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How to become a better writer with ChatGPT

“Writers are becoming lazy and incompetent.” “Being able to write well will soon be completely unnecessary.” Statements like this have become common since the emergence of generative AI, like ChatGPT. In practice, though, it seems like humans cannot be completely replaced: a large language model like ChatGPT can do a lot, but it is actually a ‘stochastic parrot’: the model forms words and sentences based on probability, but does not understand their meaning. A human writer who can think critically is therefore especially important in this regard. Writing trainers Myrte van Hilten and Griet Coupé can show you how to collaborate effectively with ChatGPT. That way, you won't become a lazy writer, but rather, a better writer.

No more writer's block

You sit down at your desk – time to type up that blogpost. You start writing, but immediately get stuck on that catchy first sentence. How about asking ChatGPT? “Write a 500-word blogpost on understandable language in healthcare.” You are answered with a generic text that has little content and is far removed from your own writing style.

Is this scenario relatable? Many writers want to start writing right away. But it is better to spend some more time preparing your text first. What is your goal and who are your readers? What will the content of your text be and how will you structure it? ChatGPT can help you brainstorm, but you must ultimately build the text yourself. With a good plan, you can write a first draft fairly easily. You might be tempted to have ChatGPT write this first draft right away. But would you like the result to really feel like an original text by your own hand? Then quickly type out a draft version yourself and, above all, don't be too critical. You can perfect the text later on.

Step by step towards a better text

Only once you have a first draft should you start looking critically at your text: what do you need to adjust before you can present it to a reader? Many writers rewrite a few sentences and fix some language errors. That is also what ChatGPT will do if you instruct it: “Improve my text”.

Visual of building a text

Still, you will have to be a little more thorough if you wish to end up with a really good text. After all, writing skills are not just about producing correct language. A text is like a pyramid: the foundation is the content and the overall structure. This is what you should build on as you perfect your paragraphs. As a finishing touch, you can complete the top of the pyramid with the appropriate style, well-flowing sentences and correct language use. We always recommend starting at the bottom of the pyramid when revising your text, and moving up one step at a time. After all, there is no point in working on the full stops and commas if you still have to restructure entire paragraphs. At each step, you can ask ChatGPT for help. At the bottom of the pyramid, ChatGPT is especially good at brainstorming and coaching, and the further up you go, the better ChatGPT can help you revise your text.

Expert paradox

But how do you decide which aspects of your text to revise? This is where the expert paradox comes in: to learn how to write better with ChatGPT, you actually have to already be a good writer. In other words, only when you can critically reflect on your text and identify what is lacking, can you write effective prompts for revisions. So, it is very important to not only develop AI skills, but also writing skills and critical thinking skills. The more often you go through these steps, the better you will get!

What are effective prompts? A few tips:

  • Content and overall structure: Ask ChatGPT to create a plan based on your first draft. Compare this ‘reverse plan’ with your original plan. Can you get rid of any parts? Is everything in the right place? 
  • Paragraph structure: A good paragraph comprises one key message that is stated in a key sentence, often at the beginning of the paragraph. Give ChatGPT a paragraph and ask it to identify the key message and key sentence. Does the answer match your key message and key sentence? If not, then you’ll need to revise your paragraph.
  • Writing style: Have you noticed that your text is still too long-winded? Ask ChatGPT to give you tips to make the text more concise. You can also ask ChatGPT to make several shorter versions of one sentence. You can then choose the best version or combine the options yourself until you are completely satisfied.

Find your own style

Some writers write narratively, others point by point; some write simply, others with much verbosity. Your writing style is the personality of your text: at the end of the day, there is no AI tool in the world that can write like you. Still, you can give ChatGPT some of your personality. If you click on your profile, the ‘Customise ChatGPT’ option will appear. Here, you can tell ChatGPT a bit about yourself and how you like to write. ChatGPT will then instantly adapt its output to your writing style.

We believe that without possessing writing skills, you won't be able to achieve a good text, whether or not you use AI. At In'to Languages, writing skills and AI skills thus go hand in hand: one can reinforce the other. Will writers disappear in the future? No, but perhaps their work will quickly be taken over by writers who do collaborate with AI.

Radboud in'to Languages offers courses, workshops and tailor-made training sessions in writing skills, academic writing and writing with generative AI.

Griet Coupé en Myrte van Hilten
Written by
Dr G.M.M. Coupé (Griet)M. van Hilten (Myrte)
Griet Coupé teaches Academic communication at In'to Languages and is the coordinator of the Radboud Writing Lab. Myrte van Hilten is an English teacher at In'to and gives training courses in Academic Communication.