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Proceedings of the Eighth Italian Conference on Computational Linguistics CliC-it 2021

Elisabetta Fersini
Marco Passarotti
Viviana Patti

Contributed Papers: Long Papers

WITS: Wikipedia for Italian Text Summarization

Silvia Casola et Alberto Lavelli


Abstractive text summarization has recently improved its performance due to the use of sequence to sequence models. However, while these models are extremely data-hungry, datasets in languages other than English are few. In this work, we introduce WITS (Wikipedia for Italian Text Summarization), a large-scale dataset built exploiting Wikipedia articles’ structure. WITS contains almost 700,000 Wikipedia articles, together with their human-written summaries. Compared to existing data for text summarization in Italian, WITS is more than an order of magnitude larger and more challenging given its lengthy sources. We explore WITS characteristics and present some baselines for future work.

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

1Automatic text summarization aims at condensing one or more source documents in a shorter output, which contains their most salient information. The underlying task can be framed in two different manners: extractive summarizers select the most relevant segments from the input and produce a summary which is a concatenation of such segments; as a result, the output is a subset of the original text, which the summary follows verbatim. On the other hand, abstractive summarizers aim to encode the whole source into an internal representation from which they generate the summary; thus, they produce a new piece of text that condenses the source without necessarily using its vocabulary and expressions.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The lead section (from the Wikipedia’ own page), which we consider as the article summary. We use the remaining of the article as the source

2Recently, abstractive summarization has attracted a growing interest in the Natural Language Processing (NLP) community. Sequence to sequence models have been increasingly used for the task, with pre-trained encoder-decoder transformers becoming the de facto state of the art for abstractive text summarization. Normally pre-trained in an unsupervised manner, these models are then fine-tuned in a supervised way on the downstream dataset; during fine-tuning, the model learns to generate the summary from the source document.

3While various datasets for abstractive summarization exist for English, resources in other languages are limited. This paper introduces WITS (Wikipedia for Italian Text Summarization), a large-scale dataset for abstractive summarization in Italian, built exploiting Wikipedia. Taking advantage of the structure of Wikipedia pages, which contain a lead section (Figure 1) – giving an overview of the article’s topic –, followed by the full-length article – describing the topic in details –, we create a large and challenging dataset for abstractive summarization in Italian, which we will make publicly available.

4WITS is particularly challenging, given its large source length and its high abstractiveness. In this paper, we describe the dataset, its statistics and characteristics, and report some preliminary experiments that might be used as baselines for future work.

5This paper is organized as follows: in Section 2, we describe the state of the art in text summarization, focusing on resources for Italian. We later preset the dataset and its related task (Section 3.1); we describe the data collection and preprocessing process in Sections 3.2 and 3.3. In Section 4, we show our results when summarising the dataset using some existing extractive baseline models. Finally, we draw our conclusions in Section 5.

2. State of the Art

6Automatic text summarization has recently attracted increasing attention from the NLP community. However, the majority of the research work still focuses on English.

7As a matter of example, out of all the papers published in the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) conference in 2021, 46 explicitly refer to summarization in their title; 38 of these dealt with English only, while 7 presented experiments with one or more other languages (including 2 on source code summarization). For reference, only one paper (Mastronardo and Tamburini 2019) on text summarization (in English) was published at the Italian Conference on Computational Linguistics (CLiC-it) since its first edition, and none experimented with Italian.

8In this section, we present the state of the art in abstractive text summarization. We first present the available datasets for the task; then, we discuss some relevant learning models. We focus on the significant gap between English and Italian, for which very few resources exist.

2.1 Datasets for Automatic Text Summarization

9A typical dataset for text summarization is composed of some source documents (which needs to be summarized) and their corresponding summaries, used as the gold standard. A minority of datasets (e.g., the DUC 2004 dataset1) provide multiple gold standards; however, such datasets tend to be small and are mostly used for evaluation.

10In general, summaries exploit a human-written abstract. For example, the CNN/Daily Mail Corpus (Nallapati et al. 2016)2 leverages a bullet-point summary on the newspapers’ websites. A similar rationale is used in datasets constructed from scientific papers (Cohan et al. 2018)3 or patents (Sharma, Li, and Wang 2019)4. In contrast,5 Rush et al. (2015) frames the task of news summarization as headline generation.

11To the best of our knowledge, WikiLingua (Ladhak et al. 2020)6 is the only summarization dataset that contains data in Italian. WikiLingua is a cross-lingual dataset for abstractive text summarization built on top of WikiHow. WikiHow contains tutorials on how to perform specific tasks in the form of step-by-step instructions. The dataset constructs a summary by concatenating the first sentence for each step and using the remaining text as the source. WikiLingua contains data in 18 languages, including Italian (50,943 source-summary pairs). Both summaries and sources are relatively short (on average, 44 and 418 tokens, respectively, for the Italian split).

