How to use ChatGPT to research papers, presentations, studies and more

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ChatGPT is envisioned as a tool that will replace human labor on tasks such as writing papers for students or professionals. But ChatGPT can also be used to support human work, and research is a classic example.

Whether you’re working on a research paper for school or doing market research for your job, starting the research process and finding the right sources can be challenging and time-consuming.

Also: 5 handy AI tools for school that students, teachers and even parents can use

ChatGPT and other AI chatbots can help by reducing the time spent searching for sources, allowing you to move more quickly to the actual reading and research part of your work.

Choosing the right chatbot

Before we begin, it’s important to understand the limitations of using ChatGPT. Since 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 not be able to provide you with a direct link to the source of the information.

Also: Best AI Chatbots: ChatGPT and Other Notable Alternatives

Asking a chatbot to provide you with links to a topic of interest to you is very valuable. If you want to do that, I recommend using an internet-connected chatbot, such as Bing Chat, Claude, ChatGPT Plus or Perplexity.

This how-to guide will use ChatGPT as an example of how to use prompts, but the principles are the same for whatever chatbot you choose.

Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

When you are assigned research papers, a topic area is usually assigned, but you will need to identify the exact topic you want to choose for your paper or research. ChatGPT can help with the brainstorming process by suggesting ideas or changing your own.

Also: How ChatGPT (and other AI chatbots) can help you write essays

For this sample research paper, I will use the general topic of “Monumental Technological Inventions That Changed History.” If I don’t have a specific idea to write about, I’ll tell ChatGPT the general theme of the assignment with as much detail as possible and ask for some suggestions.

My suggestion: I want to write a research paper on “monumental technological inventions that changed history”. It must be ten pages long and contain five different primary sources. Can you help me think about a particular 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.

Also: How to use the new Bing (and how it differs from ChatGPT)

Then you can follow ChatGPT for more information. You can change these topics to an angle you like better and continue the feedback loop until you find one.

Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Once you’ve chosen a topic, you can ask ChatGPT to create an outline for your assignment with as much detail as possible. For this example, I used the first topic suggested by ChatGPT in the previous step.

My suggestion: Can you give me an outline for a ten page research paper on “The Printing Press and the Spread of Knowledge” that uses five primary sources?

ChatGPT generated a 13-point outline that carefully outlined 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.

Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Now that you have a topic and outline established, you can ask ChatGPT about the topic of your project and ask it to deliver the source for you.

My suggestion: Can you give me a source for a ten page long paper on “The Printing Press and the Spread of Knowledge”?

ChatGPT lists five primary and five secondary sources that you can include in your paper. Remember, because ChatGPT can’t provide you with internet links, you’ll have to find specific resources on your own, whether that’s Googling or visiting your school library.

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When I asked Bing Chat the same question, it provided resources with clickable links that you can use to quickly access the content you need. For that reason, I will use Bing Chat for this step.

Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Instead of describing an entire topic, you can also use a chatbot to find sources for a specific aspect of your paper.

Also: How (and why) to subscribe to ChatGPT Plus

For example, I asked ChatGPT for the source for a particular bullet in the paper outline generated above.

My suggestion: Can you give me a source for the social and intellectual environment in which the printing press was created?

As in the previous example, ChatGPT generated five primary and five secondary resources for the topic.

Using this feature is a good option for shorter sections of your essay because it gives you more options on sources and provides built-in insights that you can use to carefully craft your piece.

Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

I use this prompt a lot in my workflow because sometimes I remember that something specific happened, but can’t pinpoint what it was or when it happened.

This tool can also be used when you need to find a specific example to support your topic.

Also: How to use ChatGPT to write an essay

In either case, you can ask ChatGPT to help you identify a specific event or period and include those details in your article.

In our essay example, if I wanted to include a rebuttal and describe a time when implementing technology had a negative impact, but I couldn’t think of an event myself, I could ask ChatGPT to help me identify one.

My suggestion: What was a time in history when the implementation of technology backfired on society and had negative effects?

Within seconds, ChatGPT generated 10 examples of events that I could weave into the research as rebuttals.

Screenshot by Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Creating a works cited page, although valuable and necessary for integrity, is a pain. Now, you can ask ChatGPT to create a citation for you by simply entering a link or the title of the work and ask it to create a citation in the style of your paper.

Also: How to provide sources and citations to ChatGPT

I asked ChatGPT to create a citation for this article for ZDNET. As seen by the photo (above), the tool prompted me to enter the access date and style for the citation, and then quickly generated a complete citation for the episode.

ChatGPT Derivation:

Nice, here is the MLA citation for the web link “How to use ChatGPT to write essays” on ZDNET, accessed September 15:

“How to Use ChatGPT to Write an Essay.” ZDNET, Accessed 15 September 2023.

If you used something other than the 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 have to input some information manually.

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