3 Ways to Make ChatGPT Your Friendly Editor

the writing newsletter Feb 14, 2023
Comic robot over crowd.

And a happy Academic Valentine's Day to you today. Here is my contribution to your academic Valentine for today:

Papers not read? Rejections so blue? Learn how to write papers, so it won't happen to you!

Okay, jokes aside. Today, I want to give you some highly actionable tips about using ChatGPT effectively in your academic editing work. If you've not heard about ChatGPT, you've probably been living under a rock for the last couple of months. It has taken the Internet by storm and received a 10 billion dollar investment from Microsoft (and now powers the new Bing; who knew that Bing would have a moment in 2023 where it's cooler than Google?). It's like virtual oil right now. Everyone is talking about it or creating content about it, so I am, too. Shocking. I know. I talked about some of this yesterday, for which I managed to deep-fake myself (not quite to Deep Tom Cruise levels, but still impressive how easy it was).

For the rest of this article, I will assume that you know what ChatGPT is or can use your Google-Fu skills to find out how to get access (yes, it's still free, if you don't mind slow). Today, I want to do 3 things:

  1. Explain to you what a ChatGPT Mega Prompt is.

  2. Demonstrate several strategies I use for rewriting your article paragraphs with ChatGPT.

  3. Show you a prompt to generate a humanities-style argument for your paper.

 Let's dive in.

ChatGPT Mega Prompts

This is a concept that I learned from Rob Lennon, who has been tinkering quite a bit with ChatGPT. Much of this is inspired by his prompting tips. The idea behind it is that ChatGPT gets better the more precisely you prompt it. Really, it's all about the prompt (crazy enough, there is a marketplace on PromptBase where people sell prompts for real money).

So, what's a Mega Prompt then? It gives the AI enough information to give you answers that are the most accurate. Here is the structure:

  1. [Your persona] Replicate a specific persona.

    1. [Your knowledge] Provide specifics about knowledge and

    2. [Your traits] Characteristics to obtain better answers.

  2. [Steps to the task] Specify the particular steps required to accomplish the objective.

  3. [Your task] Provide the task with context and limitations [Context and Constraints].

  4. [Goal] Specify the intended purpose of the prompt.

  5. [Format] Indicate the desired formatting for the output

Here is the example prompt that I created with this in mind (don't sell it, but feel free to adjust and use it for your purposes):

[Your persona] Act as an Computer Science professor, specialized in Artificial Intelligence, at an Ivy League University with the following knowledge and traits.

Obviously, you can adjust the fields as you like and even the University (I figured Ivy League is probably good, but you might know a particular lighthouse in your field that is better suited for your prompt).

[Your knowledge] You have experience developing curricula and delivering course material; conducting research, fieldwork, and investigations, writing up reports; publishing research; attending conferences; delivering presentations, and networking with others in the field; travelling to other universities or academic settings to participate in learning opportunities and gain experience, participating in committee, departmental, and faculty meetings, providing training and mentoring to teaching assistants and junior lecturers, reviewing methods and teaching materials and making recommendations for improvement, assisting with student recruitment, interviews, and academic counselling sessions, contributing to the creation of an environment that promotes growth, equality, and freedom of speech.

What I'm doing here, is basically copying a couple of highly desirable items from professor job ads with the knowledge and skills that universities would like professors to have, so it's not a bad idea to put them all together, I figured. The more precise, the better for ChatGPT. Obviously, you can add and remove to your liking here.

[Your traits] You are highly intelligent, have complex problem-solving skills, adaptability, creativity, and interpersonal skills, have a Ph.D. in Computer Science, 10 years of teaching experience at a University, published 300 articles, and proven experience as an academic, strong teaching and mentoring skills, excellent presentation, and written and verbal communication skills, a sound understanding of and passion for scientific subject matter, a growth mindset and excellent networking abilities, your peers best describe you as intellectual, learned, wise, confident, respected, authoritative, knowledgeable, innovative, engaging, inspiring.

Obviously, I went a bit nuts here on all the desirable traits, but many of these can be found with Google or simply by asking ChatGPT: What are the most desirable traits of a [your field] professor? And then, you can throw those in there.

[Steps to the task] First, think about all possible benefits of large language models in AI. Then think about all possible tasks an academic does. Match the benefits of the large language models to the most cumbersome academic tasks. Then build your synopsis.

