), who use gated orthogonalization along with dual attention, and Bao et al. (2018), who introduce a flexible copying mechanism that selectively replicates contents from the table in the output sequence. Other systems revolve around popular data sets such as the WeatherGov data set (Liang, Jordan, and Klein 2009; Jain et al. 2018), RoboCup data set (Chen and Mooney 2008), RotoWire and SBNation (Wiseman, Shieber, and Rush 2017), and the WebNLG data set (Gardent et al. 2017). Recently Bao et al. (2018) and Novikova, Dusek, and Rieser (2017) have introduced a new data set for table/tuple to text generation, and both supervised and unsupervised systems (Fevry and Phang 2018) have been proposed and evaluated against these data sets. The objective of creating such data sets and systems is, however, entirely different from ours. For instance, Bao et al. 2018) objective is to generate natural language summary for a region of the table, such as a row, whereas we intend to translate the complete table into paragraph descriptions. This requires additional discourse level operations (such as sentence compounding and coreference insertion). The data set also contains tabular rows at the input side and summaries at the output side. Because the objective is summarization of a tabular region, a fraction of the entries are dropped and not explained, unlike ours, which aims to translate the complete table into natural language form.

It is worth noting that recent work for keyword-to-question generation (Reddy et al. 2017), and set-to-sequence generation (Vinyals, Bengio, and Kudlur 2016) can also act as building blocks for generation from structured data. However, none of these works consider the morphologic and linguistic variations of output words as we consider for simple language generation. Also, the work on a neural knowledge language model (Ahn et al. 2016) incorporates facts toward a better language model, which is a different goal from ours as we attempt to describe the full table of facts in natural language in a coherent manner. However, irrespective of the generation paradigms we use, the bottom line remains the same: Modular data–driven approaches like ours can produce robust and scalable solutions for data-to-text NLG.

It is also worth noting that there exist well-studied information extraction (IE) techniques to obtain tuples from sentences, which could be used to prepare additional parallel training data for improving any data-to-text NLG solution. Here, the tuples can be used as source and the original (or preprocessed) sentences can be used as the target for training supervised generators. Popular IE techniques include Open Information Extraction (Banko et al. 2007) and Open Language Learning for Information Extraction (Schmitz et al. 2012). These systems leverage POS taggers and dependency parsers to extract relation tuples and are in line with our method for data generation. However, they do not consider lexical and morphologic aspects of the sentences considered, as we did for MorphKey2Text. From the domain of relation extraction, works such as Mintz et al. (2009), which extract training data sets for relation annotation using distant supervision techniques, can also be improvised and used in our setting.

10. Conclusion and Future Directions

We presented a modular framework for generating paragraph-level natural language description from structured tabular data. We highlighted the challenges involved and contended why a modular data–driven architecture like ours could tackle them better as opposed to end-to-end neural systems. Our framework uses modules for obtaining standard representations of tables, generating simple sentences from them, and finally combining the sentences to form coherent and fluent paragraphs. Because no benchmark data set for evaluating discourse level description generation was available, we created one to evaluate our system. Our experiments on our data set and various other data-to-text type data sets reveal that: (a) our system outperforms the existing ones in producing discourse level descriptions without undergoing end-to-end training on such data, and (b) the system can realize good quality sentences for various other input data-types such as knowledge graphs in the form of tuples and key-value pairs. Furthermore, the modularity of the system allows us to interpret the system’s output better. In the future, we would like to incorporate additional modules into the system for tabular summarization. Extending the framework for multilingual tabular description generation is also on our agenda.

Notes

2 

N is set to 10 in our set-up.

5 

Please note that the WikiBioModel trained on the WikiBio data set (in-domain) would have considerably higher evaluation scores (refer Nema et al. 2018); the same holds for the WebNLGModel (Gardent et al. 2017). Because our objective is to highlight cross-domain performance (where testing is done on data sets different from training data), the in-domain results are not discussed for brevity.

