Previous work on standards and evaluation within the spoken language community have lead to an initial documentation of existing practice which is relatively comprehensive but in many respects heterogeneous and widely dispersed. The purpose of this handbook, therefore, is to collect and catalogue this material within a single document. That is not to say that the handbook is recommending or defining a single European standard, rather, it points to contemporary working practices and de facto standards where they already exist.
The handbook has been realised as a series of necessarily interrelated chapters, where each chapter provides some introductory background (including definitions of basic terminology) and concise summaries of common approaches, including alternatives, where these exist. Factors pertaining to recommended approaches are outlined, and preferred methods are identified wherever possible.
The overall style of the handbook is to focus, wherever possible, on clear straightforward ``recommendations'' supported by appropriate overviews, justifications, exemplifications and reference material. Also, each chapter is intended to be somewhat independent of the others, so that the handbook can appear in its final published form not as a single library volume, but as a set of practical paperbacks and, for convenience in reference to specific points, a fully linked hypertext version.
Clearly, in an exercise of this magnitude, harmonisation all of the key concepts cannot be guaranteed. Not only will the reader come across occasional terminological inconsistencies but it is also possible that some recommendations may be in direct conflict with each other. Such circumstances are probably not errors, but a direct consequence of the lack of concordance that has been attempted so far in the spoken language technology R&D community. Subsequent revisions of the handbook will attempt to resolve these issues.