Textual synergy: how to make generative AI a valuable colleague?
"He who writes, stays," goes the saying. If doomsayers have their way, however, a lot of writing professions are in danger of extinction. In this blog, I like to take a look at the ways in which generative language models such as ChatGPT can be a greater blessing than curse, and some of the things you can use these artificial accomplices for.
Dot the AI's First, let's dot the AI's. What is generative AI and how exactly does it work when writing texts? I'm happy to let ChatGPT explain for itself:
"Generative AI is a form of artificial intelligence that is capable of producing new content based on the knowledge and patterns it has learned from large data sets. It uses neural networks to generate text, images or sounds similar to the input it has received. In writing, generative AI analyzes large amounts of written content to understand patterns, structures and linguistic rules. "
Producing ≠ creating Although AI can produce content, it cannot come up with original things. For example, certain wording and word choices recur over and over again. Hollow statements like "in the modern world" or gratuitous superlatives that are as meaningless as they are persuasive are sprinkled over your text like ground cheese. Unlike cheese, superlatives can actually put too much on your plate. Even opinions, creativity or humor remain difficult to capture in 1's and 0's. In practice, the request to make a text funnier or give it a sarcastic undertone results in a bland Hollander imitation from which our northern neighbors have surely already collectively distanced themselves. This is why I am skeptical of so-called AI content creation.
So at the basis of a strong AI-generated text remains humanly created, or at least critically selected input. Providing the right guidelines, called prompts, also remains crucial to getting results that meet your expectations. This can range from the slant of a text, its length or the use of certain keywords. AI is also fine in SEO-proofing texts, as that is where fixed rules take precedence over poetic license.
AI can also be used perfectly well as a brainstorming partner. You can ask the language model to give suggestions on content or form, come up with (intermediate) titles or synonyms. The generative language model can thus add a new dimension to the creative process by quickly and efficiently generating ideas that would otherwise remain unthought of.
Writing starts with staring Copywriter Bavo Van Landeghem opens his excellent book "Write Them Under the Table" with the writing advice to stare out the window. He describes clearing your head as a "springboard to a brilliant angle." You have to get in the mood to start writing. Waiting for inspiration is unfortunately considered inefficient, and the cliché is true that the first sentence on your paper or screen is often the hardest to write. Very annoyingly, I myself often get inspiration in the shower or when I'm in bed, two moments when there are no distractions around and thus my brain can be productive. Let those be precisely the moments when I have nothing to do to write out those ideas. What a writer can suffer ...
As a nudge to squeeze out that first sentence, AI can work fine to transform an existing text - a transcription, loose thoughts or previously written text - into the first version of new content. Personally, I find it much easier to make a mediocre text better, than to get started with a blank page. The proportion of window-gazing while waiting for inspiration and action is thus cut down considerably. That leaves more time to come up with angles, metaphors and call-to-actions. For those elements, you can ask AI for suggestions but these suggestions will never be original, as they are always formulated based on existing texts. Rather, let those suggestions be a motivation to do better than the greatest common denominator the algorithm presents.
Proofreading A thorough proofreading is required with any text, especially AI-generated content. Not only style and grammar deserve critical scrutiny, but factual statements must also be checked off at all times. Although AI works according to pattern recognition, it sometimes makes wrong links and draws wrong conclusions. In addition, AI dares to be loose with figures, quotes and source references. By the way, AI has no consciousness of guilt: like a car that hits a pedestrian, it cannot be held responsible for the actions of whoever is at the wheel.
I mentioned the opening passage of "Write Them Under the Table" above, but at the back of the book (published in 2019, even before the broader rollout of ChatGPT) the author aptly summarizes the position of the human copywriter vis-à-vis a generative text AI: "the digital can help us do the generic better."
Some things for which AI can be a great help:
Turn this transcription into a correct text with full sentences Write an introduction / conclusion to this text Give some suggestions for an appropriate title / intertitle Give some suggestions for emoj's with this LinkedIn post Give some suggestions for a call-to-action to this text Summarize this text