Unsupervised template induction over email data is a central component in applications such as information extraction, document classification, and auto-reply. The benefits of automatically generating such templates are known for structured data, e.g. machine generated HTML emails. However much less work has been done in performing the same task over unstructured email data.
We propose a technique for inducing high quality templates from plain text emails at scale based on the suffix array data structure. We evaluate this method against an industry-standard approach for finding similar content based on shingling, running both algorithms over two corpora: a synthetically created email corpus for a high level of experimental control, as well as user-generated emails from the well-known Enron email corpus. Our experimental results show that the proposed method is more robust to variations in cluster quality than the baseline and templates contain more text from the emails, which would benefit extraction tasks by identifying transient parts of the emails.
Our study indicates templates induced using suffix arrays contain approximately half as much noise (measured as entropy) as templates induced using shingling. Furthermore, the suffix array approach is substantially more scalable, proving to be an order of magnitude faster than shingling even for modestly-sized training clusters.
Public corpus analysis shows that email clusters contain on average 4 segments of common phrases, where each of the segments contains on average 9 words, thus showing that templatization could help users reduce the email writing effort by an average of 35 words per email in an assistance or auto-reply related task.