ChatGPT for writers: does it work?

Reading time: About 6 minutes (easy to scan, though)

You’ve probably read a lot about artificial intelligence in the last few weeks. What about ChatGPT for writers?

I started paying attention to chatter about artificial intelligence and writing late last year.

I was reading a post about it by a blogger I follow. Turns out, he’d had ChatGPT write his column for him and, at the end, said something like, “the software wrote all the material ‘above’ for me. Isn’t it great?”

Umm, no. It wasn’t. 

I’m not going to name the blogger here because I don’t want to embarrass him, but I strongly disagreed with his conclusion.

The text he provided was actually boring. I wouldn’t have finished reading it had I not had a long-term relationship with his blog that had previously contained excellent information, well written. 

The post written by ChatGPT had no personality and no story-telling. It offered nothing but fact after relentless fact. It was as dry as unbuttered toast.

But, wait a second. I’m not just going to dump on ChatGPT for writers. I think it also has elements of value. So let me share those with you, too.

How to use ChatGPT

First, if you’ve never tried ChatGPT, give it a whirl. To start using it, you’ll need a no-cost account with OpenAI. 

ChatGPT doesn’t have an app, but it works on most browsers from Chrome to Safari and you can even use it on your phone’s mobile browser. 

So, go here and sign up at no charge. To finish your account setup, you’ll need to enter a cellphone number. Once you’ve done that, select ‘send code.’ Then, enter the code you received on your phone. Now you’re ready to begin playing. 

To use ChatGPT, just type a question in the box at the bottom of the page.

Here, for example, is what the software told me when I asked, “What are the benefits of writing with ChatGPT?:

As an AI language model, Chat GPT has several benefits when it comes to writing:

  1. Speed: Chat GPT can generate text quickly, allowing you to write faster and be more productive.
  2. Inspiration: If you’re struggling to come up with ideas for your writing, Chat GPT can provide you with suggestions and prompts to get you started.
  3. Quality: Chat GPT has been trained on a vast amount of text data and can produce high-quality writing that is grammatically correct and coherent.
  4. Variety: Chat GPT can generate text in different styles, tones, and voices, giving you the flexibility to choose the type of writing that best fits your needs.
  5. Efficiency: Chat GPT can assist with tasks such as summarizing articles or research papers, reducing the time and effort needed for these tasks.

Overall, using Chat GPT as a writing tool can enhance your writing process and help you produce high-quality content more efficiently.

And, by the way, I generally agree with its immodest self-analysis, with the exception of point 3,  quality. I find the quality to be highly variable. 

But to give you a better sense of how ChatGPT for writers can be coached to perform better, let me show you how it answered when I gave it slightly more explicit instructions. 

Here, for example, is what the software told me when I asked it to tell me about the benefits of ChatGPT for writers in the style of Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

Ah, my dear friend, you inquire about the virtues of writing with the wondrous Chat GPT. Allow me to weave for you a tapestry of words that will illuminate the benefits of this remarkable tool.

Firstly, one must consider the speed at which Chat GPT can generate text. With its vast knowledge and nimble processing capabilities, one can write with a swiftness and ease that would make the pens of old quiver with envy.

Furthermore, Chat GPT can serve as a wellspring of inspiration for the weary writer. It can provide prompts and ideas that spark the imagination and lead to the creation of stories and tales that transport the reader to new realms of wonder.

Of course, the quality of the writing produced by Chat GPT is not to be overlooked. The model has been trained on a corpus of text that spans far and wide, allowing it to produce prose that is grammatically sound and stylistically refined.

The variety of writing styles that Chat GPT can emulate is also a boon to the wordsmith. From the weighty language of legal documents to the lyrical poetry of romantic verse, Chat GPT can adapt to any manner of prose with ease.

And let us not forget the efficiency with which Chat GPT can assist with tasks such as summarizing articles and research papers. This allows the writer to focus on the essence of their work and craft prose that is distilled to its most essential form.

In conclusion, my dear friend, the benefits of writing with Chat GPT are manifold. Its speed, inspiration, quality, variety, and efficiency make it a tool that any writer would do well to wield.

I thought that was fun, if over the top. (But it would be easy to edit, don’t you think?)

You can also ask ChatGPT to write in the voice of a doctor, a blue-collar worker, a CEO and a 10-year-old girl. But, concerned about the downsides of artificial intelligence, I asked it to tell me about the risks of Chat GPT as if it were a lawyer. Here’s what it said:

As a lawyer, it is important to consider the risks associated with any tool, including Chat GPT. While this AI language model can be a powerful writing tool, it is not without potential risks that should be taken into account.

