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  • How to make your speeches better, automatically

    The Week - 09/15/2015

    Traditionally, speechwriters have tested out ideas on either colleagues or in-person focus groups, who would listen to a part of a speech and report on how much they liked it, and whether it improved their opinions of the politician giving the address.

    It is, according to Northeastern University political scientist Nicholas Beauchamp, pretty much trial and error. As if that’s not tricky enough, speeches often cover many ideas and topics, and are interpreted by members of the audience through their own, equally complex lenses.

    What to do? Beauchamp chose to merge conventional focus groups with methods drawn from a relatively new field in political science, called text-as-data. Beauchamp started by gathering statements, and measuring how much each one reflected topics including costs, government, or employer mandates. A computer algorithm then generated trios of statements, which it fed to real people via crowdsourcing website Mechanical Turk. Each individual read a trio and responded by rating ObamaCare on a nine-point approval scale.

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