Document Type


Date of Award

Fall 1-31-2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Information Systems - (Ph.D.)


Information Systems

First Advisor

Yi-Fang Brook Wu

Second Advisor

Il Im

Third Advisor

Vincent Oria

Fourth Advisor

Lian Duan

Fifth Advisor

Julian M. Scher


Information retrieval systems should seek to match resources with the reading ability of the individual user; similarly, an author must choose vocabulary and sentence structures appropriate for his or her audience. Traditional readability formulas, including the popular Flesch-Kincaid Reading Age and the Dale-Chall Reading Ease Score, rely on numerical representations of text characteristics, including syllable counts and sentence lengths, to suggest audience level of resources. However, the author’s chosen vocabulary, sentence structure, and even the page formatting can alter the predicted audience level by several levels, especially in the case of digital library resources. For these reasons, the performance of readability formulas when predicting the audience level of digital library resources is very low.

Rather than relying on these inputs, machine learning methods, including cosine, Naïve Bayes, and Support Vector Machines (SVM), can suggest the grade level of an essay based on the vocabulary chosen by the author. The audience level prediction and essay grading problems share the same inputs, expert-labeled documents, and outputs, a numerical score representing quality or audience level. After a human expert labels a representative sample of resources with audience level, the proposed SVM-based audience level prediction program, SVMAUD, constructs a vocabulary for each audience level; then, the text in an unlabeled resource is compared with this predefined vocabulary to suggest the most appropriate audience level.

Two readability formulas and four machine learning programs are evaluated with respect to predicting human-expert entered audience levels based on the text contained in an unlabeled resource. In a collection containing 10,238 expert-labeled HTML-based digital library resources, the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Age and the Dale-Chall Reading Ease Score predict the specific audience level with F-measures of 0.10 and 0.05, respectively. Conversely, cosine, Naïve Bayes, the Collins-Thompson and Callan model, and SVMAUD improve these F-measures to 0.57, 0.61, 0.68, and 0.78, respectively. When a term’s weight is adjusted based on the HTML tag in which it occurs, the specific audience level prediction performance of cosine, Naïve Bayes, the Collins-Thompson and Callan method, and SVMAUD improves to 0.68, 0.70, 0.75, and 0.84, respectively. When title, keyword, and abstract metadata is used for training, cosine, Naïve Bayes, the Collins-Thompson and Callan model, and SVMAUD specific audience level prediction F-measures are found to be 0.61, 0.68, 0.75, and 0.86, respectively. When cosine, Naïve Bayes, the Collins-Thompson and Callan method, and SVMAUD are trained and tested using resources from a single subject category, the specific audience level prediction F- measure performance improves to 0.63, 0.70, 0.77, and 0.87, respectively. SVMAUD experiences the highest audience level prediction performance among all methods under evaluation in this study. After SVMAUD is properly trained, it can be used to predict the audience level of any written work.



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