ChatGPT is often thought of as a tool that will replace human work on tasks such as writing papers for students or professionals. But ChatGPT can also be used to support human work, and research is an excellent example.
Whether you’re working on a research paper for school or doing market research for your job, initiating the research process and finding the correct sources can be challenging and time-consuming.
ChatGPT and other AI chatbots can help by curtailing the amount of time spent finding sources, allowing you to jump more quickly to the actual reading and research portion of your work.
Picking the right chatbot
Before we get started, it’s important to understand the limitations of using ChatGPT. Because ChatGPT is not connected to the internet, it will not be able to give you access to information or resources after 2021, and it will also not be able to provide you with a direct link to the source of the information.
Being able to ask a chatbot to provide you with links for the topic you are interested in is very valuable. If you’d like to do that, I recommend using a chatbot connected to the internet, such as Bing Chat, Claude, ChatGPT Plus, or Perplexity.
This how-to guide will use ChatGPT as an example of how prompts can be used, but the principles are the same for whichever chatbot you choose.
When you’re assigned research papers, the general topic area is generally assigned, but you’ll be required to identify the exact topic you want to pick for your paper or research. ChatGPT can help with the brainstorming process by suggesting ideas or even tweaking your own.
For this sample research paper, I will use the general topic of “Monumental technological inventions that caused pivotal changes in history.” If I didn’t have a specific idea to write about, I would tell ChatGPT the general theme of the assignment with as much detail as possible and ask it for some proposals.
My prompt:I have to write a research paper on “Monumental technological inventions that caused pivotal changes in history.” It needs to be ten pages long and source five different primary sources. Can you help me think of a specific topic?
As seen by the screenshot (below), ChatGPT produced 10 viable topics, including “The Printing Press and the Spread of Knowledge”, “The Internet and the Digital Age”, “The Telegraph and the Communication Revolution”, and more.
You can then follow up with ChatGPT to ask for further information. You can even tweak these topics with an angle you like more, and continue the feedback loop until you have a topic you are settled on.
Once you have selected a topic, you can ask ChatGPT to generate an outline, including as much detail for your assignment as possible. For this example, I used the first topic that ChatGPT suggested in the previous step.
My prompt: Can you give me an outline for a research paper that is ten pages long and needs to use five primary sources on this topic, “The Printing Press and the Spread of Knowledge”?
ChatGPT generated a 13-point outline that carefully described the areas I should touch on in my paper, as seen in the photo (above). You can then use this outline to structure your paper and use the points to find sources, using ChatGPT as delineated below.
Now that you have a topic and outline established, you can ask ChatGPT about the topic of your project and ask it to deliver sources for you.
My prompt:Can you give me sources for a ten-page long paper on this topic, “The Printing Press and the Spread of Knowledge”?
ChatGPT outputs a list of five primary and five secondary sources that you can include in your paper. Remember, because ChatGPT can’t give you internet links, you will need to seek out the specific resources on your own, whether that’s Googling or visiting your school library.
In both cases, you can ask ChatGPT to help you identify a specific event or time period, and incorporate those details in your article.
In our essay example, if I wanted to include a rebuttal and delineate a time when implementing technology had negative impacts, but couldn’t think of an incident on my own, I could ask ChatGPT to help me identify one.
My prompt:What was a time in history when implementing technology backfired on society and had negative impacts?
Within seconds, ChatGPT generated 10 examples of incidents that I could weave into the research as a rebuttal.
Creating a page of the works you cited, although valuable and necessary for integrity, is a pain. Now, you can ask ChatGPT to generate citations for you by simply dropping the link or the title of the work, and asking it to create a citation in the style of your paper.
I asked ChatGPT to generate a citation for this article for ZDNET. As seen by the photo (above), the tool asked me to include the access date and the style for the citation, and then quickly generated a complete citation for the piece.
Great, here’s the MLA citation for the web link “How to Use ChatGPT to Write an Essay” from ZDNET, accessed on September 15:
“How to Use ChatGPT to Write an Essay.” ZDNET, https://www.zdnet.com/article/how-to-use-chatgpt-to-write-an-essay/. Accessed 15 Sept. 2023.
If you used something other than a website as a source, such as a book or textbook, you can still ask ChatGPT to provide a citation. The only difference is that you might have to input some information manually.