References

References
Ahn
,
Sungjin
,
Heeyoul
Choi
,
Tanel
Pärnamaa
, and
Yoshua
Bengio
.
2016
.
A neural knowledge language model
.
CoRR
,
abs/1608.00318
.
Banko
,
Michele
,
Michael J.
Cafarella
,
Stephen
Soderland
,
Matthew
Broadhead
, and
Oren
Etzioni
.
2007
.
Open information extraction from the Web
. In
IJCAI
,
7
:
2670
2676
.
Bao
,
Junwei
,
Duyu
Tang
,
Nan
Duan
,
Zhao
Yan
,
Yuanhua
Lv
,
Ming
Zhou
, and
Tiejun
Zhao
.
2018
.
Table-to-text: Describing table region with natural language
.
arXiv preprint arXiv:1805.11234
.
Barzilay
,
Regina
and
Mirella
Lapata
.
2005
.
Collective content selection for concept-to-text generation
. In
EMNLP, HLT ’05
, pages
331
338
,
Stroudsburg, PA
.
Bosselut
,
Antoine
,
Asli
Celikyilmaz
,
Xiaodong
He
,
Jianfeng
Gao
,
Po-Sen
Huang
, and
Yejin
Choi
.
2018
.
Discourse-aware neural rewards for coherent text generation
. In
NAACL, HLT
, pages
173
184
,
New Orleans, LA
.
Chen
,
David L.
and
Raymond J.
Mooney
.
2008
.
Learning to sportscast: A test of grounded language acquisition
. In
ICML
, pages
128
135
,
Helsinki
.
Colin
,
Emilie
,
Claire
Gardent
,
Yassine
Mrabet
,
Shashi
Narayan
, and
Laura
Perez-Beltrachini
.
2016
.
The WebNLG challenge: Generating text from DBpedia data
. In
INLG
, pages
163
167
,
Edinburgh
.
Dale
,
Robert
,
Sabine
Geldof
, and
Jean-Philippe
Prost
.
2003
.
Coral: Using natural language generation for navigational assistance
. In
Proceedings of the 26th Australasian Computer Science Conference-Volume 16
, pages
35
44
,
Adelaide
.
Fevry
,
Thibault
and
Jason
Phang
.
2018
.
Unsupervised sentence compression using denoising auto-encoders
.
arXiv preprint arXiv:1809.02669
.
Gardent
,
Claire
,
Anastasia
Shimorina
,
Shashi
Narayan
, and
Laura
Perez-Beltrachini
.
2017
.
Creating training corpora for NLG micro-planners
. In
ACL
, pages
179
188
.
Heafield
,
Kenneth
.
2011
.
KeNLM: Faster and smaller language model queries
. In
Sixth Workshop on SMT
, pages
187
197
,
Vancouver
.
Jain
,
Parag
,
Anirban
Laha
,
Karthik
Sankaranarayanan
,
Preksha
Nema
,
Mitesh M.
Khapra
, and
Shreyas
Shetty
.
2018
.
A mixed hierarchical attention based encoder-decoder approach for standard table summarization
. In
NAACL-HLT
, pages
622
627
,
New Orleans, LA
.
Kibble
,
Rodger
and
Richard
Power
.
2004
.
Optimizing referential coherence in text generation
.
Computational Linguistics
,
30
(
4
):
401
416
.
Klein
,
Guillaume
,
Yoon
Kim
,
Yuntian
Deng
,
Jean
Senellart
, and
Alexander M.
Rush
.
2017
.
OpenNMT: Open-source toolkit for neural machine translation
.
CoRR
,
abs/1701.02810
.
Konstas
,
Ioannis
and
Mirella
Lapata
.
2013
.
Inducing document plans for concept-to-text generation
. In
EMNLP
, pages
1503
1514
,
Seattle, WA
.
Lebret
,
Rémi
,
David
Grangier
, and
Michael
Auli
.
2016
.
Neural text generation from structured data with application to the biography domain
. In
EMNLP
, pages
1203
1213
,
Austin, TX
.
Liang
,
Percy
,
Michael I.
Jordan
, and
Dan
Klein
.
2009
.
Learning semantic correspondences with less supervision
. In
ACL
, pages
91
99
,
Singapore
.
Liu
,
Tianyu
,
Kexiang
Wang
,
Lei
Sha
,
Baobao
Chang
, and
Zhifang
Sui
.
2017
.
Table-to-text generation by structure-aware seq2seq learning
.
arXiv preprint arXiv:1711.09724