2.2 Models for Abstractive Text Summarization

12Abstractive text summarization is one of the most challenging tasks in NLP: it requires very long input understanding (encoding), salient passages finding and constrained text generation. Technically, models for abstractive text summarization are generally sequence-to-sequence: they encode the input and then generate the output through a neural network. While some previous work used Recurrent Neural Networks (Chung et al. 2014), with the possible addition of an encoder-decoder attention mechanism (Chopra, Auli, and Rush 2016), transformer models (Vaswani et al. 2017) have later become pervasive, following a similar trend in many other NLP areas. Using self-attention, these models have proved to be superior to Recurrent Neural Networks, as they are able to better deal with long dependencies, a critical task in text summarization.

  • 7 GPT-2 ha also been adapted for Italian. See: De Mattei, L., Cafagna, M., Dell’Orletta, F., Nissim, (...)

13Following another recent trend in NLP, many summarization models use a transfer-learning approach: after a pre-training phase, in which they are training in an unsupervised way on a huge amount of text, they are fine-tuned for the specific downstream task on a relatively limited amount of supervised data. Summarization models either exploit encoders and decoders previously trained for other tasks or are pre-trained from scratch on a specific objective tailored for summarization. Rothe et al. (2020), for example, leveraged previously existing pre-trained models (BERT in in Devlin et al. (2019); ROBERTA in Liu et al. (2019); and GPT-27 in Radford et al. (2019)) as encoders or decoders of the sequence-to-sequence summarizer and showed high performance improvement with respect to random initialization. More recently, summarization models (Song et al. 2019; Lewis et al. 2020) have been pre-trained with an objective specific to Natural Language Generation tasks. For example, authors of Pegasus (Zhang et al. 2020) used two objectives: Masked Language Model (Devlin et al. 2019) has been widely used in previous work, and consists in masking a percentage of tokens in text, later predicted using context; Gap Sentences Generation is instead a new pre-training objective, in which a percentage of the original sentences are masked, and the model needs to generate them in accordance to the contest.

14Following a shared practice, most summarization models have first been trained and evaluated for English only. In some cases, a subsequent multilingual version of the model was also created (Xue et al. 2021). To the best of our knowledge, few sequence-to-sequence models in Italian exist to date8, and while they might be fine-tuned for summarization, no full-scale evaluation has been performed yet.


3.1 Task and Rationale

15Given a Wikipedia article, we extract the lead section (which we sometimes refer to as "Summary" in the remaining of the paper) and propose the following task:

Given all article sections, summarize its content to produce its lead section.

16The task is rather natural given pages structure. According to the Wikipedia Manual of Style9, the lead section is, in fact, a high-quality summary of the body of the article. The lead “serves as an introduction to the article and a summary of its most important contents" and “gives the basics in a nutshell and cultivates interest in reading on—though not by teasing the reader or hinting at what follows". Moreover, it should “stand on its own as a concise overview of the article’s topic".

17As for the content, according to Wikipedia, the lead must define the topic, explaining its importance and the relevant context; then, it must summarize the most prominent points of the article, emphasizing the most important material.

18Moreover, the lead should only cover information that is contained in the article: “significant information should not appear in the lead if it is not covered in the remainder of the article". This is particularly relevant for abstractive summarization, as models are more prone to produce summaries that are not factual to the source (often called hallucinations) when they are trained to generate summaries containing information not in the source (Nan et al. 2021). The problem of factuality in abstractive summarization is currently an active area of research, as previous work has shown that up to 30% of generated summaries contain non-factual information (Cao et al. 2018).

19Linguistically, the lead “should be written in a clear, accessible style with a neutral point of view". It is worth noting that, in contrast to WikiLingua, where the summary is constructed as a concatenation of sentences from different parts of the articles, the summary in WITS is a stand-alone piece of text, with a coherent discourse structure.

3.2 Data Collection

20This section describes the process of data collection and preprocessing.

21We downloaded the latest XML dump of Wikipedia in Italian10, which contains text only. We used Python and the Gensim library to process the file11. The original number of documents was 1,454,884. We applied the following exclusion criteria: we removed pages whose title contains numbers only (as they mostly describe years and contain lists of events and references), lists (titles starting with “Lista d"), pages with summaries with less than 80 characters and articles and pages for which the article is less than 1.5 times longer than the lead.

22We then preprocessed the text in the following way: from the summary, we removed the content of parentheses (as they often contain alternative names or names in a different language, which cannot be inferred from the article). For the article, we further excluded the following sections, which are not relevant for our task: Note (Footnotes), Bibliografia (References), Voci correlate (See also), Altri progetti (Other projects), Collegamenti esterni (External links), Galleria di Immagini (Images).

3.3 Dataset Statistics

23Table 1 shows some statistics on the dataset and compares WITS with the Italian split of WikiLingua (which we will refer to as IT-WikiLingua).

24IT-WikiLingua contains documents from 17,673 WikiHow pages, but some of these pages describe more than one method related to the same topic. For example, the page “How to Reduce the Redness of Sunburn" contains several methods: “Healing and Concealing Sunburns", “Lessening Your Pain and Discomfort", and “Preventing a Sunburn". We consider distinct methods as separate documents, as they can be summarized in isolation. Notice that WITS is more than an order of magnitude larger than IT-Wikilingua.

