Conversational components Discourse markers

Discourse markers

When we communicate, we mark how upcoming words or phrases relate to previous discourse (i.e., spoken or written language used in a social context). These discourse markers ease comprehension by providing a preview of what’s coming up next; they are essential for making a conversation sound natural and fluid, as opposed to robotic and stilted.

Examples Expand and collapse content An arrow that points down when collapsed and points up when expanded.

Discourse markers connect utterances by succinctly and explicitly relating what has just been said to what is about to be said through notions such as:

addition

above all, also, along with, and, as well as, additionally, besides, further, furthermore, in addition, last but not least, moreover, not only… but also, too, what’s more

assessment

amazingly, astonishingly, hopefully, ideally, importantly, incredibly, inevitably, ironically, justifiably, oddly, predictably, refreshingly, regrettably, sadly, strikingly, surprisingly, (un)fortunately, (un)reasonably, (un)remarkably

comparison

also, equally, in comparison, in the same way, like, likewise, similarly, too

concession

admittedly, after all, all the same, anyhow, anyway, at any rate, besides, in any case, in any event, nevertheless, still, though, yet

contrast

although, but, by comparison, conversely, however, on the contrary, on the other hand, unlike

disclaimer

be advised, FYI, for your information, (just) so you know, (just) so you’re aware,

example

as an example, as an illustration, e.g., for example, for instance

inferential

in that case, otherwise, then

purpose

because of this, for that reason, so that, to this end

reformulation

i.e., in other words, in plain English, namely, specifically, strictly speaking, that is, that is to say

replacement

alternately, in lieu of, in place of, instead, on second thought, or, rather

result

as a result, consequently, for some reason or other, somehow, then, therefore, thus, since, so

sequential order

  • Ordinal enumeration: first, second, third…
  • Cardinal enumeration: one, two, three…
  • Alphabetical enumeration: a, b, c…
  • Sequential relations: for starters, to begin with, next, then, finally, last, lastly, to conclude...

summary

all in all, in brief, in closing, in conclusion, in general, in short, in sum, in summary, to conclude, to sum up, to summarize, on the whole

time

after a while, after that, afterward, at the same time, in the meantime, later, meanwhile, previously, simultaneously, subsequently

topic changers

as an aside, by the way, incidentally, in passing, (just) to update you, now, on a different note, parenthetically, speaking of which, while we’re on the subject

uncertainty

arguably, conceivably, indeed, evidently, likely, perhaps, possibly, presumably, seemingly, supposedly

veracity

absolutely, actually, as a matter of fact, assuredly, certainly, decidedly, definitely, doubtless, genuinely, in actuality, in reality, in truth, incontestably, incontrovertibly, indisputably, indubitably, literally, obviously, officially, really, strictly speaking, surely, to be sure, undeniably, undoubtedly, without a doubt

Identification Expand and collapse content An arrow that points down when collapsed and points up when expanded.

Use these criteria to easily identify discourse markers. They’re often confused with acknowledgements and/or implicit confirmations. However, each component has a different purpose in the dialog, which is why they’re sometimes combined in a single prompt.

Discourse markers can't stand on their own.

“By the way” and “For example” can’t stand on their own—they require additional content.

Removing a discourse marker does not change the truthfulness of the sentence.

Discourse markers do not modify the truth condition of the utterance. Instead, they situate it relative to the greater context. Removing “Actually” from “Actually, your music app needs to be set up first” does not change its meaning. Here, “Actually” mitigates the user’s expectations since we can’t do what they’ve asked. This discourse marker provides the necessary transition from the user’s request to the reason why we can’t fulfill it.

Note that acknowledgments (e.g., “Sorry”, “Okay”, “Sure”, “Alright”, “Great”) are not discourse markers because (1) they can stand by themselves, and (2) they don’t provide insight into how the meaning of what follows relates to what came before.

Usage Expand and collapse content An arrow that points down when collapsed and points up when expanded.

Use discourse markers like “and” or “also” to show how an utterance adds to the previous one.

Use discourse markers like “now” to change topics.

Persona: Google I/O 18. User input: How do I watch remotely? Spoken prompt: The keynotes and sessions will be livestreamed, and the recordings will be uploaded to the Google Developers YouTube channel. You can also attend or host an extended viewing party. Find out more at events.google.com/io. Now, you can ask about the keynotes or sessions, or anything else you want to know about I/O. Display prompt: Watch the keynotes and sessions via livestream or on the Google Developers YouTube channel. You can also attend or host an extended viewing party. Find out more at events.google.com/io. Now, you can ask anything else you want to know about I/O. Chips: Keynotes, Browse sessions, Will there be food?

