Spoiler alert: No, this blog post will not encourage plagiarism.
We’ve all been there. Staring at a blank document and struggling to find the words to express your thoughts. Especially after having spent a lengthy amount of time reading literature, piecing prior research together or even conducting field work – distilling all this knowledge into written language can be frustrating.
With the widespread availability of AI-powered systems and the ground-breaking introduction of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, it was only a matter of time until writers would start playing around with this tool. With simple prompts, ChatGPT will generate surprisingly useful results, showing us that AI is capable of more than perhaps anticipated. The other day, I asked ChatGPT to write an apology note for cancelling plans for something I had initially suggested (I know, I’m the worst). Then, I asked it to rewrite it into an Eminem-styled rap. Within seconds, the lyric masterpiece was ready for me to disseminate among my friends to soften the blow of my unreliability.
This made me wonder – could I make use of this tool for my academic writing? Of course, I am not suggesting to let ChatGPT do the writing for me, on the contrary – I was wondering, how I can use it to overcome my own writer’s block and allow it to help me improve my own work.
I gave ChatGPT a simple prompt: Give me three ways in which ChatGPT can be used to overcome writer’s block. A few seconds later, I got the results. Not entirely satisfied, I asked for three more ways. A bit better, but still not fully convinced, so I asked for three more. Now we’re talking.
In this post, I will present the most convincing ways in which ChatGPT can be used to overcome writer’s block. (Inspired by ChatGPT, critically assessed and written by me, because we don’t believe in plagiarism!)
This is basically what I did with this blog post. I asked ChatGPT to generate some ideas for me until I was satisfied. The prompt came from me as well as the choice of which ideas are actually useful. But I didn’t have to solely rely on my own creativity, experience or knowledge. This helped me save time when preparing to write this post.
Impartial sounding board
See, this idea wouldn’t necessarily have crossed my mind, until ChatGPT told me that I could it for this service. As an AI-powered chatbot, you can use it to bounce your thoughts off a non-judgmental party. At this point however, ChatGPT tried to convince me that it was also unbiased – which I’m convinced it’s not, since it is prone to algorithmic bias! It is also only as good as the data it was trained on, which means if the data was faulty or biased, so will be the outputs of the chatbot. However, it can give you valid feedback on your writing style, structure, and tone. When it comes to the content of your writing, I would tread lightly, after all, it’s you who is doing the PhD, so hopefully you’re more knowledgeable in your field than ChatGPT.
By having a smart friend to encourage you to write without worrying too much about getting it all right the first time, ChatGPT can help overcome this toxic tendency. Knowing you have access to this tool for instant feedback, will allow you to write freely and not put on your editor’s hat while writing. That being said, of course you need to switch into your editor-mode, when reviewing the feedback you received from ChatGPT.
(Side-note: After writing this post, I asked ChatGPT for feedback. Its only criticism was about the individual ways in which it can be used to overcome writer’s block, all of which the chatbot had initially suggested to me. It seems that ChatGPT is quite the self-critical perfectionist! Now I’m convinced that even AI can suffer from Imposter Syndrome.)
Here is where the AI language model has a significant head start compared to us, humans. It can offer different perspectives based on its vast knowledge and experience. By using supervised and reinforced learning techniques, it is constantly expanding its knowledge, even beyond its knowledge cutoff in September 2021. You can use this feature, when trying to consider other angles to research further.
ChatGPT provides writing prompts which can help you establish a writing routine. Especially during your PhD, when you’re focusing on several different tasks all at once, it may be helpful to have a chatbot encouraging you to turn writing into a daily habit.
Having had ChatGPT assist me in writing this post, I need to stress that this tool should only be used as a starting point – a virtual mind to help develop your ideas. It’s important to continuously reflect on the ethical implications as well as your own academic integrity when incorporating AI-powered tools in your work. You need to critically assess the way you used them and the appropriateness of your use. Tread lightly and use wisely!
Anna Rezk is a 2nd year PhD researcher in Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the BBC R&D. Her research revolves around the implication of personalised and highly customisable public service media content and how it can be leveraged to promote inclusive and democratic civic participation. Due to her background in journalism and computer science, she is particularly interested in news, and how content can be algorithmically enhanced and curated without thwarting editorial intent. Find her on Twitter as @anna_rezk.