Artificial Intelligence is actually getting so good that it can outperform university students when it comes to writing essays. OpenAI recently released ChatGPT and AI is getting better, and fast. This article is all about the different ways to use ChatGPT to write an essay.
This article outlines the use cases for ChatGPT when writing an essay. Firstly, using ChatGPT in college or university for writing essay content is something that would be considered academic dishonestly and could get you in deep trouble. Don’t write your paper this way. This article is for educational purposes only and does not endorse this use-case of ChatGPT.
But nevertheless, I was curious to see how good ChatGPT is at this task. So I experimented with how it would be possible to write essays using various methods. These first two methods include paraphrasing content, and writing from a prompt.
However, these first two methods are easily detectable as being unoriginal. The third and last method is the best because it keeps the structure and content of your essay original.
From my experiments, this tool is best used as a source of inspiration by having it draw up essay outlines for you rather than something you should be using to write your essay content.
Before we get into these methods, you might be wondering if ChatGPT plagiarizes content.
Does ChatGPT Plagiarize?
ChatGPT does not “plagiarize” content. OpenAI themselves say It is a language model trained using machine learning algorithms, which means it can generate text based on the input it receives. It does not have the ability to copy text from other sources.1
In fact, it has already gotten past Turnitin’s plagiarism checker. A Vox article explained that a professor had students use the tool to write essays as an experiment and Turnitin did not detect these papers as plagiarism.2
This could be because Turnitin compares the submitted work to existing work using a similarity report.3 But this AI is paraphrasing content in the same way that you would if you wrote the paper yourself.
However, just because ChatGPT doesn’t directly copy and paste information from its database, it doesn’t mean that you are in the clear by any stretch of the imagination.
I did some basic testing of ChatGPT’s paraphrasing, and other methods to write using the tool, and ChatGPT isn’t very original when it comes to rephrasing material. Because of this, I don’t think that ChatGPT will get past traditional plagiarism checkers reliably, although it does seem to do okay.
But there are other reasons you should be worried.
ChatGPT can be detected, so you should still be worried
Plagiarism-checking software tools are very likely to evolve alongside AI and be able to detect it. For instance, Originality.Ai claims that it can detect ChatGPT content with an accuracy rate of 94%.4
On top of this, ChatGPT is working on watermarking its text so it can be easily detected. Essentially, they don’t want you to be using ChatGPT for this purpose either.
There are also lots of free tools emerging online that claim to be able to detect AI Content and many of them work reliably. Here are a few of the most popular ones, these are also the ones that I will be using to compare AI text below.
- Open AI’s AI Text Classifier
- GPT-2 Output Detector
- Draft and Goal’s AI Detector
- Copyleaks AI Content Detector
So what should you take away from this?
If there is already software out there that can detect ChatGPT so accurately it’s likely that the universities are going to get their hands on something like this, because they need it.
It’s not the case that suddenly everyone will be able to use this tool without repercussions.
What is likely is that we are in a unique gap right now where AI has made a leap forward but the Universities have not stepped up their detection software yet. So using this tool, for the time being, is at least easier but it’s not a silver bullet by any means.
Now it’s time to talk about how ChatGPT could be used. There are a couple of approaches you could take, but the best ways are the ways that don’t actually involve ChatGPT writing your essay content for you.
How to Use ChatGPT to Write an Essay (3 ways)
There are three different approaches to using ChatGPT. These include the paraphrasing method, the prompt method, and the outline method.
Of these methods, I would only recommend using the outlining method for early brainstorming purposes.
This allows you to get some inspiration on what to write and doesn’t risk academic dishonesty because the actual content and structure of your essay are still created by you.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that there are other ways to use ChatGPT in the essay creation process. This includes topics like using ChatGPT as an essay research tool or as an essay editing assistant and many others.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the different essay-writing methods you can use with ChatGPT.
1. The Paraphrase Method
One of the most common methods that could be used involves paraphrasing/rephrasing individual parts of a source and slotting this into an essay. Since ChatGPT doesn’t copy anything and generates all of its content, this should be okay, right?
To investigate how effective ChatGPT was at original paraphrasing I ran a few simple experiments. The results are outlined below.
Here are a few examples of how you could prompt ChatGPT for paraphrasing. These are what I used in my experiments.
- Paraphrase this: [your text here]
- Paraphrase this so it is very different from the original: [your text here]
As we will see there are concerns with using the tool in this way. I ran a comparison between how similar ChatGPT’s output was compared to the original and also tested some AI detection tools.
