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General Business 360 Communication Guide

Generative AI as a Writing Tool: Tips and Cautions

Generative AI as a Writing Tool: Tips and Cautions

ChatGPT is a significant advance in AI assisted writing tools that will likely be improved in new versions and by new competitors. However, using AI for writing requires careful consideration of your purpose and audience.

Think of generative AI as a tool similar to a calculator, where writing tasks are complex word problems. In the same way that you need to think to figure out what operations to input into the calculator, you have to think and draft before developing a prompt for an AI tool. You also need to think carefully before choosing language offered by an AI tool; even with basic grammar suggestions the AI is not always correct.

Additionally, you’ll always want to check to make sure that using an AI tool isn’t against the rules. Ask instructors, supervisors, and cybersecurity experts.

However, no matter what the rules are, it is always unethical to present work you did not create as your own

The key is to use AI tools as a supplement to your writing process, not to do the work for you. Be a critical reader of their output and fact check any claims they make with reliable sources. 

You also have to research and understand the limitations of these tools; their abilities are changing rapidly, so you’ll have to read up on how they work on an ongoing basis. Strategies for prompt writing, for example, continue to evolve. Our prompt suggestions include designated roles and attitudes for the AI because that seems to give better results; that will likely change.

Additionally, our prompts are designed to get you started; they would need to be tailored to your situation and expanded and refined to give you good results.

How to Use AI Writing Assistance Ethically and Responsibly

  • To Refine Research Questions & Offer Additional Search Terms. If you are researching a new topic, generative AI can help you develop more detailed questions and multiple related search terms, to take your research in directions that you may not have the background to think of yourself. However, an AI tool is NOT the place to find sources or answers to research questions; AI tools hallucinate sources and produce incorrect and/or biased information.

Prompt suggestions

You are a helpful research librarian. I want to write about “AI and labor exploitation”; can you, as a research librarian, give me five search terms that would help me find information in popular magazines, newspapers, and trade publications?

You are a caring instructor of writing and research at a public university. My research question is “what knowledge worker jobs will AI replace?”; can you, as an instructor of writing and research, give me five related research questions?

  • To Anticipate Audience. Copy and paste your draft into an AI tool and ask it to analyze how well you’ve met the needs of different types of audiences. 

Prompt suggestions

You are an accounting professional with five years of experience. This draft is written for you–am I meeting your needs as an audience? Why or why not?

This draft is designed to inform an audience with no background in finance about no-load mutual funds. What additional questions might they have and why?

  • To Gain Understanding of Writing Concepts. Confused about passive voice or information flow? Ask an AI tool to explain it to you.

Prompt suggestions: 

You are a caring instructor of writing and research at a public university:

What is passive voice and can you provide an example and explain why it should be avoided.


What is information flow and why is it important?


Where in my draft am I using jargon that might be confusing to a reader outside of my field of accounting? Please explain why.


Does this sentence have sufficient “you” view? Why or why not? How could this sentence be revised for “you” view?

  • To Receive Feedback on a Draft. Ask an AI tool to play the role of an instructor and provide an evaluation of what you’ve written so far. You can ask for general feedback or think about specific areas you’ve received feedback on before.

Prompt suggestions

You are a business communication instructor; can you give me five pieces of advice that would improve my writing and explain why they would improve my writing?

You are a business professional who cares about basing decisions on data and evidence; can you identify claims in this document that need additional support and explain why they need to be backed up with evidence?

You are a busy professional looking for actionable information on improving your listening skills. Where is the draft too vague to be useful and why?

You are a caring instructor of writing and research at a public university. What suggestions can you provide to decrease wordiness?

You’re a busy reader who doesn’t want to waste time trying to figure out what I mean. What suggestions can you give me for making my main ideas easier to understand?

You are a business professional with 10 years of experience who cares about making a good impression on readers. How would you describe the tone of this writing? Why?


How to Document Your Use of AI Tools

Protect yourself from accusations of cheating or using AI in a way that is not allowed by using the following strategies:

  • Check with your instructor or supervisor to determine documentation and citation rules.

  • Save all versions of your drafts:
    • Word: click “save as” and add the current date to the name of your document to keep a record of every change you’ve made. You’ll end up with multiple documents for your project.
    • Google Docs: Name and save different versions by clicking “file” and “version history” to keep a record of every change you’ve made.

  • Save your entire AI chat record–copy and paste into a Word or Google doc and name it so you can find it later.


Reasons to Avoid AI Writing Tools

Drafting with AI Can Create More Work for You. To use AI effectively you have to frame and reframe your prompts, evaluate multiple drafts, and then fact-check, rewrite, revise, and edit. In addition, to get usable text, it takes several prompt iterations that require in-depth subject matter and writing knowledge. In many cases, it is less work to create your own first draft.

