A system and method for automatically transcribing an input question from a form convenient for user input into a form suitable for use by a computer. The question is a sequence of words represented in a form convenient for the user, such as a spoken utterance or a handwritten phrase. The question is transduced into a signal that is converted into a sequence of symbols. A set of hypotheses is generated from the sequence of symbols. The hypotheses are sequences of words represented in a form suitable for use by the computer, such as text. One or more information retrieval queries are constructed and executed to retrieve documents from a corpus (database). Retrieved documents are analyzed to produce an evaluation of the hypotheses of the set and to select one or more preferred hypotheses from the set. The preferred hypotheses are output to a display, speech synthesizer, or applications program. Additionally, retrieved documents relevant to the preferred hypotheses can be selected and output.