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CMU Project Could Improve Email Manners


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polite words, illustration

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A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's Language Technologies Institute built a tool that could automatically make email sentences more polite.

The researchers used more than half a million emails between colleagues from Enron to create a data set and model that could restructure a request from a demand to a question, adding a "please" and "thank you," or getting rid of that swear word thrown in for emphasis.

Their work is described in "Politeness Transfer: A Tag and Generate Approach," presented at a virtual conference.

The data set is available to other researchers or developers for future projects or applications. The CMU team did not design a user interface.

CMU's model uses a "tag and generate approach," says Shrimai Prabhumoye, a Ph.D. student and an author of the paper. The tagger reads a sentence and marks spots that either need a word added, replaced, or removed. Then the generator reads the marked-up sentence, finds the tagged spots, and makes the appropriate changes.

Instead of "send me the file," the tool would suggest "could you please send me the file."

"Even when we are making requests polite, the request itself should not change," Prabhumoye says.

From Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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