Can a Team Tag Consistently? Experiences on the Orlando Project

  1. 1. Terry Butler

    University of Alberta, Arts Technologies for Learning Centre - University of Alberta

  2. 2. Sue Fisher

    Arts Technologies for Learning Centre - University of Alberta

  3. 3. Susan Hockey

    University College London, Arts Technologies for Learning Centre - University of Alberta

  4. 4. Greg Coulombe

    University of Alberta, Arts Technologies for Learning Centre - University of Alberta

  5. 5. Patricia Clements

    University of Alberta, Arts Technologies for Learning Centre - University of Alberta

  6. 6. Susan Brown

    Arts Technologies for Learning Centre - University of Alberta

  7. 7. Isobel Grundy

    University of Alberta, Arts Technologies for Learning Centre - University of Alberta

  8. 8. Kathryn Carter

    Arts Technologies for Learning Centre - University of Alberta

  9. 9. Kathryn Harvey

    Arts Technologies for Learning Centre - University of Alberta

  10. 10. Jeanne Wood

    Arts Technologies for Learning Centre - University of Alberta

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Can a Team Tag Consistently? Experiences on the Orlando


Arts Technologies for Learning Centre
University of Alberta











University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA





Given that a team of thirty-five humanities researchers cannot possibly use
structural and interpretive SGML tags consistently over a period of three
years, what issues face a major SGML research project wanting to impose
adequate amounts of consistency to their tagged data? This is the key
question currently facing the Orlando Project as we take stock and embark on
a process of tag cleanup work.

Extent of the Project's Tagging
The Orlando Project is in the 4th year of its 6 year tenure as a Major
Collaborative Research Initiative funded by the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Universities of Alberta and
Guelph. Our aim is to research, write, and tag in SGML an integrated history
of women's writing in the British Isles. We are not tagging pre-existing
texts; rather we are creating our own literary history through conducting
primary research that we then filter through SGML tagging. To do this we
have created three unique yet interdependent SGML document types (DTDs): one
that permits the description of biography, one that takes into account all
the factors that contribute to a writing career, and one that provides an
architecture for describing chronological events. Our DTDs are modeled
structurally on the TEI but each contains many interpretive tags that allow
us to foreground our research practices and label the intellectual content
of our material. For example, the biography DTD has tags for birth, family,
education, and political affiliations; writing documents use tags for such
text-specific information as genre, intertextuality, literary awards, and
relations with publishers; events documents contain chronological events
that have such information as organization names and places tagged.
Currently there are 252 unique tags in our DTDs and 114 unique attributes.
These tags are used extensively across over 2,200 documents in our system.
As of April 1999, the total number of elements in use in all project
documents was over 640,000. For example, in biography documents alone the
<quote> tag is used 2,135 times and the <name> tag 8,103 times.
There are 51,125 uses of <date> in events documents. With element
numbers of this scale, it became clear to us that we simply couldn't clean
up our tags on an element by element basis. This paper will address the
issues that we have faced when trying to achieve tagging consistency on the
project. It will also report on a pilot study on tag consistency work that
we have undertaken in the Fall and Winter of 1998-1999.

Is Consistency Possible?
We realize that achieving complete consistency with a diverse team of taggers
using a complex tagset is impossible. Surveys of similar work done in the
fields of indexing [Leonard, 1977], tagging linguistic data [Garside, 1993],
and hypertext linking [Ellis, 1994] show that only a modest degree of
consistency can be achieved by a team, even with ample training and a more
focused and smaller tagset than we possess. Our own process of document
analysis when we developed our DTDs lead us to the same conclusion: it is
immensely difficult for a group of people to come to a common understanding
of exactly what a particular tag means and what its use in the research
document should be.
However, there is a level of consistency to which we aspire, and it is
predicated upon the needs of the scholarly community who will be our end
users. Therefore, some tag cleanup will be necessary to ensure adequate
search and retrieval, chronological sorting, and consistent presentation of
material to our research communities.

