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How to Use ChatGPT to Research For an Essay

  • Sean 

Finding sources and structuring a research paper is time-consuming. Luckily With ChatGPT’s powerful search capabilities, you can quickly find the information you need for your essay. If you’re looking for a way to speed up this process then using ChatGPT to research information is definitely worth a try.

So I’ve been back on the ChatGPT experimentation bandwagon. Specifically, I’ve been looking for ways to use ChatGPT in the idea generation and research process when it comes to writing papers.

I have developed a simple process for this including all the prompts you need to do it yourself.

Using ChatGPT in this way is essentially like a more efficient way of using Google or another database for research articles.

Note: This is not the same as ChatGPT being used to write a research paper. This is specificlaly about generating ideas and gathering the information you need to start writing. Both the structure and writing of your paper should be your own.

If you want to learn how effective ChatGPT is at writing an essay, check out my other article on using ChatGPT for essay writing where I explored how original its responses were.

With that out of the way, let’s get into how you can use ChatPGT as a research assistant.

How to Use ChatGPT to Research For an Essay

1. Ask For Research Topic Ideas

To kick off the research process, ask it to give you topic ideas. It’s likely are already aiming to write within a specific area of research, so start there by asking it to list out ideas for you.

Alternatively, you might already have your general topic idea so this step might already be completed.

2. Ask For a Literature Review on That Research Topic

Asking Chatgpt to find sources for you is probably the biggest time save here.

It can give you a long list of resources straight away to start with that could have taken hours to track down on your own.

What’s nice is that ChatGPT will even give a little outline of what the source is and why it’s important.

In this example, I just asked ChatGPT for a literature review on the topic of optogenetics.

Screenshot of ChatGPT chat window displaying a request to conduct a literature review. The conversation shows the user asking ChatGPT to help with a literature review, and ChatGPT responding with a list of studies.

Promt: conduct a literature review and give specific sources on [Your topic].

Isn’t this so useful? It even outlines which papers are the “seminal papers” for you.

To take this to the next level, ask ChatGPT to categorize the references it generated for you.

Screenshot of ChatGPT chat window displaying a request to categorize academic sources. The conversation shows the user asking ChatGPT to help with categorization, and ChatGPT responding with different categorizations of the sources.

Promt: Can you categorize these references?

Obviously, you are going to have to still go and download these papers and read them a bit to evaluate if you want to use them. But this still saves so much time.

Caveat: ChatGPT can’t always find sources

ChatGPT doesn’t currently have fully up-to-date information. You can’t ask it about anything after September 2021 at the moment (according to itself).

It also isn’t searching the internet for the sources that it’s providing. It only suggests things that are already included in its training data.

This means that unfortunately, sometimes when you ask ChatGPT for sources it will refuse to give them to you because they weren’t in its dataset. Or worse, It will just make them up.

3. Generate a Hypothesis Based on The Literature Review

After you have this literature review based on your topic, you probably need to come up with some type of hypothesis.

Once, again ChatGPT has your back.

In the example below you can see that it even provides you with supporting evidence, this gives you a starting point for your reading.

Screenshot of ChatGPT chat window displaying a request to come up with hypothesis. The conversation shows the user asking ChatGPT to help with hypothesis ideas and ChatGPT's reply with a series of specific hypothesis.

Promt: Come up with some reserach paper hypothesis based on these references.

You are very likely going to need to use more sources than what is suggested here.

To solve this, in my next example, I asked ChatGPT for more references based on that specific hypothesis.

Below are the results.

Screenshot of ChatGPT chat window displaying a request to come up with additional references relevant to a specific hypothesis. The conversation shows ChatGPT's reply with a series of specific resources relevant to the hypothesis.

Promt: Give me more references relevant to the [number] suggested hypothesis.

This saves so much time because it essentially gives you a targeted reading list of what is relevant to your hypothesis for when you actually start writing your paper.

4. Ask ChatGPT to Brainstorm Ideas

Next, you can useChatGPT to brainstorm ideas for the paper you are planning to write. The purpose of this is to just get you off of the blank page and give you something to improve.

Honestly, ChatGPT is pretty bad at this.

It tends to just give very generic answers to this prompt. This is probably because it doesn’t know the sources nearly as well as you could with just 15 minutes of reading them.

It also seems to always assume that you are conducting an experiment and I cannot get it to

Here is the result I got from ChatGPT.

Screenshot of ChatGPT chat window displaying a request to generate ideas for a research paper. The conversation shows ChatGPT's reply with a series of ideas of what could be included in the paper.

Promt: Brain storm a list of ideas for what to include in an essay on this hypothesis.

However, I think this is still useful to a degree. It gives you some ideas to start off with and improve upon.

5. Read the sources, and write the essay outline yourself

At the end of the day, you are going to need to read those suggested sources and possibly go out and find other ones.

This is the most time-consuming step of this process. Reading is slow and difficult, but it needs to be done if you are writing a paper.

Once you have read these sources, come up with an outline for how you plan on structuring your paper.

However, the next step is to actually craft your essay. This is where things can get a little complicated.

Write The Essay Yourself

Now it’s time to actually write your paper. This is where ChatGPT shouldn’t be used.

Up till now all you have used ChatGPT for is essentially a tool to speed up googling sources and used it for ideas on how to structure your paper.

Don’t go further with this and actually write a paper using ChatGPT. This would constitute academic dishonesty and could land you in big trouble. I have an entire article on how you should actually use ChatGPT to write an essay if you are interested in this topic.

The Takeaway

If you are looking to improve how much time you spend looking for resources and coming up with ideas and brainstorming how to write a paper, ChatGPT is a good solution.

It can start with a topic and narrow it down for you into a series of hypotheses with a relevant curated reading list to get you started on the paper-writing process.

There is no doubt that this saves hours of time compared to primarily using Google as your search tool for sources.