Every person and their pet is talking about ChatGPT these days, and not a workshop or webinar goes by where it doesn’t come up as a question. I’ve had plenty of fun playing around with it – my favourite activity is to ask it to write poems and songs in certain styles – but I’m worried that I see lots of people arguing that it’s a great tool for generating ideas for your writing. I mean, it seems like almost everybody is saying this – in freelance writing, in copywriting, in social media content.
I’m not old-fashioned, I promise – I work in social media, I have to (and want to) keep up to date with changes. But what worries me about this jumping-on-the-ChatGPT-bandwagon issue is … well, it’s a lot of things.
Copyright and plagiarism
At a basic level, the originality of the content ChatGPT produces is a problem – it’s derived entirely from the work of others. Sure, you can probably pass a Copyscape test now but if someone else asks it the same question and publishes a blog post without too many edits – well, then we’re duplicating content (Google hates this!). You also aren’t referencing sources … you don’t even know the sources. Which brings me to …
Ask ChatGPT to write your biography. I have a fairly unique name – google me and you’ll get pages and pages of links and they’re all to work I’ve done. But ChatGPT comes up with this:
Amanda Kendle is a freelance writer and travel blogger based in Perth, Western Australia. With a background in teaching and a passion for travel, Amanda has been sharing her experiences and insights through her blog, Not A Ballerina, since 2005. Her writing has been featured in a variety of publications, including Lonely Planet, The Huffington Post, and Travel + Leisure. When she’s not writing, Amanda enjoys exploring new destinations, learning new languages, and sharing her love of travel with others through her writing and social media channels. (my bold)
My writing has, indeed, been in a variety of publications … but not a single one that this biography mentions. It sounds so plausible, but it’s completely false. The rest of it sounds heavily plagiarised from bios I’ve submitted to various organisations in the past, too, plus it misses out some seriously important chunks of my life. And this is for someone with a relatively unique online identity. Anyway, my point is I think we need to assume that every part of what ChatGPT produces requires good fact-checking (and then why not just do the research and write it yourself in the first place?). Which in turn brings me to …
Originality and fun
Obviously, not everybody who reads my blog is a writer – but a whole heap of my clients are writers, and a big proportion beyond them also enjoy writing. (For the writing-haters, I’ll get to you soon.) Why skip the fun part – the idea generation, the proper deep rabbit-hole research, the interviews? I’ve seen many people spruiking the value of using ChatGPT for idea generation – to find extra ideas they haven’t thought of yet. Or to get them started on a topic. I was chatting with a friend yesterday who suggested ChatGPT is a “big refined search engine”, and that perhaps many people are drawn to it because actually, their skill in really getting good information out of Google is limited. But in that case, maybe spend time learning how to improve search results – where you can see the origin of your material and judge the validity of it – instead. A lot of this “find the extra ideas” reasoning seems connected to writing listicles or “best X …” articles – and if ChatGPT can produce these with such ease it might suggest there are already too many articles like that in the world. ChatGPT can’t incorporate your own ideas and experiences and stories – and that’s what makes writing people really love to read, in my opinion.
But it’s quicker …
So if you’re not a real fan of writing but you find you have to write as part of your work – like blog posts or social media posts for your business – then I can see why you’d be drawn to it. (For people who work as writers, I actually can’t see the attraction – it feels like a way to make your work more boring, if you ask me!). But is it quicker in the end? If you write a blog post with the help of ChatGPT and then nobody reads it because it’s bland and unexciting – did that help or hinder your business? If the social media post you generate is riddled with factual errors and you either spend time fact-checking or you publish as is and your followers question you – was that a good idea? There are lots of ways to write content for your business more quickly – for example, I often get my clients to record themselves talking about a topic and then transcribing it (via AI tools like Otter.ai – see, I don’t hate all AI!) and using that as the basis for content.
What about in the future?
Of course, this is a highly evolving area. One of the current limitations of ChatGPT is it was only trained on information up to early 2022, so it doesn’t even know that the world still exists in 2023. This will, of course, change, and perhaps there’ll be changes which address some of my issues above. I’m open to following along and seeing what happens. But as of March 2023, I’m not ready to concede that it’s an appropriate tool for writers.