This is always the most difficult part for me to write. It requires quite a bit of thinking (and, of course, you can also just omit it), and it is individual for the task you want ChatGPT to do. Definitely, don't copy this but adjust it based on the steps to accomplish your task or leave it out.

[Your task] Provide a 100-word synopsis of the benefits of large language models for academics.

Again, this is a super simple task, but this could easily be something more complicated, such as: write an argumentative essay about the ethical implications of AI or something similar. Make sure your persona and skills match the task. I usually work with the professor persona, because I need to accomplish professor things. Your mileage may vary.

[Context and Constraints] Your synopsis is for an audience of academic researchers from various fields. Use a formal and academic tone paired with sophisticated vocabulary and grammar. Provide a thorough and in-depth analysis of the subject matter. Explain complex scientific concepts in a clear and accessible way. Use examples from many fields. Present counterarguments and divergent opinions in a balanced and objective way. Return only your main response. Remove any first-paragraph pretext and concluding posttext.

This is actually my next tip below, which I find super important for ChatGPT: to provide guidance for how to write the output (voice and tone descriptions are immensely powerful and will change the output of ChatGPT significantly). I like removing pre Your constraints can, of course, be many other things as well.

[Goal] Your goal is to inform the readers as quickly as possible about how using large language models can better their lives in a way that they can act on immediately.

Again, this depends on your task description, but I like the goal to tend towards something actionable for the audience, but really think a bit here about what your audience needs.

[Format] Format your response using markdown. Use headings, subheadings, bullet points, and bold to organize the information.

Many people don't do this, but it's super helpful for structuring the output of your ChatGPT answers in a way that makes it easy to copy them over into your writing application. For me, the easiest format is always Markdown.

That's it. There is your mega prompt. Feel free to tinker with it and adjust it according to your needs. But really, this is one of the big secrets of getting better ChatGPT answers, providing all of the necessary context and precision for ChatGPT to work.

Rewriting Article Paragraphs

So, when I feed ChatGPT some of my writing (usually only a couple of paragraphs at a time), I can do this either with a mega prompt, but often the persona "act as" hack does the trick to prep the language model for what type of reply I am looking for. One of my favourite personas for rewriting things is "Act as a professional copy editor with 50 years of technical writing experience and a PhD in English literature" because why not. So, that's what I preface my prompt with.

Then, I finish my prompt with: Rewrite the following text with these writing strategies:

  • Use active voice for clarity and conciseness.

  • Revamp sentence structure to avoid monotony and increase engagement.

  • Use real-world examples to illustrate your points and make your writing easier to understand.

  • Use transitional words and phrases to keep ideas moving logically and avoid sudden changes.

  • Use action verbs and stay away from passive voice.

  • Think of your audience in the [your research area/field of study] field and write accordingly.

  • (optional) Use rhetorical questions to get the reader's attention and get them to think critically.

Use these strategies to rewrite the following text: "[your copied text]"

I have to be honest about that last one, I don't care much for rhetorical questions, so I really don't actually like using them much in my writing, but I know some colleagues, who really dig this for their papers. Either way, this should get you going and make your writing smoother for academic papers. If I write for social media, I usually exchange those strategies for something like "write at fifth-grade level with simple language that is clear to understand and lean toward using shorter sentences without any jargon." This works wonders for the output you will receive.

Writing an Argumentation for Your Essay

I should say that I am not a professor of humanities. A lot of what I write is clearly about science. That's why I find it so interesting that ChatGPT could help me build (even if only in a basic way) the structure of an argument you find in humanities papers.

Here is a prompt you can try for that if you are looking to get your first argument done on a topic of interest:

Act as a humanities professor. I will provide you with some discussion topics and your task is to research both sides of the argument, present valid arguments for each side, refute opposing points of view, and draw persuasive conclusions based on evidence. Your goal is to help people come away from the discussion with increased knowledge and insight into the topic.

Your output is an 800-word argumentative article about the topic I provide to you.

Formatting: Use Markdown formatting for your article.

Topic: "What is the cultural significance of The Old Man and the Sea?"

Of course, there are many other ways that ChatGPT can help you brainstorm arguments and topics, but this is a nice way to draft an argument that you can then deepen in future drafts.



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