25We computed the number of tokens and the number of sentences through the spaCy it-core-news-lg12 model. Compared to IT-WikiLingua, documents in WITS contains more tokens both in their summary and in their source (which is more than double in length), making the dataset particularly challenging. Note how the sentences are also more lengthy (thus complex) on average. For example, summaries in WITS contain on average less than 4 sentences, but more than 70 words; in contrast, IT-WikiLingua’s summaries consist of more than 5 sentences but contain on average 44 tokens. Not surprisingly, WITS’ compression ratio is larger than IT-WikiLingua’s and very high in absolute value. Finally, we also notice that the dataset is very rich in named entities. Table 2 reports the Named Entities as extracted with spaCy from WITS and IT-Wikilingua.

4. Baselines

26We tested some preliminary non-neural baseline methods on the dataset, reported in Table 1.

27All methods reported are unsupervised. Thus, we unsupervisedly obtained the summary from the source and then used the lead as the gold standard for evaluation. We evaluated the summaries using Recall-Oriented Understudy for Gisting Evaluation (ROUGE) (Lin 2004). ROUGE is an n-gram based, recall-oriented metric for summary quality evaluation. Following previous work (Lloret, Plaza, and Aker 2018), we report ROUGE-1 (R-1), ROUGE-2 (R-2), and ROUGE-L (R-L) (recall).

28We considered the following baselines:

29Lead-3. We extract the first three sentences from the source. Previous work has shown that this baseline is often hard to beat (See, Liu, and Manning 2017), especially in news summarization, which presents an “inverted pyramid" structure and tends to report the most important content at the start.

30TextRank (Mihalcea and Tarau 2004). TextRank is an unsupervised algorithm that extracts the most relevant sentences in the source. The algorithm constructs a graph with sentences as nodes and sentence similarity (in terms of shared vocabulary) as edges. The sentences are then ranked by using the PageRank (Page et al. 1999) algorithm.

31LexRank (Erkan and Radev 2004). LexRank works in a similar way as TextRank. However, instead of computing sentence similarity on normalized shared vocabulary, it uses the cosine similarity of their TF-IDF vectors.

32SumBasic (Nenkova and Vanderwende 2005). SumBasic extracts sentences based on their word probabilities. Specifically, it scores each sentence as the mean of the probability of the words it contains (based on their frequency in the document). Iteratively, the sentence with the best score among the ones containing the most probable word is chosen. The probability of the words in the chosen sentence is then squared to limit redundancy.

33IT5-small (Raffel et al. 2020). The Text-to-Text Transfer Transformer (T5) is a pre-trained sequence-to-sequence language model, trained treating both input and output as text strings; the rationale is to use the same models for all NLP tasks, unifying them under the sequence-to-sequence framework. We use a small version of the original model (60 million parameters)13, pretrained on the Clean Italian mC4 IT14, the Italian split of the multilingual cleaned version of Common Crawl’s Corpus (mC4) (Raffel et al. 2020). We extracted 10,000 summary-source pairs from the dataset for the validation set, and 10,000 for the test set. We trained the model on the rest of the data for 100,000 steps; this account for around 30% of the training data. We trained on two GeForce RTX 2080 GPUs and kept the batch size per GPU to 1. We kept the summary length to 75 tokens, and the source text length to 1000 tokens.

Table 3: ROUGE results on WITS
























34Results show that the Lead-3 baseline performance is low; this is likely due to the structure of Wikipedia, which contains several thematic sections without a general introduction outside the lead section. Extracting the first sentence(s) from each section would likely produce better results and could be investigated in future work.

35In contrast, TextRank is the best non-neural baseline, with a ROUGE-2 score of 6.57; LexRank performs comparably. SumBasic metrics are even lower than those obtained with the Lead-3 baseline, suggesting that a purely frequency-based approach is insufficient given the dataset complexity.

36Finally, the neural baseline achieves the best results in terms of ROUGE-2, even if it is relatively small and likely severely under-trained, since only around 30% of the data are used for fine-tuning, due to computational constraints. This suggests that sequence-to-sequence neural models have great potential on the dataset, and should be better investigated in future work. Surprisingly, however, results in terms of ROUGE-1 are instead below most of the other baselines. Future work should investigate this discrepancy.

5. Conclusions

37We have presented WITS, the first large-scale dataset for abstractive summarization in Italian. We have exploited Wikipedia’s articles’ structure to build a challenging, non-technical dataset, with high-quality human-written abstracts. Given the lengthy source documents, the short summaries and the short extractive fragments, the dataset calls for an abstractive approach. In the paper, we have explored some standard non-neural extractive baselines and a neural abstractive baseline. Future work will investigate further neural baselines for the dataset. Moreover, the dataset can be easily extended applying the procedure described in the paper to more languages, including low-resource ones given Wikipedia structure. We are confident that research in summarization in languages other than English will become more active in the near future and hope that WITS can be a valuable step in this direction.


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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1
Légende The lead section (from the Wikipedia’ own page), which we consider as the article summary. We use the remaining of the article as the source
Fichier image/jpeg, 124k


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