Virtual documents that explain How Things Work: Dynamically generated question-answering documents

Reference: Gruber, T.; Vemuri, S.; & Rice, J. Virtual documents that explain How Things Work: Dynamically generated question-answering documents. Knowledge Systems Laboratory, December, 1995.

Abstract: Virtual documents are hypermedia documents that are generated on demand in response to reader input. This paper describes a virtual document application that generates natural language explanations about the structure and behavior of electromechanical systems. The application structures the interaction with the reader as a question-answer dialog. Each "page" of the hyperdocument is the answer to a question, and each "link" is another question that leads to another answer. Unlike conventional hypertext documentation, the system dynamically constructs answers to questions from formal engineering models.

The work illustrates several of the advantages of delivering product information in virtual documents. Since the documentation is generated on demand from engineering models, the information presented always reflects the current design model of the artifact. Because the documentation is delivered using standard WWW protocols, it can be truly integrated into other WWW-based documentation such as email-based design discussions, version-managed design documents, interactive tutorials, and information retrieval systems. Moreover, delivering product information in the form of virtual documents changes the way that documentation is "authored". Engineers can work in the medium of their practice --- annotated engineering models --- while a virtual document generator handles the rhetorical task of composing information to meet the needs of individual readers.

In this paper we demonstrate the application (with examples that run), describe some techniques used in deploying it on the Web, and discuss general properties of virtual documents exemplified by the system.

Full paper available as ps.

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