AI and the Writing Process – Drafting
Drafting a written assignment or a script for a spoken assignment is a messy process. You may not know where to start. You might start in the middle or leave large gaps and move around. This is totally normal and perfectly okay.
Writing is not the act of recording what you’ve already figured out. Writing is an active part of the process of figuring it out. You get ideas. You make connections and discoveries. You start to understand the topic better and this helps you fine tune or revise your argument. This might lead you to do more research. All of this is helpful and productive writing and learning work!
Even if permitted, using ChatGPT as a short-cut may not give you the outcome you want or serve your learning goals. That messy and hard process of fitting ideas and information together is an important and productive part of sharpening your critical thinking and writing skills.
1. Drafting with ChatGPT
If your instructor instructs you to use ChatGPT or other GenAI to produce a text for an assignment, it’s likely part of a longer process. Next, you may have to analyze the generated text critically, evaluate the strength of the technology’s output as writing, or revise the output by bringing your own research and ideas to the generated text.
To get ChatGPT to generate a draft or outline, you must design a detailed prompt. Prompt writing, prompt engineering, or prompt design is an important skill on its own. When creating prompts for the technology, remember to be as detailed and specific as possible in your request. Try different wording and follow-up prompts. Experiment a lot to see what is possible. Consider the following elements:
- Context 1: is this a university assignment? For what discipline (e.g. psychology or physics)? For what course level?
- Context 2: you may have a secondary context that is imagined for the purpose of your assignment (e.g. a memo to a client or a government white paper).
- Audience: who will be reading the generated text? Your course instructor is the real audience, but academic assignments are sometimes given invented contexts which either name or assume an audience that is not your instructor. If the assignment instructions specify an audience, like a class of middle-school students, or imply an audience like a business memo assumes a corporate client, then make sure you include important details in the prompt. Otherwise, if you indicate that the assignment is a university essay, the implied audience of your professor or your peers will be assumed by ChatGPT.
- Purpose: what do you want the writing to do? Is it persuasive, as in a research essay? Is it descriptive and introspective, as in a personal reflection? Or is it descriptive and analytical, as in a case study?
- Other elements: length, tone, voice, style, inclusion of research citations – include these details only to whatever degree they are important. Remember: citations created by ChatGPT are often invented by the GenAI and are likely not accurate.
Generating outlines or drafts in response to assignment instructions
Example 1: The following ChatGPT prompt asks for three versions of an outline in response to an assignment. This strategy allows you to revise the outline by drawing on ideas from the three options generated. Depending on the assignment instructions, this may or may not be the right strategy to use, but it broadens possibilities for revision on your own.
💬 For my 2nd year university course in political science, I am writing a white paper on the topic of HIV and Hepatitis C prevention and treatments today. The white paper is intended for the Minister of Health in the Ontario government for a decision on funding preventative measures and self-testing among at-risk populations in remote and urban communities. Generate three different detailed outlines of the white paper with section titles and paragraph points.
The outlines generated by this prompt have some notable gaps that you would only be able to identify through critical thinking and additional research. The outline focuses on self-testing without including other preventative strategies like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication, condom distribution, and needle exchanges or safe injection sites.
Ask ChatGPT to re-generate one or more of the outlines with these elements included or ensure that your revisions include these options.
Example 2: The following prompt includes detailed parameters about the length and the structure of the essay assignment.
💬 Generate a 1000-word essay for a 3rd year university environmental business class on the topic of insecticides and biodiversity. This is a persuasive essay about the impacts of commercial insecticides and alternative insect-management techniques. The introduction should have a strong thesis, and there should be a minimum of ten academic references. There should be six paragraphs, including the introduction and conclusion. Maintain an academic style appropriate to a university student.
ChatGPT’s response includes paragraph headings not specified in the prompt, which you may not want.
Because the prompt heavily focused on length and structure, you could decide to revise the prompt to specify more content for the essay, or you could revise the generated content on your own. Remember that ChatGPT “hallucinates” or makes up references and citations, so those generated will not be accurate.
Again, generating a full draft or outline through GenAI is only recommended if it is part of your assignment instructions. This will help you manage your academic integrity.
It is your responsibility to be the critical thinker in your interactions with GenAI.
2. Help As You Draft
Choosing the right words
ChatGPT can work like a thesaurus by suggesting alternative words or phrases but in the context you need. Write detailed prompts to get to the level of specificity you need.
💬 “What words describe a combined feeling of anger and annoyance?”
💬 “What are other words for leisure? Show each usage in a sentence.”
💬 “What are other word forms of “exasperation”? Show examples of them in sentences.”
💬 “How is the term “occult” used in a healthcare setting?”
💬 “What are alternative terms for “knowledge translation”?”
💬 “What contexts are knowledge translation and knowledge mobilization used in, respectively?”
Finding examples of introductory and transitional phrases
💬 “What are some transitional phrases I can use to contrast an idea or statement?”
💬 “What phrasing can I use to integrate external sources into my university report?”
💬 “Give some examples of phrases I can use to introduce contrary evidence into my university research paper.”
Finding the right preposition
Prepositions in English are not logical and can be difficult, even for experienced writers and speakers. ChatGPT can help you find the most commonly used preposition for your phrase or sentence.
💬 “What preposition do I use to talk about parking my car on the driveway?”
💬 “Is "for" the right preposition? Health researchers are reliant for government funding for equipment and other laboratory expenses.”
Understanding and using idioms
Depending on your discipline, you might encounter or want to use idiomatic language. ChatGPT can help you understand a local idiom or learn a new idiom. Remember that idioms are specific to local cultures and contexts, and they may not work in other contexts or locations, even within the same country.
💬 “What does the phrase "the early bird catches the worm" mean?”
💬 “What are some idioms that describe intelligence?”
Checking that what you have written makes sense
If you have written a tricky, complex, or technical sentence or section in your assignment, you can check that it is clear and accurate by asking ChatGPT to re-word it for you so you can check its accuracy.
💬 "Re-word the following sentence/section from my university physics lab report so I can ensure it makes sense:
After you get the response from ChatGPT, read it over. If the response hasn’t accurately summarized or represented your work, this indicates that your meaning isn’t clear. Try to identify where the mismatch happened, then re-word your original text and submit the prompt again with your revised text.
Never copy responses from ChatGPT and submit them as your own work, as this will be an academic integrity offense.
Translating from another language into English
There are many translation platforms, from Google Translate to specific language websites. ChatGPT will generate translations from most languages into English, but the accuracy of translations from GenAI and other software may not be accurate for your meaning or context. We recommend that translation software be used as an aid for learning and not for direction translation. The same academic integrity principles apply to all content generated by ChatGPT or other software. Use it only if you are allowed to. And if you are allowed to use it, you must cite its use.
To use ChatGPT to help you draft and edit without translating, follow the guidance provided in these resources. If you do not have permission to use GenAI for your course or assignment, meet a WCC peer tutor or advisor to help you draft and revise.