In the rapidly evolving landscape of artificial intelligence, ChatGPT has emerged as a prominent player, captivating users with its conversational prowess. Developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT leverages the power of the GPT-3.5 architecture to understand and generate human-like text. While its capabilities are impressive, there are inherent advantages and challenges associated with this technology, especially when it comes to using it to help write documents common in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), be it a technical report, journal article, dissertation, thesis, grant, proposal, presentation, or another kind of document. In this article, we examine the pros and cons of using ChatGPT to help with your technical writing.
Are you stuck on a project or process and need some help generating new ideas or solutions? ChatGPT is a great tool to use to help you in this regard. For instance, if you’re writing a dissertation and have two of the three chapters complete, but aren’t sure how to frame your next chapter, you might ask ChatGPT for some ideas. Whether you use the ideas or not, your mind has already started the process of thinking through your problem, and a solution won’t be far behind.
One of the notable strengths of ChatGPT is its versatility. It can be harnessed across various aspects of research. While you don’t want to use it to write your document (see the cons list below), you do want to use it to help you with other areas of your research. ChatGPT is great at helping you find relevant sources for your topic, creating paraphrases or summaries of articles/book, and guiding document organization so that your document tells a cohesive story from start to finish.
A savvy ChatGPT user can leverage the software to help identify patterns in data sets. While the analysis part is up to you, there’s nothing unethical about receiving some help picking out the areas of your data that exhibit patterns in which you need to analyze for your research project.
OpenAI employs a continual training approach for ChatGPT, allowing the model to learn from a diverse range of data sources and adapt to evolving language patterns. This ensures that the AI stays relevant and improves its performance over time, addressing potential issues and enhancing its overall capabilities. However, this asset is limited, as we explore further below in the con section.
Do you have a long list that needs to be sorted by name, alphabetical order, date, size, or any other category? ChatGPT can do that for you in a fraction of the time it would take for you to do it yourself (or use another program to do it for you). This feature comes in handy when you have a long list of research sources that you need to alphabetize for your Reference Section.
While ChatGPT excels in understanding and generating natural language, it sometimes struggles with contextual understanding. It may misinterpret context, leading to responses that are technically correct but lack nuanced comprehension. This limitation can result in misleading or inaccurate information, which is certainly not something you want to be known for as a STEM professional.
Once you use ChatGPT to generate content for you, you no longer hold the copyright for that content, and you also lose all proprietary claims on the idea/content. This is one of the main reasons that ChatGPT should not be used for research, technical, or STEM writing. You’ve worked hard to gain the disciplinary knowledge that you hold, you may want to think twice about giving that intellectual labor away so freely and easily. Additionally, if you work in industry, your employer may not be too keen to know that they do not own the copyright or legal rights to the documents (and ideas) you generate and produce for them as their employee. (As a side note: many companies have blocked their employees from using Chat GPT.)
Like many AI models, ChatGPT is susceptible to bias; if the data used to train the AI is bias, all information from that AI will perpetuate that bias. This can manifest in the form of biased language, stereotypes, or skewed perspectives in its responses. OpenAI acknowledges this challenge and actively works towards mitigating bias, but it remains an ongoing concern.
While ChatGPT boasts of continual updates, it does not possess the capability for real-time learning during a conversation. It relies on its pre-existing knowledge and training data, which means it may not adapt to new information or evolving contexts within the course of a conversation. This limitation can impact its responsiveness in dynamic scenarios.
Aside from relinquishing proprietary data and copyright to your writing, ChatGPT is not reliable when it comes to long-form, substantial writing. Only you can understand your research project in the way that is required to write a technical report or journal article or grant proposal. You’re still the subject-matter expert when it comes to your own research, and outsourcing your writing to an automated system will produce sub-par, often jenky, writing that displays fundamental mistakes regarding all aspects of your research (research questions, data analysis, results, conclusions, future research, etc.). ChatGPT may be useful for some writing aspects, but it can never take the place of how you, a subject-matter expert, understand and write about your own research.
ChatGPT represents a significant leap forward in the realm of AI, offering a myriad of advantages across diverse applications. However, the technology is not without its challenges. As a STEM Writer, the only way to improve your own writing is to write.
As the field of AI progresses, it is essential to acknowledge both the potential and limitations of technologies like ChatGPT. As users and developers leverage ChatGPT, it is crucial to approach its implementation with a discerning eye, understanding its strengths and limitations to harness its full potential while mitigating risks.
In STEM writing, you need to know your own research as intimately as possible, and a large part of that requires writing. The STEM Writing Institute (SWI) offers individualized feedback and writing workshops to all STEM graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and industry professionals who want to improve their writing. Whether you’re situated in engineering writing, science writing, technical writing, medical writing, or any other kind of STEM writing, SWI is available to help with all of your STEM writing needs. Register for an SWI workshop or one-on-one consultation today.
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