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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Evaluating the use of different positional strategies for sentence selection in biomedical literature summarization

Laura Plaza1* and Jorge Carrillo-de-Albornoz2

Author Affiliations

1 Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, C/Francisco Tomás y Valiente, 11, 28049 Madrid, Spain

2 UNED NLP & IR Group, C/ Juan del Rosal, 16, 28040 Madrid, Spain

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BMC Bioinformatics 2013, 14:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-14-71

Published: 27 February 2013



The position of a sentence in a document has been traditionally considered an indicator of the relevance of the sentence, and therefore it is frequently used by automatic summarization systems as an attribute for sentence selection. Sentences close to the beginning of the document are supposed to deal with the main topic and thus are selected for the summary. This criterion has shown to be very effective when summarizing some types of documents, such as news items. However, this property is not likely to be found in other types of documents, such as scientific articles, where other positional criteria may be preferred. The purpose of the present work is to study the utility of different positional strategies for biomedical literature summarization.


We have evaluated three different positional strategies: (1) awarding the sentences at the beginning of the document, (2) preferring those at the beginning and end of the document, and (3) weighting the sentences according to the section in which they appear. To this end, we have implemented two summarizers, one based on semantic graphs and the other based on concept frequencies, and evaluated the summaries they produce when combined with each of the positional strategies above using ROUGE metrics. Our results indicate that it is possible to improve the quality of the summaries by weighting the sentences according to the section in which they appear (≈17% improvement in ROUGE-2 for the graph-based summarizer and ≈20% for the frequency-based summarizer), and that the sections containing the more salient information are the Methods and Material and the Discussion and Results ones.


It has been found that the use of traditional positional criteria that award sentences at the beginning and/or the end of the document are not helpful when summarizing scientific literature. In contrast, a more appropriate strategy is that which weights sentences according to the section in which they appear.