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TechKnAcq Toolkit

This is a minimal implementation of the TechKnAcq system for generating reading lists.



  • build-corpus: Given a directory of PDF or text files, create a directory of JSON files containing the document text, annotated with the features needed to judge their inclusion in a reading list, and download related encyclopedia articles, book chapters, and tutorials.
  • concept-graph: Analyze a JSON corpus to return a JSON graph of concepts and documents with the features and links needed to find documents for a reading list.
  • reading-list: Given a concept graph, return a reading list for a query.
  • server: Given a concept graph, run a simple Flask web service to return reading lists for queries.


  • techknacq: Core project functionality.
  • mallet: A wrapper for the Mallet Java package, which is used for LDA topic modeling.
  • websearch: Interface for searching the Web with Google or Bing.

Installation & Requirements

The TechKnAcq toolkit runs in Python 3 on Linux and OS X. We recommend running it in a Docker virtual machine, as described below. If you want to run it natively, you will need to install dependencies, including the following.

Python Dependencies

Install pip3 (Debian/Ubuntu: python3-pip). Use it to install the required Python packages:

pip3 install beautifulsoup4 nltk noaho wikipedia gensim
             networkx==1.11 pyenchant ftfy flask flask-cors

Patch pyenchant: pyenchant/pyenchant#45

Precompiled third-party tools

  • pdftotext (Ubuntu: poppler-utils)
  • Mallet 2.0.7 or 2.0.8. Download and rename the directory to ext/mallet (or change the path in concept-graph script).

Note: For large corpora, you may need to increase the MEMORY specified for Java in Mallet's bin/mallet file.


Download to ext/infomap and compile.

TechKnAcq Core

cd ext
git clone
cd techknacq-core
mvn package
cd target
ln -s *jar techknacq-core.jar


Running corpus expansion requires several API keys:

  • Put your ScienceDirect API key in ~/.t/sd.txt.
  • Put your Bing API key in ~/.t/bing.txt.

Change the file permissions to keep these keys private. They will be mapped into the Docker virtual machine at runtime, so ~/.t must exist on the machine you run on.



TechKnAcq is meant to be run from a Docker virtual machine, running on Linux or macOS. First build it:


Then run it:


If you have a local directory (e.g., a corpus) that needs to be available in Docker, map it:

./run -v ~/working/corpus:/tmp/corpus

You are now operating in the Docker virtual machine as root.

Build Corpus

To expand a corpus in ~/corpus, saving the result in ~/expanded, run:

./run -v ~/corpus:/tmp/corpus -v ~/expanded:/tmp/expanded
./build-corpus --wiki /tmp/corpus /tmp/expanded

The files in the input directory can be in various formats -- ScienceDirect XML files, BioC XML files, plain text, or the JSON corpus format used for this project. The output directory will be populated with JSON files that can be used for generating a concept graph.

The various corpus expansion methods (e.g., --wiki above) can be specified on the command line. Run ./build-corpus --help to see a full list.

Concept Graph

To generate a concept graph from a (possibly expanded) corpus in ~/corpus, run:

./run -v ~/corpus:/tmp/corpus
./concept-graph /tmp/corpus

The corpus directory specified should contain JSON files like those produced by build-corpus. If you have an existing Mallet LDA topic model you'd like to reuse, specify it second:

./concept-graph [corpus dir] [topic model path+prefix]

Since multiple topic models might be in the same directory, the unique prefix is specified in addition to the path, e.g.,

./concept-graph ~/shared/techknacq/Corpora/NLP/current/json/ \

With the topic model you can include a topic score file and a topic name file. These are not generated by default since the topic scoring requires model generation that is not currently included and the topic naming is currently manual. These files should have the same prefix as the topic model but end in 'scores.txt' and 'names.csv'. The scores file is one score (float) per line corresponding to the topics. The names.csv file has lines of format Topicnum,Name.

The computation of pedagogical roles for documents is not part of this pipeline, but if a file of these annotations exists with the name pedagogical-roles.txt, it will be read by Corpus.read_roles() and marked in the concept graph.

You can try different methods and thresholds for computing concept dependencies using the --method and --threshold options.

Reading List

./reading-list [concept graph] [query terms]

The concept graph should be a JSON file produced by the concept-graph script above.


The techknacq-tk server is a backend that can be used with the web application in the techknacq-server repository. It is run as:

./server [concept graph] ([port])


If you use this code, cite either

Jonathan Gordon, Stephen Aguilar, Emily Sheng, and Gully Burns. 2017. Structured Generation of Technical Reading Lists. In Proceedings of the 12th Workshop on Innovative Use of NLP for Building Educational Applications (BEA).


Jonathan Gordon, Linhong Zhu, Aram Galstyan, Prem Natarajan, and Gully Burns. 2016. Modeling Concept Dependencies in a Scientific Corpus. In Proceedings of the 54th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL).


This research is based upon work supported in part by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), via Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of ODNI, IARPA, AFRL, or the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Governmental purposes notwithstanding any copyright annotation thereon.


The interface for building pedagogically expanded corpora, concept graphs, and reading lists.







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