Current and Past Efforts at Achieving Tagging Consistency
Although we have only begun tag cleanup work in earnest in the Fall of 1998,
we have had practices in place from the early stages of the project that
have helped us work towards consistent tagging. Our Graduate Research
Assistants (GRAs) receive three full-time days worth of training each
September, after which they begin tagging and have their work reviewed by
experienced team members. This training and checking is complemented by a
comprehensive online glossary of our SGML tags and tagging practices. When a
tagger cannot find an answer in the documentation or is faced with a new
tagging/research problem, she can pose a question of our student e-mail
discussion list. Here Postdoctoral Fellows answer most questions that come
up (referring the more difficult cases to an e-mail list of Co-investigators
and Postdoctoral fellows) and revise and augment the documentation when
Our practices for ensuring tag consistency have proven enormously useful, but
they cannot in themselves moderate the work of 20 researches using such a
complex tag set. Tags sometimes get used without the tagger realizing that
an issue has been discussed or appears in the documentation. At over 500
pages, the documentation is a testament to the fact that a complex research
project deals with issues that can't be tracked by all taggers at all

Tag cleanup pilot
In the Fall of 1998, we began a tag cleanup pilot study to investigate the
problem of inconsistent tagging and to draw conclusions about the degree of
consistency which will be achievable. During the pilot, GRAs were each given
a group of representative tags to look at in detail across all project
documents. The following is a list of some of the strategies they used to
uncover inconsistency problems in the data:
Comparing the use of a tag to how its use has been documented and
recommending a change in practice or documentation where necessary.
Investigating the use of 'odd' sub-elements. For example, there is
an instance in the system where a word has been tagged as both
<genre> and <characterName>. In all likelihood, this is
a tagging mistake.
Finding missing attribute values such as, for example, the
titletype attribute on <title>.
Investigating "odd" uses of attributes.
Finding improperly filled in attributes. For example, the value
attribute on <date> has some inconsistencies in terms of how
standard dates should be expressed.
Investigating the over-use of a single tag in a document.

In their reports, the GRA's noted which problems could be fixed with batch
search and replace capabilities and which would need to be manually fixed.
The pilot helped us realize that the tags most in need of fixing were those
that acted as index/linking tags (name, orgname), those that governed
presentation of our material (title, quote), and those that needed to be
consistent for automated sorting/alphabetizing (date, name, orgname,

Computer Tools
In the spring of 1999, we turned our attention to developing a set of
protocols for fixing these tags. We defined and ran a set of batch changes
that would address many of the consistency problems outlined in the tag
cleanup reports. Our programmer has also created a set of tools over the
last year that would ease the process of manual cleanup. A Web front-end to
the SGREP program with canned search queries allows team members to see just
how a tag or attribute has been used (or misused) across all project
documents. A "System-wide Document Statistics Report" provides statistical
information on the use of tags and their attributes and reports documents
where tag use has varied widely from normal usage. An finally, a "Tag
Cleanup Reporting Tool" alphabetizes any given tag according to its standard
or reg attribute across any combination of project documents. These tools
will be demonstrated and their merits discussed in the during session.

The insights gleaned from our pilot study have helped us better quantify and
assign the work that we are currently undertaking. By setting priorities for
fixing the problems, we hope that we have defined a level of consistency
that we can achieve and that we can learn to be content with. We also hope
that we can now avoid having qualified researchers spending valuable time
fixing problems that can be more quickly and accurately fixed by computer
processes. We hope that doing this work will make our data rich in its
breadth and depth of research and tagging and will make our end product
meaningful and accessible to our user community.



Inter-Indexer Consistency Studies, 1954-1975: A Review
of the Literature and Summary of the Study Results
Univ of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science,
Occasional Papers


Univ of Illinois Graduate School of Library
December 1977




On the Creation of Hypertext Links in Full-Text
Documents: Measurement of Inter-Linker Consistency

Journal of Documentation

June 1994


The Large-scale Production of Syntactically Analysed

Literary & Linguistic Computing


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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

June 9, 1999 - June 13, 1999

102 works by 157 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (19), ALLC/EADH (26), ACH/ALLC (11)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None