Clue: it can but it can’t do it all
It’s the new, big thing. People are using AI to create articles, blog posts, advertising, and various other forms of writing. It seems like a great idea; type in a few prompts, press ‘Write’, and away you go… a fully formed piece of writing ready to publish. Seems like an easy way to churn out all the content you need. But there are downsides.
First of all, what is AI in the context of content creation?
AI text generation is based on chatbots, AI assistants, and existing web content. There are many platforms offering an AI service, most are paid (and, note they aren’t cheap), but there are some new ones that are built into other software, such as Notion (a productivity planner and note-taking app). And Microsoft has announced it will be built into Word.
The software you may hear of most is ChatGPT. GPT = Generative Pre-trained Transformer. ChatGPT can produce text in almost any style you ask it to.
How does it work?
Put in simple terms, the user enters a topic, a title, and some pertinent points that they want to address. Then the bot will go off and at lightning speed tour through existing content on the web. It’ll gather up text, read blogs, social media, and even videos. Then it returns and regurgitates it in a mostly coherent form. It cleverly manages to do it so it isn’t just copying what’s already out there.
Why you shouldn’t use AI exclusively
Despite the claims that it will replace human writers, text generation is not yet at that stage. However, that’s not stopping people from churning it out at pace.
The digital universe will be full of bland, derivative, often factually incorrect, boring, colorless writing. AI might make the construction of an article effortless, but readers are human beings and human beings need the human touch if they are going to remain readers.
Writing requires a voice
Excluding technical writing, medical reports, and studies, if your goal is to communicate with your readers, you need a voice. As a new-ish writer, you may have heard this multiple times and puzzled over what it means.
What exactly is ‘voice’ in writing? It’s hard to define, but it is inherently a human quality. For instance, you can tell I’m a human because there’s a certain tone to my writing. That’s because I am writing TO you, dear reader.
In contrast, AI simply lays out its wares on the table with no embellishment, no nuance, no warmth, and no voice. It’s plain, logical, and ultimately soporific. Your reader will press the Back button within a paragraph or two.
Other downsides to AI generated text
I’ve been experimenting with AI and while its ‘abilities’ have impressed me, I have also observed a few shortcomings aside from the tendency to bland regurgitation.
Sometimes AI gets its facts wrong. The programs are basically text scraping, i.e. they create blocks of text by amalgamating similar text already published on the web. Not every source is correct. Therefore, any fact stated must be checked for accuracy.
AI text displays obvious giveaways. For example, “In this article, we will discuss…” It’s always ‘we’. Often when you check the conclusion, it’s actually an introduction. Writers who are attempting to write in a language not their own will miss these signs.
Occasionally, the text will contradict itself within the piece. Sometimes within the same paragraph.
Repetition is a problem. You’ll see the same idea, the same sentence, and similar phrasing repeated in varying forms throughout.
There are no insights or development. As a writer lays out their ideas and progresses through a piece, there is an evolution of sorts. Expansion on the topic. A decent writer aims to bring something new to the subject. AI-produced text does not do this. It merely spits out a facsimile of existing material which leads to frantic Back button pressing.
Lastly, it facilitates academic cheating. Because of the way the software can sidestep plagiarism checks, it is a simple matter for students to turn in essays and assignments using AI. It’s already happening. It could, without intervention, transform our current educational systems.
How could AI be useful?
The major way that I found AI to be helpful was by eliminating writer’s block, or procrastination. I typed in a few words to get started, for example: ‘history of tarot in Europe’, and up comes a useful couple of hundred words that I could edit and build on.
The writing is plagiarism free. This is huge. There is a plagiarism checker built into most AI applications. This means the generated article will not trip an automatic ‘copied content’ filter.
However, I had to completely rewrite the text until it bore no resemblance to the blah blah dullness. I made sure my voice came through. Sentences shortened, lengthened, and that elusive ‘zing’ added.
AI-generated articles provide a useful framework for a complete article, but the work as described must be done. And this work requires a good standard of language skills, an understanding of communication, and familiarity with your audience. And, importantly, a decent working knowledge of the topic. You cannot rely on AI as a research replacement.
Writing: Human vs artificial intelligence
I created a headline, “How Does AI Help You Write?” and these are two of the paragraphs the program produced.
In this article, we will look at the advantages of using AI in writing. There are many benefits to using AI in your content. The first advantage of using AI in writing is that it allows you to create unique content. If you are looking to stand out from the crowd, then you should consider using AI in your articles.
Another benefit of using AI in your writing is that it makes it easier for people to understand. When you use an AI tool, the software creates a document that uses a voice and tone similar to how humans speak. This means that readers can easily follow along with what you're saying without having to read your words.
There are the flags:
- “In this article we will look at…”
- Repetition of the same ideas: advantages, benefits, ease.
- Repetition of similar phrasing: “in writing,” “in your content,” “in writing,” (again), “in your articles,” ”in your writing.”
- Incorrect ‘fact’: readers don’t have to read. This is because the scraper has confused audio with written material.
I think AI has its place. It can kick-start your own writing by providing a useful framework. It gives writers a chance to defeat the debilitating writer’s block by having words on the page to edit. Even if, by the end, those words have all been replaced.
Unfortunately, most people who use text generators will not recognize the problems, and, until AI improves enough to build on original writing created by actual humans, it will swamp the online world in mediocre, repetitive, voiceless, blog posts and articles.
As human writers, let’s do our utmost to counteract all that by publishing unique articles full of life and inspiration. Work that stands out. Writing that keeps the reader on the page, eager to soak up your ideas and information.
Final word (by a human)
It appears that all is not lost; we don’t have to throw away our pens just yet. Princeton science student, Edward Tian, has already created an app that can detect AI-written essays. The app, GPTZero, is able to score text based on certain criteria. It will then determine if the writing is more likely to be written by a human or a text generator. I imagine that it will spawn many more such apps so that universities and writing platforms will be able to benefit.
To you, aspiring writer, I say, aim to fulfill the idea in this quote by author and blogger, Henneke Duistermaat:
“I like thinking of the final image humming around in my readers’ minds—like a red poppy in sea of grey content.”
In other words, add the human element to your work to create a mental image in your readers’ minds. Don’t be seduced by the dull, mechanical promise of AI text generation. Use it by all means, but ultimately make your writing reflect your artistry.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2023 Bev G