How original is ChatGPT’s paraphrasing?
The paraphrasing capability of ChatGPT is much less original than you might expect, it’s very common for it to output verbatim, or very similar, content to the source. In a small experiment, ChatGPT’s paraphrase had a similarity score of 73.6% to the source while an original paraphrase had a score of just 32%.
I asked ChatGPT to paraphrase the abstract of an academic journal article in a couple of different ways.5 I then paraphrased it myself to compare how original our different paraphrases were using CopyLeaks.
You can see that an original paraphrase, where you actually write the content yourself, is still by far the best option when it comes to originality.
What should these results tell you?
Be careful with paraphrasing using ChatGPT. There is actually quite a lot of similarity between the texts if you just ask the tool to do this for you. This often results in what is called patchwriting. This is when you just change around a few words but the paraphrase is still very similar to the original input.
You can also see that it could even be possible (and likely) for ChatGPT to be detected even by traditional plagiarism tools like Turnitin due to how unoriginal its paraphrasing is.
Let’s get into how I got these results.
First, I just asked ChatGPT to paraphrase a piece of writing directly. This results in a similar paragraph that is worded in a different way.
However, if we compare original and paraphrased texts you can see that the match is quite high at 73.6%. Because of this, I wanted to try and see if the AI was capable of writing with fewer similarities.
So I asked ChatGPT to paraphrase the content so that it was specifically very different from its original source. This resulted in a similarity score of 55%. However it ironically also included 6.2% of identical words as well.
So this is kind of an improvement, at least in the matching score, but the fact that it included identical content this time also wasn’t ideal.
Lastly, I wanted to see how my paraphrasing compared to ChatGPT in terms of originality. I wrote my paraphrase in a single take with very minimal editing and only measured it once.
This gave me a score of 32.6% matching content.
As you can see if I just write this myself the match is significantly less than ChatGPT. My writing gets a 32% match compared to the 55-73% of ChatGPT and there is no identical content included as well.
The Takeaway here is that while not much of what ChatGPT wrote was identical, it could definitely raise some eyebrows due to how similar it is. Just paraphrase your own content.
Plus, I may be biased, but I like my own writing more anyways.
Is ChatGPT’s paraphrased content detectable by AI detection tools?
On top of not being very original, even if you got a very low matching score the AI detection tools are still able to pick up on ChatGPT’s text output.
I paraphrased the same piece of text many times and each and every time I paraphrased this same piece of text, the outcome was detected by these tools.
There are many of these detection tools and they don’t always have consistent results. That’s why I ran this test with many of them.
Here are the detection results from Open AI’s AI Text Classifier, GPT-2 Output Detector, Draft and Goal’s AI Detector, and Copyleaks AI Content Detector.
I put the tools that output percentages into a nice bar graph, the rest of the tools, and the raw data, that don’t output like this are in the table below.
Paraphrase detection results:
|Detection Tool||Output on ChatGPT Paraphrased Text||Output on Human Paraphrased Text|
|Text Classifier||Possibly AI-generated||Unlikely AI-generated.|
|GPT-2 Output Detector||99.94% Fake||11.58% Fake|
|Draft and Goal’s AI Detector||99% AI Content||7% AI Content|
|Copyleaks AI Content Detector||99.9% of Text is AI Written||31.7% of Text is AI Written|
2. The Prompt Essay Writing Method
The prompt method is the most obvious way to write a paper using ChatGPT. This method is just giving ChatGPT the prompt and having it write the paper for you. However, there are already issues with this approach.
Firstly, ChatGPT doesn’t cite any sources. Most academic papers are going to require you to cite sources, so if you plan on writing a paper using ChatGPT you have no way of citing anything. This makes ChatGPT kind of a no-go for writing most assignments right off the bat.
Second, AI detection tools can detect ChatGPT’s writing. Many of the essays that ChatGPT spits out are detected as being highly like to be from Ai.
I have explained the process I used for this experiment below.
Input the Essay Prompt
This part is self-explanatory. I just copied and pasted the prompt into ChatGPT to see what I would get. You can write quite long papers using ChatGPT. I’m just keeping the prompt pretty short here for the sake of the example.
Expand on specific sections later (If needed)
Even with longer requests, I found that some sections of the papers it generates are not as detailed as I would want them to be if I were to use this tool for a detailed explanation.
You can improve this by asking the AI to rewrite certain sections with more depth. You could then replace sections of the original paper it generates with these more in-depth explanations.
