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ChatGPT Blog Post Series Part 1 - What is ChatGPT and How can ChatGPT Support your Academic Writing?

ChatGPT has created a lot of curiosity around whether it can be a useful, reliable and accurate resource for academic writing. While the controversy around how ChatGPT can be or should be used, which policies should govern its use is continuing, ChatGPT’s potential uses in writing have attracted a lot of attention from academic scholars.

In this first post in the blog series, I will explore the capabilities and if chosen, ways ChatGPT may be helpful in academic writing.

What is ChatGPT and what can it do?

As most of us have learned already, ChatGPT is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that uses machine learning to produce text prompted by given input. It has been trained on billions of words from various sources, such as books, articles, websites, etc. ChatGPT can interact in a conversational way answering questions or can follow an instruction in a query and provide a detailed response. ChatGPT can be a useful tool for generating ideas and preliminary drafts or suggesting wording for scientific text. However, it's important to carefully review and edit any text generated by ChatGPT to ensure accuracy and remember that ChatGPT can’t replace intellectual and critical thinking capabilities of humans.

How can ChatGPT support your academic writing?

There are various ways to use ChatGPT for academic writing and each of them has focus points that academic writers should pay attention to and be aware of:

  • ChatGPT can help you brainstorm ideas for your academic writing projects.

If you are stuck or need some inspiration for your topic, research question, or thesis statement, you can ask ChatGPT to generate some ideas or suggestions related to your subject or field of research. ChatGPT can help you organize your thoughts in a logical way and generate an outline for your paper or dissertation, based on your research question. While using ChatGPT in this way, focus on the relevance and originality of the ideas generated by ChatGPT. Evaluate the feasibility and scope of the ideas or suggestions in relation to your topic and requirements of your writing project. ChatGPT can be a starting point, not a substitute, for your own research and critical thinking.

  • Providing feedback on writing style and clarity.

ChatGPT can read your draft, provide feedback and suggest ways to polish your writing. To get the best use of this, focus on the coherence of the feedback or suggestions provided by ChatGPT, consider the appropriateness of the tone in relation to your intended audience and purpose. ChatGPT could be a guide, not a judge, for your own writing improvement and revisions.

  • Rewriting to avoid plagiarism or improve readability.

ChatGPT can provide suggestions for rewriting sentences or paragraphs from other sources while keeping the original meaning and tone or using a different style. It is essential to focus on the accuracy of the work done by ChatGPT as there have been instances where it directly imported the language from resources as is. Checking the integrity of the rewriting in relation to the original source is an important part of the work with ChatGPT. ChatGPT can be a tool, not a shortcut, for your own writing development.

  • Checking grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.

ChatGPT can proofread your writing, highlight any errors and correct them. ChatGPT can help you avoid common mistakes and improve your accuracy. Here too, focusing on the reliability and validity of the error detection or correction, and verification of appropriateness of the grammar, spelling, or punctuation rules applied by ChatGPT becomes of great significance. ChatGPT can be a helper, not a replacement, for your own proofreading and editing.

  • Citing sources or formatting references according to different styles.

ChatGPT can help you cite sources or format references according to different styles, such as APA, MLA, Chicago, etc. ChatGPT can generate a citation or a reference for a source you provide, and can format a list of references according to a specific style. If you are considering getting help from ChatGPT for citations and formatting, focusing on the accuracy and completeness and confirming it is essential. ChatGPT can be a reference, not a source, for your own citation and formatting.

  • Searching for relevant information from online sources.

ChatGPT can help you search for relevant information or data from online sources for your academic writing projects including academic journals, databases, websites and summarize the information. However, there have been reports of ChatGPT providing inaccurate references and verifying the accuracy of the search results is vital. Please also keep in mind that the currently available cost-free version of ChatGPT has access to a limited online data reference upto September 2021. ChatGPT can be a supplement, not the only method, for your own literature search.

As you can see, although ChatGPT is very capable and useful, it is far from being a perfect tool and it comes with several significant cautions and concerns that you need to be aware of before using it for academic writing. The support from ChatGPT is not intended to replace the human intellect and an academician’s expertise and abilities to synthesize the writing based on experience and skills cultivated through scholarly path. I will touch on the limitations and cautionary aspects of using ChatGPT for academic writing in my next blog post.

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