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AI Tools and Writing: Information for Students

Key message: If your instructor allows AI use for writing assignments, use it to assist rather than replace your research and writing processes, and always document and describe your use. 

Writing is a key part of your university education. You’ll write to take notes in class, to brainstorm about what you think, and to reflect upon various ideas and topics. You’ll write to summarize and respond to what you read. You’ll write to communicate and demonstrate your learning and thinking–your ideas, analysis, and synthesis of knowledge–to your instructors. As well, you may write for personal pleasure, to communicate ideas in the non-academic communities you’re part of such as work, home, organizations, and larger publics. The act of engaging in the writing process helps you develop as a critical thinker and problem-solver; writing, thinking, and learning go hand-in-hand. Therefore, completing your assignments using your own writing and your own analysis benefits you as a learner and contributes significantly to your development as a thinker. 

That said, there also are times when using generative AI (Artificial Intelligence) tools such as ChatGPT and others during the writing process may make sense, and developing a sense of how and when to use AI tools productively and responsibly when you write–that is, in a way that assists your writing process without replacing it with others’ work or with AI-generated text–is important. 

If your instructor allows you to use AI tools AI when you’re working on writing assignments, the guidelines below are intended to help you develop ways to use AI tools to support your development and success as a learner and writer and maintain your commitment to academic integrity. 

General Guidelines 

1. Be guided by The University of Tennessee’s Honor Statement and academic integrity policies, which are published in the Undergraduate Catalog. The Honor Statement is as follows: “An essential feature of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is a commitment to maintaining an atmosphere of intellectual integrity and academic honesty. As a student of the university, I pledge that I will neither knowingly give nor receive any inappropriate assistance in academic work, thus affirming my own personal commitment to honor and integrity.”

Affirming your commitment to honor and integrity means affirming that the written work you submit is your own and that you always cite anything you did not compose on your own. 

You should consider the use of AI-generated writing without citing or documenting it to be inappropriate unless your instructor explicitly says it’s okay to so in certain circumstances. You should not use AI-generated text at all if your instructor does not allow it.

2. Become familiar with how Large Language Models (LLMS) and generative AI tools such as ChatGPT work, what they can and cannot do, and the opportunities and risks of using them.  

  • As mentioned in the Working Paper created by the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), Large Language Models, LLMs, “work by using statistics and probability to predict what the next character (i.e., letter, punctuation mark, even a blank space) is likely to be in an ongoing sequence, thereby “spelling” words, phrases, and entire sentences and paragraphs” (p. 6). You can find some additional information about LLMs on Wikipedia, and by viewing some short YouTube videos, Practical AI for Teachers and Students, that were created by Ethan Mollick, a professor at Wharton.
  • Some benefits of using AI tools for students include:
    • They can help you get started and brainstorm–help to “stimulate thought and develop drafts that are still [your] own work and to overcome…obstacles to tackling invention and revision” (MLA-CCCC Joint Task Force on Writing and AI Working Paper, p. 9).
    • They can help you in the process of research, such as with identifying useful keywords to find relevant information on a topic. 
    • If English is an additional language for you, they can assist in learning writing conventions like vocabulary, sentence structure, and genres.
  • Some risks of LLMs and AI tools include: 
    • The text output is known to include made-up information that sounds very believable. 
    • The text output is known to include gender, racial, and language biases and biases against particular viewpoints that can be hard for you to detect.
    • Your opportunity to engage in valuable writing, reading, and thinking practice that helps you develop as a learner and thinker is diminished if you simply “push a button” to generate text and submit it as your own work. (Doing that would also be against your commitment to academic integrity.)  AI tools merely assemble pre-existing (and often incorrect, biased) text that does not demonstrate your ability to make choices about how to write for a particular purpose, to a particular audience, in a particular situation. 

3. Read each of your instructors’ policies on using AI, and follow them carefully. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, does not have a central policy for this. Instructors may make their own rules about whether and how you can use AI in their class. 

  • ASK each of your instructors for their policies and guidelines. Be prepared to follow different AI-related rules in each of your classes. 
    • Examples of questions you could ask your instructor include: Can I use ChatGPT(or another AI tool) to help me brainstorm? To help me research? To help me summarize readings? To help me write an outline? To help me revise a draft I’ve written? How would you like me to cite AI output? How would you like me to describe how I used AI tools during the writing process?  

Guidelines for the Use of AI Tools in Writing Assignments 

If your instructor allows you to use AI tools for writing assignments, below are some suggestions to guide your use.

1. Commit to using AI tools during the writing process with care, making sure you do not copy AI output directly into your work or replace your own intentional, purposeful compositions with AI output.

2. Again, keep track of and follow each instructor’s specific guidelines for how you may use AI tools.

3. Keep a log of your AI use; the university has recommended that instructors who allow AI use ask students to document it. 

4. Learn how to prompt the AI responsibly, and be as specific as possible; the quality of your prompts will affect the quality of the AI output. Your prompt should not be “Write me a paper on [topic.]” 

5. Fact-check all AI output text, because it will include inaccurate information–that’s simply true about how AIs work (unless you’re doing “closed prompting”–making queries only about sources you provide in your prompt). Since you’re not likely to know what’s accurate and what isn’t, you must fact-check the AI output before relying on it in any way.

6. Critically evaluate all AI output text, paying close attention to gender, racial, and language biases and biases against particular viewpoints.  

7. Quote, paraphrase, and cite AI-generated text just as you quote, paraphrase, and cite any external source material in your papers. Here are some common formats:

8. Include the following statement in assignments to indicate your use of a generative AI tool: “The author(s) would like to acknowledge the use of [Generative AI Tool Name], a language model developed by [Generative AI Tool Provider], in the preparation of this assignment. The [Generative AI Tool Name] was used in the following way(s) in this assignment [e.g., brainstorming, grammatical correction, citation, which portion of the assignment].”

9. Reflect on your use of AI: How are you using it? What do you think about what it offers you as a writer? What are you learning about writing? Is using AI helping you make better choices as a writer–and if so, how? What are your concerns about using AI during the writing process?

10. When sharing your work in progress with your instructor, a peer reviewer, or a tutor, tell them if you’ve used AI tools during your composing process. You should point out any part of a draft that includes AI output–even if it’s a draft in which you have not yet included your citations–and you should describe how you used the AI (e.g., “I used ChatGPT to brainstorm”). This will help you and your instructor, peer reviewer, or tutor have a transparent, productive, and responsible conversation about your draft and your writing.