Overall this tool is scarily good at writing essays. Does this mean you should be using it? No, I would still strongly advise you not to write an essay like this.
The most convincing reason I have is probably the detection rate of this method. When it comes to longer fuller essays, the rate of detection goes even higher.
How detectable is a ChatGPT essay when written from a prompt?
Once, again ChatGPT’s writing seems easily detectable. Here is another bar graph showing confidence in some of the percentage-based AI tools.
Here is the table with the complete results. You can see that it’s not always going to be detected. Open Ai’s tool wasn’t sure this time around.
But there definitely seems to be a strong rate of detection when you compare the outputs of many tools together.
|Detection Tool||Output on ChatGPT Essay||Output on Human Essay|
|Text Classifier||Unclear if it is AI-generated||Very unlikely AI-generated|
|GPT-2 Output Detector||99.98% Fake||0.02% Fake|
|Draft and Goal’s Ai Detector||100% AI Content||33% AI Content|
|Copyleaks AI Content Detector|
98.3% of Text is AI Written
|9.7% of Text is AI Written|
Beyond its detectability, is the obvious. You will get in serious trouble by doing something like this. Finally, in the long term, as previously discussed, the tech is out there to detect AI-written content and it’s only a matter of time before people who do this start getting detected. If this happens and you used a technique like this, you will be in very very hot water.
These risks alone make the use of this tool for writing your content a bad idea that should be avoided at all costs.
There is however a way that you can use ChatGPT ethically.
3. The Outline Method (The best way to use ChatGPT to write an essay)
The previous two methods demonstrate the effectiveness of ChatGPT, but using these could lead to serious trouble. Beyond how detectable they are, these should just be avoided due to their ethical concerns.
The best way to use this tool is to use it to create an outline for yourself that you modify and expand on yourself. In this example, I gave ChatGPT the prompt “create an outline of a paper about the treatment for phantom limb syndrome” and it generated this for me.
Why the outline method is the best
I have always found that one of the hardest parts of essay writing is that you need to actually come up with what you are going to write about.
By using ChatGPT you can generate good essay ideas for what should actually be included in your paper. These outlines are a great starting point and help you get the ball rolling in the right direction.
They essentially just get you off staring at a blank page.
You should modify the outline ChatGPT gives you. Both because it makes your paper more original and you will likely find that, as you do more research, the outline needs to be modified significantly regardless. The outline is just a starting point that will very likely have very minimal if any resemblance to the final product.
This means that all of the actual content in your paper will be written by you and its structure will be unique. Using ChatGPT as a source of inspiration allows you to go and find resources that support these outlined bullet points and use original paraphrasing for the best results.
In this way, you are using the tool as a brainstorming tool rather than a writing tool and this is what leads to the best quality content.
I still don’t use the tool in this way for my own papers, because I don’t feel comfortable doing so, but I do use it for brainstorming and generating ideas about what to include in some of the articles on this blog from time to time.
Other Interesting Uses of ChatGPT for Students
Apart from being a great source of ideas when it comes to essay writing, ChatGPT actually has a lot of other uses for students that could seriously improve learning. I have other articles on how to use ChatGPT as a personal tutor and how to use it to study and learn new information using an active learning style called inquiry-based learning.
ChatGPT is an amazing tool for writing essays. The results it produces are certainly impressive, to say the least. However, you should not be using this in an academic context like college or university for a number of reasons that have been discussed here.
However, this tool can help with the early brainstorming phase of what to include in your paper and what to start researching first when it comes to creating unique content structured in your own way. This allows you to use the tool ethically.
- ChatGPT: Optimizing Language Models for Dialogue. (2022, November 30). OpenAI. https://openai.com/blog/chatgpt/
- ChatGPT, artificial intelligence, and the future of education—Vox. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.vox.com/recode/2022/12/7/23498694/ai-artificial-intelligence-chat-gpt-openai
- Does Turnitin detect plagiarism? (2022, October 5). https://www.turnitin.com/blog/does-turnitin-detect-plagiarism
- Can Originality.AI detect GPT 3, GPT 3.5 and ChatGPT generated text? – Originality.AI. (2022, December 5). https://originality.ai/can-gpt-3-5-chatgpt-be-detected/
- Chahine L, Kanazi G. Phantom limb syndrome: a review. Middle East J Anaesthesiol. 2007 Jun;19(2):345-55. PMID: 17684875.
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