By Caity Cronkhite
April 6, 2023
As someone who began my career as a professional technical writer, I’ve been watching with interest the impact that ChatGPT is having on the writing industry. It’s changing the game in several ways, redefining the number of people who can create content and affecting how we think about writing across all industries. It’s putting us in a place where we are asking existential questions about what we need to know about writing in our own lives and what we can leave up to AI.
However, as I watch the emergence of ChatGPT, I believe people are asking the wrong questions. In educational settings, for instance, I’m hearing: “How do we prevent students from writing with ChatGPT?” Personally, I’m interested in watching industries, from tech to academia, evolve with ChatGPT and eager to see the heart of the change we are in for long term. Instead of asking how we prevent this new technology from infiltrating our old ways of doing things, we should be asking, “What is important now? How can we use this advancement to adapt and create better ways of doing what we used to do?”
We can fight ChatGPT or embrace it—but I am personally excited to explore its capabilities. It’s already replacing low-level tasks like creating outlines, doing basic research, and getting first drafts of ideas on paper. I’ve used it myself to see what it can and cannot do, and it’s truly powerful. Recently, I’ve used it to help me conduct research for a presentation I led on tech industry trends. I typed in some questions, and it gave me richer information; I loved that it gave me the information in a more conversational context. I have encouraged my entire team to experiment with ChatGPT, as well.
ChatGPT’s conversational nature is also one of its shortcomings, though. Content can sound like it’s written correctly, even when the information is inherently wrong. That, of course, can lead to people believing what they see and read, which can be dangerous. However, that’s not really a new problem: The same is true of the information we’re given with old-school search engines we all know and love. As writers, we’ve always had to verify the information we find in our own research to make sure we’re giving our audience the facts. ChatGPT simply reminds us that search engines, whether AI-driven or not, are not always right.
Since the question of quality is a major point of consideration, it is increasingly important to develop strategies for evaluating AI-generated content. There will be a need to sift through the mountain of pretty good content written by AI to get what’s really great, distinguishing your content and ideas from other companies. We are already starting to see this with ChatGPT Editor roles popping up on sites like Indeed and LinkedIn. This need will only continue to grow as ChatGPT advances in the coming days, months, and years ahead.
Additionally, in the tech space, there are ethical considerations and implications related to ChatGPT for commercial purposes. For one, organizations looking at AI-generated content have to be careful to avoid plagiarism. Tech writers need to be aware of the potential to inadvertently copy others’ work. Every company has its own unique voice and product offerings. As such, it is essential to use this tool with a discerning eye and recognize where the line exists between research and the blatant lifting and regurgitation of content.
On top of that, the developers who created ChatGPT are only human, and AI researchers and ethicists have demonstrated that the technology often reflects the biases of those who developed the algorithms. We must review any content developed by AI with a discerning eye to ensure our content is inclusive, accurate, and reflects the same diversity of thought and experience that our readers embody.
While ChatGPT has the ability to generate content quickly, it still falls short in certain areas, particularly when it comes to specialized technical writing. This is where human writers are still needed, as they have the expertise and technical knowledge required to create content that is tailored to a specific product or industry. Oftentimes, they are involved in the development process and have access to proprietary information that is not yet widely known. In contrast, ChatGPT currently doesn’t have access to information that isn’t publicly available on the web. It’s not yet known what the implications might be of using ChatGPT to write about proprietary information or products.
In addition to specialized knowledge, human writers bring years of personal experience and best practices to their work. We need people who are trained in technical writing and other specialized types of writing to determine whether content is “good.” While this can mean a lot of different things, they can generally assess whether writing is useful, accurate, and well designed. Those who are trained in specialized writing recognize what sets mediocre writing apart from great writing. They have taken the time to absorb the ins and outs of products or technical features. Despite the benefits ChatGPT affords us, we must remember that it is incapable of sorting out errors and coming up with original ideas. The writing is fine-tuned from a public pool of knowledge and lacks the nuance that human writers possess.
Finally, ChatGPT is only capable of helping humans write content; it’s not a knowledge management tool or system. While current AI tools are very helpful when you’re trying to write a first draft or research ideas, ChatGPT can’t organize, maintain, quality-check, or publish documentation, marketing collateral, or any other content. We still need writers for that.
From following industry news to engaging with other industry professionals, it’s clear to me that ChatGPT is making waves in the writing world. As I continue to explore the capabilities of ChatGPT, I’m excited about where this technology is headed; while it has already started to transform the writing industry in countless ways, I believe we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of its potential. I’ve signed up for the GPT-4 trial and I’m actively seeking out discussions on the new functionalities. As someone who believes in the power of technology to improve our lives, I’m eager to see how it will push the boundaries of what’s possible, and I’m excited for our team at Good Words to leverage this game-changing tool. By taking an open-minded approach to this technology, we can improve brainstorming, productivity, research, and, yes, writing to make documentation even better for our clients and their users.