Simple Domain Adaptation for Sparse Retrievers

21 Jan 2024  ·  Mathias Vast, Yuxuan Zong, Basile Van Cooten, Benjamin Piwowarski, Laure Soulier ·

In Information Retrieval, and more generally in Natural Language Processing, adapting models to specific domains is conducted through fine-tuning. Despite the successes achieved by this method and its versatility, the need for human-curated and labeled data makes it impractical to transfer to new tasks, domains, and/or languages when training data doesn't exist. Using the model without training (zero-shot) is another option that however suffers an effectiveness cost, especially in the case of first-stage retrievers. Numerous research directions have emerged to tackle these issues, most of them in the context of adapting to a task or a language. However, the literature is scarcer for domain (or topic) adaptation. In this paper, we address this issue of cross-topic discrepancy for a sparse first-stage retriever by transposing a method initially designed for language adaptation. By leveraging pre-training on the target data to learn domain-specific knowledge, this technique alleviates the need for annotated data and expands the scope of domain adaptation. Despite their relatively good generalization ability, we show that even sparse retrievers can benefit from our simple domain adaptation method.

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