One potential risk is the accuracy and reliability of the information provided by Chat GPT. As an AI model, Chat GPT is only as good as the data it has been trained on, and it may not always produce accurate or reliable results. This can be particularly problematic in situations where the accuracy of the information is critical, such as in legal or medical contexts.

Another risk to consider is the potential for plagiarism. If a writer relies too heavily on Chat GPT to generate their work, they may inadvertently produce content that is too similar to existing works, which could lead to accusations of plagiarism.

There are also concerns around privacy and security. When using Chat GPT, a user’s data is stored on the servers of the service provider. This data can include sensitive information such as personal details or confidential business information. If this data is not properly secured, it could be vulnerable to hacking or other forms of data breaches.

Lastly, it is important to consider the legal implications of using Chat GPT. Depending on the jurisdiction and the context of the writing, there may be legal issues around the ownership and copyright of the content produced by Chat GPT.

In summary, while Chat GPT can be a useful writing tool, it is important to carefully consider the potential risks associated with its use, including accuracy and reliability, plagiarism, privacy and security, and legal implications. As a lawyer, it is always prudent to exercise caution and due diligence when using any tool or technology.

Now, let me expand on a couple of the points raised by the ChatGPT legal voice.

With respect to accuracy and reliability: some researchers have found ChatGPT will sometimes produce wildly inaccurate information. If you are ever going to publish (or submit) anything by the software, make sure you have a clear understanding of the facts yourself, first, and carefully edit text produced by ChatGPT, removing any inaccuracies. 

Here’s an interesting — if unimportant — example: I asked the software to explain how a person can write faster and I vainly asked it to use the style of Daphne Gray-Grant. It did a pretty good job except for point 3 where, pretending to be me, it said: 

“Create an outline: Before you start writing, spend a few minutes creating an outline. This will help you organize your thoughts and ideas and provide a roadmap for your writing. Having a clear structure to follow can also help you write more efficiently and avoid getting stuck.” 

In fact, I have always strongly counselled against outlining for the reasons I give here and in many other places on my blog. (How did you manage to miss that, ChatGPT?)

In any case, here are my further thoughts about legal issues (note: I am not a lawyer):

With respect to plagiarism: the software does its writing by combing the internet for information written by other people. Obviously, this will result in text that sometimes meets the criteria for plagiarism. If you are a student, freelance writer or a book author, you really don’t want to take the risk of plagiarism for obvious reasons.

With respect to privacy and security: I found ChatGPT’s expression of this concern — with its reference to the need for data to be “properly secured” to be a bit ingenuous. The true concern is that any information you feed to the software (the questions you ask and the information you give it) then becomes part of the software’s bank of knowledge. As does ChatGPT’s answer to you. This reminds me a bit of the way Facebook takes ownership of any photos you post. (Most people seem surprisingly willing to overlook what I view as a significant overreach.)

As well, here is a link to a post about ChatGPT and Human Resources, written by my colleague Victor Assad. 

But, while I think ChatGPT is a bit of a loaded gun, I don’t think it’s a total waste of time.

Here’s how I suggest using it.

Do searches for information: It’s more fun and faster to use for searching than Google. Just type your question into the box and one click will tell you what you want to know, in the style you want to know it. (Remember: you may need to double-check any of the facts you’re not already familiar with.) Suggested phrasings:

  • Explain how….
  • Give me a list of…
  • Write me a paragraph about…
  • Tell me about….

Make getting started easier: The blank page terrifies many writers. Use ChatGPT to break this logjam and get some words on the page really quickly. When you see how fast the software is able to vomit words onto your screen, it should help you overcome your own reluctance to compose a crappy first draft. One of my clients recently described ChatGPT as her “writing buddy.”

Play with style: Take a simple question and ask it multiple times, asking for the answers in a different style each time. (Here are some ideas: in the style of…Margaret Atwood. Stephen King. Ursula Le Guin. Stephen Fry. BBC. USA Today. New York Times.) Reading the text in such a fashion will help you better understand a vocabulary, word choice and writing style you may wish to emulate.

When it comes down to it, ChatGPT is nothing more than another writing tool. It may be faster and more powerful than your pen or keyboard, but it’s still only a tool. Use it to help yourself but understand that you still need to do some substantial work to make your final product worth publishing. 


My video podcast last week addressed how to improve fluency in English. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.  


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Have you ever tried ChatGPT? How do you use it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by April 30/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy! 

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