AI is pretty good at producing C-level writing, but it’s almost never good enough to publish on its own (and doing so can carry with it a host of copyright-related risks.) With a smart human editor/co-author, however, AI-generated work can act as a springboard to quickly producing quality work.
Here’s how to polish, fact-check and rewrite content from ChatGPT and other generative AI technology from prompt to publish
And for the record, except where indicated, this story is 100% human authored.
- Write specific prompts.
Better inputs lead to better outputs. The more specific you can be in your initial request to your robot friend, the stronger your results will be.
Rather than simply asking it, “write a blog post about why you should donate to charity,” instead try something like: “Write a 300-word persuasive story explaining why Gen Z should donate to charities that help with food insecurity. Include information about how many people in Indiana are food insecure, the effects of food insecurity on children, and end with a strong call-to-action to donate. Your target audience is people aged 18-25 living in Indianapolis who have never donated to charity before. Cite your sources at the end. Use AP style.”
Yes, this means you’ll take a bit more time on the front-end crafting your prompt, but you’re more likely to get a helpful, effective output.
- Ask it to cite sources — and check those sources.
If you ask ChatGPT to cite sources, it will usually append them at the end of the article. Using the prompt above, I got these three sources:
Feeding America. (2021). “Indiana Food Insecurity Rate.” feedingamerica.org/your-local-foodbank/indiana/.
Feeding Indiana’s Hungry. (2022). “Childhood Hunger.” feedingindianashungry.org/childhood-hunger/.
USDA. (2021). “Household Food Security in the United States in 2020.” ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/104600/err-275.pdf.
Take the time to visit each website it offers. Ensure that they exist and that they say what the chatbot says they said — hallucinations are very real. Additionally, see if there might be other interesting nuggets you can pull out with your human judgement that might better suit your needs. Use that research as a springboard to go deeper. Make sure to properly credit the work in your piece as needed using hyperlinks or in-line citation.
- Add specific details, anecdotes and emotion.
ChatGPT can only give you general writing, and what separates OK writing from great writing is specificity. It’s why one of the first rules of reporting is to always get the dog’s name. These little details of personality and depth help forge emotional connections — and no robot can do that. Yet.
Think of what generative AI gave you to be an outline. It’s up to you to put meat on the bones. Add specific stories — in our example above, maybe that’s about someone whose life was changed by a food pantry, or a specific organization that needs more help. Add more details that can appeal to your target audience, like emotional triggers that will specifically resonate with people who live in Indianapolis. Give your AI tinman a beating heart.
- Edit extensively and skeptically.
AI can be terrible at following directions. For instance, it often flagrantly ignores word count, giving you more than double what you’ve requested. I’ve yet to see it properly follow AP style in a meaningful way. So it’s up to you to hold it accountable and ensure it meets your specifications. Do not trust and always verify. To repeat an analogy, think of AI as an intern on their first day. They can produce some great stuff, but they need strong oversight and guidance to succeed to your specifications.
If a certain phrase strikes you as really strong — Google it. Make sure it isn’t plagiarism. Fact check everything, beyond merely the citations you’ve been given.
And take the time to punch up the language. Remember that generative AI works by guessing the right word to put in a sentence, one after the other. That doesn’t often contribute to scintillating, unique text that gets readers to sit up and take notice. It’s on you to take some time to add your brand voice and the value and insight only you can bring to a piece
By the time you’ve completed these steps, you should have a finished piece that bears little resemblance to what ChatGPT gave you. That’s by design. This unique, factchecked piece stands on the shoulders of ChatGPT, but is your handiwork.