Do.

It’s clear that there are 3 ways to watch (livestream, YouTube recordings, extended viewing party). It’s also clear when the topic changes from answering the question to offering to answer another.

Persona: Google I/O 18. User input: How do I watch remotely? Spoken prompt: The keynotes and sessions will be livestreamed. The recordings will be uploaded to the Google Developers YouTube channel. You can attend or host an extended viewing party. Find out more at events.google.com/io. You can ask about the keynotes or sessions, or anything else you want to know about I/O. Display prompt: Watch the keynotes and sessions via livestream or on the Google Developers YouTube channel. You can attend or host an extended viewing party. Find out more at events.google.com/io. You can ask anything else you want to know about I/O. Chips: Keynotes, Browse sessions, Will there be food?

Don’t.

Here, the relationship between the sentences is not clear, and the prompt sounds stilted without discourse markers.

Use discourse markers like “so” to show how one utterance is the result of another.

Persona: Sekai (fake shoe store). User input: Add them to my cart. Spoken Prompt: I don’t know your size, so I can’t add them to your cart just yet. What size do you want? New turn. User input: I wear a size 11. Spoken Prompt: Great! I’ve added these to your cart in a size 11. Are you ready to check out?

Do.

“So” helps clarify cause-and-effect relationships.

Persona: Sekai (fake shoe store). User input: Add them to my cart. Spoken Prompt: I don’t know your size. I can’t add them to your cart just yet. What size do you want to order? New turn. User input: I wear a size 11. Spoken Prompt: Great! I’ve added these to your cart in a size 11. Are you ready to check out?

Don’t.

Without “so”, the conversation sounds robotic and impersonal. Users also have to work harder to connect the dots.

Persona: Sekai (fake shoe store). Spoken Prompt: Are you ready to check out? New turn. User input: Yes. Spoken prompt: Great. So, put that on your credit or debit card?

Do.

“So” is a turn-taking transition. Here, the result is that now the user has to choose a payment method.

Use discourse markers like “by the way” to introduce additional, often tangential information that’s highly relevant.

Persona: Miso flowers (fake flower shop). Spoken Prompt: You’re all set! Those roses will be on their way soon! By the way, to get your order faster next time, I can sign you up as a Miso flowers member. Want to do that?

Do.

“By the way” transitions from the answer to the additional information provided. In this example, the additional information is relevant and useful to the user.

Persona: Miso flowers (fake flower shop). Spoken Prompt: You’re all set! Those roses will be on their way soon! I can sign you up as a Miso flowers member. Want to do that?

Don’t.

The last sentence feels abrupt and unrelated without the discourse marker to shift the topic. The tangent is more likely to confuse the user and catch them off guard.

Use enumeration to separate items on a list, making it clear where one item ends and another begins.

Persona: Miso flowers (fake flower shop). User input: What are my saved bouquets? Spoken Prompt: You have 3 custom bouquets in your saved list. The first, called “Sarah’s Graduation”, includes gerbera daisies in pink, red, orange, yellow, and white. The second is a bouquet of a dozen long stem roses called “Anniversary”. And finally, there’s “Mom’s Birthday”, which includes white lilies, lavender daisies, and blue irises. Do you want to order any of these?

Do.

Start with an overview and enumerate the items on the list, especially if they’re user-generated text strings.

Persona: Miso flowers (fake flower shop). User input: What are my saved bouquets? Spoken Prompt: “Sarah’s Graduation” includes gerbera daisies in pink, red, orange, yellow, and white. “Anniversary” is a bouquet of a dozen long stem roses. “Mom’s Birthday” includes white lilies, lavender daisies, and blue irises. Do you want to order any of these?

Don’t.

When information is unstructured, it’s easy for the listener to get lost and feel overwhelmed.

Use “otherwise” to introduce contrary circumstances that add to or refine the preceding statement.

Persona: Ibento (fake ticket-seller). User input: Add 2 tickets to my cart. Spoken Prompt: I’ve added 2 tickets to your cart. You have 9 minutes to complete your purchase. Otherwise, they will be removed. Do you want to check out now?

Do.

Only use “otherwise” when the information that follows is informative, not obvious.

Persona: Ibento (fake ticket-seller). Spoken Prompt: Sorry, I didn’t get that. If this is correct, say ‘yes'. Otherwise, say ‘no'.

Don’t.

Avoid “otherwise” for predictable, binary choices. A better prompt would be “Sorry, did I get that right?”