Developing Your Own Voice Helps You Build Relationships and Expand Your Network. Professionals use writing to connect to others, build their brand, and network. You need to develop your own voice and create an authentic connection to others. Author and sociology professor Tressie McMillan Cottom defined voice as “that elusive fingerprint of all textual communication” which requires “a relationship between the reader, the world and the writer.” 

Writer, editor, and professor of journalism William Zinsser emphasized that “the product” that all writers have “to sell is not the subject being written about, but who” they are. AI tools, in most cases, don’t know who you are and cannot write in your voice to sell your ideas to your reader.

Drafting and Revising Deepen Your Thinking and Develop Your Ideas. Writing isn’t a static recording of your developed thoughts; writing is part of the process of thinking deeply about a problem, concept, or work of art. This type of deep thinking trains your brain to perform even deeper thinking.

According to Peter Elbow, foundational scholar of writing instruction, “writing…is a way to grow and cook a message.” In addition, writing can also contribute to the formation of new ideas.

Other research shows that writing can even increase gray matter volume—more gray matter means enhanced cognitive performance.

Allowing an AI tool to think for you is outsourcing critical thinking practice and robbing yourself of the opportunity to develop a skill that employers desire and improve overall cognition.

In competitive fields where most people have the same degree, creative thinking and problem solving is how you’ll stand out.

Using Accurate Information and Credible Sources Matters. AI tools like ChatGPT do not provide many sources even when prompted. They also confidently make incorrect claims. They are built to predict the next most likely word, not to provide vetted, reliable information. For example, Fast Company asked ChatGPT “What was the first TV cartoon?” and it gave a different answer every time the question was repeated, most of them incorrect. Even OpenAI’s CEO tweeted that “it's a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now.”

Using AI Can Reinforce Biases. Margaret Mitchell, an AI researcher and entrepreneur interviewed by the New York Times, further noted that AI bots, trained on internet content, reproduce all “the biases and toxic information” their sources contain.

A recent study found, for example, that ChatGPT included stereotypical language in recommendation letters, associating men with words like “expert” or “integrity” and women with words like “beauty” and “delight.” If you do not edit AI generated content, you could inadvertently reflect bias and ruin your own reputation at work.

This situation is unlikely to change; the biases built into large language models are reinforced by biased prompts added by many users, and, as one computer scientist explained, removing biases could create additional problems. It is up to the user to exercise caution and critical thinking.

Practicing Improves Your Writing. Drafting is a key part of writing and a skill that requires practice. As John Warner noted in The Writer’s Practice, “we get better at writing the same way we get better at anything else: by doing it.” Widespread use of calculators didn’t mean that no one had to learn how multiplication and division work. Being a skilled writer yourself is going to make it easier to use AI assistance effectively in the future; as users are discovering, getting the most out of chatbots requires you to write clear, detailed, and specific prompts.

Writing with Open-source AI Assistance May be Banned or Limited in Your Future Workplaces. Copying and pasting client or proprietary data into a third-party AI tool raises serious security risks. The experience of using an AI tool trained on limited internal data is different from using a tool trained on centuries of text vacuumed from the internet. Becoming too dependent on open-source AI tools for your writing could cause you problems in the future if your workplace restricts or limits their use.

Communicating a Specific Message to a Specific Audience Requires Extensive Customization. AI-generated messages have a generic tone unless you repeatedly refine your prompting questions and push for greater and greater specificity through careful reviews of multiple drafts.

Writing that is narrowly tailored to your reader will be more effective in communicating your message than a message without personalization. Think of spam email and mail addressed to “current resident.” Many AI produced messages have the same feel and will be equally ineffective at reaching an audience.

Writing in the Workplace Often Serves as Preparation for Further Discussion. If you outsourced a report to AI and your boss has questions about it, it will be awkward if you can’t answer them because you didn’t write something you presented as your own work. Drafting and revising help you develop a deep understanding of a problem or issue, which will be necessary if you’re asked for additional explanation.

Using AI Tools Has Ethical Implications. Time reported that OpenAI paid Kenyan workers “between around $1.32 and $2 per hour” to define offensive text for ChatGPT, work that involved reading violent and disturbing content and led to feelings of trauma in workers. 

Slate’s Future Tense noted that OpenAI upended the work of millions of teachers without consulting them. Teachers scrambling to AI-proof their assignments are largely doing this extra work for free.

Sustainability is also an issue; AI may prove to be a valuable tool for solving environmental issues, but it also consumes enormous amounts of energy and other resources.

Artists and writers whose work was used to train different large language models have filed lawsuits against for-profit companies using their work, without credit or compensation, to create AI tools. Many creators worry that companies that have used their work without permission are creating tools that will also eliminate future opportunities.

Content Credit

Content on this page was created by the Business Communication team at the Wisconsin School of Business.