.
Mei
,
Hongyuan
,
Mohit
Bansal
, and
Matthew R.
Walter
.
2016
.
What to talk about and how? Selective generation using LSTMs with coarse-to-fine alignment
. In
NAACL,HLT
, pages
720
730
,
San Diego, CA
.
Mintz
,
Mike
,
Steven
Bills
,
Rion
Snow
, and
Dan
Jurafsky
.
2009
.
Distant supervision for relation extraction without labeled data
. In
ACL-IJCNLP
, pages
1003
1011
,
Singapore
.
Narayan
,
Shashi
,
Claire
Gardent
,
Shay B.
Cohen
, and
Anastasia
Shimorina
.
2017
.
Split and rephrase
. In
EMNLP
, pages
606
616
,
Copenhagen
.
Nema
,
Preksha
,
Shreyas
Shetty
,
Parag
Jain
,
Anirban
Laha
,
Karthik
Sankaranarayanan
, and
Mitesh M.
Khapra
.
2018
.
Generating descriptions from structured data using a bifocal attention mechanism and gated orthogonalization
. In
NAACL-HLT
, pages
1539
1550
,
New Orleans, LA
.
Novikova
,
Jekaterina
,
Ondřej
Dušek
, and
Verena
Rieser
.
2017
.
The E2E dataset: New challenges for end-to-end generation
. In
SIGdial
, pages
201
206
,
Saabrücken
.
Pasupat
,
Panupong
and
Percy
Liang
.
2015
.
Compositional semantic parsing on semi-structured tables
. In
IJCNLP
, pages
1470
1480
,
Beijing
.
Pennington
,
Jeffrey
,
Richard
Socher
, and
Christopher D.
Manning
.
2014
.
GloVe: Global vectors for word representation
. In
EMNLP
, pages
1532
1543
,
Doha
.
Reddy
,
Sathish
,
Dinesh
Raghu
,
Mitesh M.
Khapra
, and
Sachindra
Joshi
.
2017
.
Generating natural language question-answer pairs from a knowledge graph using a RNN-based question generation model
. In
EACL
, pages
376
385
,
Valencia
.
Reiter
,
Ehud
,
Somayajulu
Sripada
,
Jim
Hunter
,
Jin
Yu
, and
Ian
Davy
.
2005
.
Choosing words in computer-generated weather forecasts
.
Artificial Intelligence
,
167
(
1–2
):
137
169
.
Schmitz
,
Michael
,
Robert
Bart
,
Stephen
Soderland
,
Oren
Etzioni
, and others.
2012
.
Open language learning for information extraction
. In
EMNLP-CoNLL
, pages
523
534
,
Jeju Island
.
Schuler
,
Karin Kipper
.
2005
.
Verbnet: A Broad-coverage, Comprehensive Verb Lexicon
. Ph.D. thesis,
University of Pennsylvania
.
Suchanek
,
Fabian M.
,
Gjergji
Kasneci
, and
Gerhard
Weikum
.
2007
.
Yago: A core of semantic knowledge
. In
WWW
, pages
697
706
,
Banff
.
Thorne
,
James
,
Andreas
Vlachos
,
Christos
Christodoulopoulos
, and
Arpit
Mittal
.
2018
.
FEVER: A large-scale dataset for fact extraction and verification
. In
NAACL-HLT
, pages
809
819
,
New Orleans, LA
.
Vinyals
,
Oriol
,
Samy
Bengio
, and
Manjunath
Kudlur
.
2016
.
Order matters: Sequence to sequence for sets
.
International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR)
.
Wiseman
,
Sam
,
Stuart
Shieber
, and
Alexander
Rush
.
2017
.
Challenges in data-to-document generation
. In
EMNLP
, pages
2253
2263
,
Copenhagen
.

Author notes

*

The first three authors have equally contributed to the work.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, which permits you to copy and redistribute in any medium or format, for non-commercial use only, provided that the original work is not remixed, transformed, or built upon, and that appropriate credit to the original source is given. For a full description of the license, please visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode.