Students Staff

13 October 2008

Detect a linguistic link

Colchester Campus

Lovers of literature, language and grammar are invited to play Phrase Detectives, a fun web-based game from the University of Essex.

By joining the detective team at:, users can make annotations to highlight relationships between words and phrases in online documents. These can be short stories, news and even text by other users, since writers can add their stories to the game.

Detectives are asked to ‘name the culprit’, so will be given a word or phrase and must look for evidence of it appearing earlier in the text. For example: ‘Sherlink Holmes went to the shop. He got some tobacco for his pipe.’ The bold word refers to ‘Sherlink Holmes’.

Detectives are also asked if they agree with another detective's decision. For example: ‘Sherlink Holmes went to the shop. It was closed.’ The bold words refer to each other, so a good detective should agree with this decision. Points are awarded when there is agreement between users.

The Department of Computing and Electronic Systems’ Jon Chamberlain explains: ‘We believe Phrase Detectives is the first attempt to collect linguistic judgements using a fun, collaborative online game.’

‘We have tried to make the tasks interesting and engaging so it feels more like a computer game than a linguistic task. The data collected will be used to improve computer systems that try to understand text. It will help, for example, with search engines that are looking for pages relevant to your search.’

Phrase Detectives is part of a larger project at the University called AnaWiki, an attempt to address the bottleneck in creating annotated linguistic resources. By indicating these relationships, users help to create a resource that is rich in linguistic information and improves future technology. The project aims to collect a significant amount of data and investigate the possibility of using mass collaboration to train computer systems.

Phrase Detectives was inspired by a series of games released in 2006 dubbed ‘games with a purpose’. These are computer games that collect useful information from simple games, such as the ESP Game that collected text tags relating to images.


Notes to editors:
For more information and to play, please visit:

Some screenshots of the website may be available. Please contact the Communications Office on telephone: 01206 872807 or e-mail:

For further information please contact the University of Essex Communications Office on telephone: 01206 872807 or e-mail:

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