Using Generative AIs for Writing with Less Risk

Generative artificial intelligence (GAI) tools for writing (e.g. ChatGPT, Quillbot, Copilot, Gemini) are being increasingly used in academic and professional settings. They can be powerful tools for learning language, learning about forms of writing (genres), brainstorming, revising, and editing. But they also come with some risks. Below we list some of these risks along with suggestions for mitigating these risks.

Risk: Material you provide a GAI may be shared, leaked, or hacked.

How to minimize this risk:

  • Do not put any information into a GAI that could be linked to an individual person (e.g. names, telephone numbers, email addresses, ID numbers) or information that is protected by FERPA (e.g. data linked to students, test scores).
  • Before putting any information into ChatGPT that is proprietary (information that someone owns – like your original research or material from a published article), be sure to turn off the default that adds the material to ChatGPT’s repository. Here are the basic steps (read more here):
  1. In ChatGPT, select the three dots next to your name.     
  2. Then select “Settings & Beta”. Next, select Data Controls.       
  3. Finally, disable the “Chat history & training” feature.
  • In order to better protect user information, Cornell is developing a Cornell-affiliated GAI with Microsoft Copilot, which is expected to be available in mid-March (learn more here). Use this GAI once it is available.

Risk: Policies related to use of GAIs for writing are sometimes unclear, confusing, unstated, quickly changing, or completely undeveloped, putting you at risk of being charged with cheating.

How to minimize this risk:

  • Before using GAIs for writing, find out your professor or PI’s position on it. This is important when writing seminar papers or other classroom assignments, but is even more important when writing masters theses, dissertations, co-authored papers, and other papers that are submitted outside of Cornell. To facilitate the conversation, you may present your professor with ELSO’s handout, “How GAI Is Being Used for Writing,” to discuss which uses are and are not permissible for a particular writing project or context.
  • Carefully document your uses of GAI while writing so that you can provide a detailed statement of use if required.
  • If you are writing for a journal, conference, or grant-funding organization, check their policies related to using and citing GAI.
  • If you are using GAI for any research paper, be sure to cite it, following guidelines for the citation style you are using (here are guidelines from APA and Chicago Manual of Style).

Risk: GAIs only generate predicted language. They do not generate fact-checked or accurate information, citations, paraphrases, or summaries.

How to minimize this risk:

  • Do not trust any quoted material or citations generated by GAI. Look up the citations and quotations to see if they are real.
  • Do not trust information generated by GAI. Check everything.
  • If you are using GAI to paraphrase or summarize information, check it for accuracy against the original.
  • If you are using GAI to revise your draft, review the revised material carefully to make sure it has not changed the meaning of your text.

Risk: GAI generates text that is written in a style that is flowery, lacking in detail, and doesn’t sound like your natural voice.

How to minimize this risk:

  • Rather than ask ChatGPT to generate a draft for you, only ask it for help when you get stuck, such as when you are trying to identify words and phrases.
  • Rather than ask ChatGPT to revise a draft for you, ask it to provide you with a list of issues to be edited.
  • Rather than accept a revised draft from ChatGPT as a final draft, compare it to your original, identifying revisions and then deciding which revisions to incorporate into the original draft.

Risk: Overreliance on GAIs for writing can hamper your development as an English language user and/or writer in English. 

How to minimize this risk:

  • Use ChatGPT to get feedback on particular aspects of language or style. For instance, if you would like to become more proficient at using prepositions, ask ChatGPT to list any potential problems with prepositions but not to comments on other aspects of your draft.
  • Use ChatGPT to assist you with word choice by asking it for synonyms, asking it which word is more often used in a particular context (e.g. research paper in biomechanics), and asking it to give examples of the word used in sentences.
  • Use ChatGPT to give you feedback on how clearly you have communicated an idea by providing a sentence or paragraph and asking it to paraphrase or summarize it.
  • Use ChatGPT to help you analyze the structure of your argument by asking it to turn a few paragraphs into an outline.