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Opacity, Obscurity, and the Geometry of Question-Asking. (arXiv:1809.08291v1 [cs.CL])

Asking questions is a pervasive human activity, but little is understood
about what makes them difficult to answer. An analysis of a pair of large
databases, of New York Times crosswords and questions from the quiz-show
Jeopardy, establishes two orthogonal dimensions of question difficulty:
obscurity (the rarity of the answer) and opacity (the indirectness of question
cues, operationalized with word2vec). The importance of opacity, and the role
of synergistic information in resolving it, suggests that accounts of
difficulty in terms of prior expectations captures only a part of the
question-asking process. A further regression analysis shows the presence of
additional dimensions to question-asking: question complexity, the answer’s
local network density, cue intersection, and the presence of signal words. Our
work shows how question-askers can help their interlocutors by using contextual
cues, or, conversely, how a particular kind of unfamiliarity with the domain in
question can make it harder for individuals to learn from others. Taken
together, these results suggest how Bayesian models of question difficulty can
be supplemented by process models and accounts of the heuristics individuals
use to navigate conceptual spaces.

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