People are still figuring out the best use cases for ChatGPT, the popular chatbot based on a powerful AI language model. This article provides some ideas for how to use the tool to assist with your academic writing.
ChatGPT can assist you with the following steps when writing a paper, thesis, or dissertation:
You can use ChatGPT to help you formulate a clear and concise research question by generating and improving potential questions.
With the help of ChatGPT, you can develop a large number of possible research questions within a short time. This is a great way to generate ideas and different approaches to a topic.
However, make sure that the generated questions make sense and meet your needs. As you can see from our example, you can keep working with ChatGPT to adapt its suggestions to your needs (or just edit the text directly if you already have a clear idea of what you want).
Creating an outline of your paper with ChatGPT
You can also use ChatGPT to help you draft a research paper outline or thesis outline. To do this, try generating possible headings and subheadings and then improving them. ChatGPT can help to generate a clear and well-structured outline, especially if you keep adjusting the structure with its help.
However, it doesn’t have a deep understanding of your topic. As a result, inappropriate headings may sometimes be generated. It’s important to check that the outline makes sense and covers all the points needed to answer your research question.
ChatGPT can be a useful way to generate ideas regarding what sources you might use in your work. Try asking it for suggestions about where to look and what to consider.
However, we advise against using it to find sources directly. It’s not designed for this and, if asked to do it, often just creates fake sources and presents them as real. Search a database like Google Scholar instead.
You can also try using ChatGPT to paraphrase text. ChatGPT can quickly generate a number of different paraphrases of the same idea. You can keep typing “again” in the chat until you are satisfied with the result.
This kind of paraphrasing can be helpful to, for example, non-native speakers who want to improve the fluency of their text. However, be careful. The paraphrases often:
Contain grammatical errors
Include false information
So you should always check the output to make sure it’s correct. If you’re unsure, you can run the text through the Scribbr Grammar Checker and cross-reference the information against other, more credible sources.
You can also use ChatGPT to get feedback on the argumentation and structure of your paper and suggestions for improvements.
An advantage of this is that you can get feedback from ChatGPT on different text excerpts at any time. However, one downside is that ChatGPT does not have a deep understanding of your research question, so its feedback and suggestions may be shallow or inappropriate.
This kind of feedback cannot replace input from an experienced academic supervisor who’s familiar with your topic. Use ChatGPT feedback as a supplement, not a substitute for human feedback.
ChatGPT was trained using existing texts, and the texts created by the AI are based on this data. It’s not capable of doing its own research, only of synthesizing sources that it was trained on.
Additionally, because the texts that it was trained on only go up to 2021, it’s unfamiliar with more recent world events, cultural trends, and developments in different fields of research. This means it may provide outdated information.
Risk of plagiarism
Because ChatGPT was trained using existing text, the AI tends to reuse that content in a way that may be considered plagiarism. The AI may copy text from an online publication in its responses.
Additionally, using ChatGPT to write your assignment for you is considered plagiarism regardless of where it got the content from, because you’re passing off something you didn’t write as your own work.
ChatGPT was trained on a wide variety of sources, but it’s not able to accurately tell you what sources it’s using for any given output. Worse, it has a tendency to make up sources that don’t actually exist when you ask.
In addition, ChatGPT is not designed as a citation generator and cannot add correctly formatted citations to your work. Instead, try a tool designed for this purpose, like the Scribbr Citation Generator.
ChatGPT is not always trustworthy when it comes to giving you factually correct information. While it doesn’t deliberately lie, it also doesn’t have “knowledge” in a traditional sense, and it lacks the ability to verify its claims.
Instead, its responses are based on recognizing and reproducing patterns that it has seen in other texts. This means that if it doesn’t “know” something, it tends to guess. And its guesses are presented with full confidence, just like established facts.
So it’s very important that you carefully check any factual claims made by ChatGPT against more credible sources—and don’t cite ChatGPT as a source of factual information for your research.
No—first, because it’s considered plagiarism to represent someone else’s work as your own (even if that “someone” is an AI language model). Even if you cite ChatGPT, you’ll likely still be penalized.
Second, ChatGPT can recombine existing texts, but it cannot really generate new knowledge. And it lacks specialist knowledge of academic topics. Therefore, it is not possible to obtain original research results, and the text produced is likely to contain factual errors.
No, it is not possible to cite your sources with ChatGPT. You can ask it to create citations, but it isn’t designed for this task and tends to make up sources that don’t exist or present information in the wrong format. ChatGPT also cannot add citations to direct quotes in your text.
Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)February 13, 2023 at 10:21 AM
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