By now, we’ve all heard of the problems that AI-generated text is causing professors, particularly with regard to students who are turning in assignments that they haven’t written themselves. While there’s certainly many reasons for scholars to decry the use of apps like ChatGPT in academic writing, there are also ways that AI can also be helpful in academic life, in ways that don’t bend our ethical limits.
Professors everywhere are trying to determine how to use this new technology in their classrooms, with the University of Washington leading the way with guidelines for professors. But ChatGPT might also be useful in other contexts outside of the seminar or lecture hall.
Below is a list of five ways that academics in the humanities might use AI chatbots in their work without feeling guilty.
Note that while these tools can be immensely helpful in generating drafts of text, you’ll still need to tailor or polish their outputs in order to engage your intended audience and achieve your desired results.
1. Eliminate the pain of admin work
We all bemoan admin work. Crafting emails, memos, and even presentations can take a larger chunk of our time than actually doing what we love: researching, writing, and teaching. Well, what if there was a way that AI could help you with your admin work?
Tools like ChatGPT can be used most effectively to draft copy that will be used in more general contexts—that is to say not for publication or evaluation for a course or degree. After all, the hardest part of writing is just getting something down on the page, right?
ChatGPT can help you get started crafting a complex email, address a touchy subject with colleagues, or write boilerplate text for memos and presentations.
Do you need to write an email to a student explaining the ethics of plagiarism? Perhaps you’re not the greatest at condolences and you need to write one for your department head. Or, maybe you’ve been struggling to write up a simple explanation of what your academic center does for funding purposes.
Once you’ve got a draft going, you can tailor your writing based on your own voice and add any specific details, as necessary.
2. Generate titles for papers
To borrow a tip from Karen McKee, a science editor who analyzed the use of ChatGPT in scientific writing, one of the amazing functionalities of the AI chatbot is its ability to come up with titles for a piece of writing.
If you’ve always struggled to come up with titles for your papers, articles, essays, and even talks, ChatGPT can help.
Put your abstract into the chat and ask it to come up with five titles for you to choose from.
Here’s what it came up with for titles of a talk that I recently gave for academics seeking to transition into academic editing:
Abstract: Have you considered transferring your skills from academia into a career as an academic developmental editor, copyeditor, or proofreader? Many current and former academics want to use their experience grading student work, serving as a journal editor, or publishing books and articles to help other authors improve their writing. While freelance editing allows you to retain some connection to your field, is flexible in terms of location and work hours, and has growth potential, newbies often struggle to set up a business, get clients, and, importantly, avoid the feast or famine of freelance life. In this webinar, Dr. Cara Jordan, who grew her freelance editorial business into an agency called Flatpage, will teach you the nuts and bolts of setting up a successful academic editing business, including how to identify and capitalize on skill sets developed in the academy, find professional development and networking opportunities, build a client roster and healthy financial and legal structures, and market yourself and your business. You’ll finish this session knowing whether this field is for you and how to begin working as a professional editor.
Titles suggested by ChatGPT:
- “From Academia to Editing: A Guide to Starting a Successful Freelance Career”
- “Making the Transition: Utilizing Your Academic Skills in the World of Editing”
- “Building Your Own Editorial Business: Tips and Tricks from Dr. Cara Jordan”
- “The Freelance Editor’s Journey: Overcoming Challenges and Achieving Success”
- “Editing Matters: Exploring Career Opportunities for Former Academics”
I even used it to write a title for this blog post!
3. Generate a summary or abstract
On the other hand, let’s say that you have a paper already written and you need to generate an abstract for it, for example for a conference proposal, journal publication, or as part of a book project.
ChatGPT can be particularly useful in simplifying complex ideas or helping you distill something into a summary: after all, that’s how it works. It combs the internet for information and spits it back out at you in prose form.
If you’re working on an abstract that doesn’t need citations, or that you can go back and add citations to yourself, the app can be a big help taking the first step in getting a draft prepared.
4. Summarize a complex idea for your students
The same principle applies to summarizing complex ideas for your students. Let’s say you’re working on a lecture or crafting a discussion board post that requires you to simplify a really dense topic so that all of your students can understand.
You might begin by writing it in your own words or making some bullet points to gather your thoughts, or you might begin with something you’ve already written on this topic for another context, say an academic journal.
Plug your text into the bot and ask it to write in a simpler way, which you can go in and tailor to your purposes, for example by creating a lecture script.
Shaving time off your course prep is always welcome!
5. Update your bio
If you’re like me, you’re consistently asked to provide your bio for teaching, talks, publications, and other purposes. But what if, instead of just adding a new line to reflect a new role or research area, you could customize your bio to whatever you’re using it for?
I entered the text from my resume into ChatGPT to see what kind of bio it would create for me, purely based on a list of my experience and accomplishments, and the result was surprisingly good. I then asked it to shorten the bio from about 500 words to 200.
Try asking it to write a bio of a certain length or tailored for a talk, for example, and see what it comes up with.
Cara M. Jordan is a highly experienced editor and art historian with over 15 years in the publishing industry. She is the founder and president of a busy editorial agency and publishing house called Flatpage, which provides manuscript editing and evaluation services to a wide range of clients, including academics, nonfiction authors, artists, nonprofits, and businesses. Cara holds a PhD in art history from CUNY Graduate Center and a BA in art history and French from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is well versed in various editing styles and has experience editing a wide range of genres, including academic, nonfiction, visual arts, and business. Cara is also a skilled language editor, proficient in French and German, and a regular speaker at webinars and workshops. She is a member of several professional editing organizations and has published numerous books and articles in the field of art history.
With a little polishing, I could actually use this bio!
I’m definitely a fan of figuring out more ways we can work together with technology rather than flat-out rejecting this innovation because of the problems it might pose for grading student work (although ChatGPT checkers are already out there!). I’m curious how scholars in the humanities will not only figure out other ways to use the bot in their own lives but also in their classrooms as the platform develops.
About the author
Cara Jordan is chief editor and president at Flatpage. She has spent her career editing academic and artists' writings, primarily as a developmental editor and copyeditor. She received her PhD in art history from the Graduate Center, CUNY.