Digital Economy Dispatch #156 -- A Simple Guide to Using ChatGPT
Digital Economy Dispatch #156 -- A Simple Guide to Using ChatGPT
5th November 2023
Recently, I have been asked several times to explain the most effective ways to use ChatGPT. With so much discussion and millions of people registered, I just pointed them to the nearest search engine and expected that anyone interested would have no trouble finding good advice. I had assumed that universities and many other reputable sources would provide clear instructions on when, where, and how to use ChatGPT. Little did I know that this seemingly simple task would prove much more challenging than expected.
In the quest to understand the guidance available on using ChatGPT, it is easy to find high-level descriptions of why and how it can be employed. Or to see social media posts adding to a growing list of “….did you realize that ChatGPT can do this!?!”. However, simple practical guidance for its use is conspicuously lacking. While many have discussed the pros and cons of dozens of different scenarios, offered “cheat sheets” filled with facts, listed the "50 best prompts", or outlined the intricacies of prompt engineering, I struggled to find a simple, no-nonsense summary with information on when and how to employ ChatGPT effectively in its most obvious situations.
Ultimately, I decided the easiest approach is to share my own experiences and create a set of recommendations based on them. I use ChatGPT, like lots of other people, as a form of “smart assistant”, or what Microsoft refers to as a “co-pilot”. Many other uses of Generative AI tools are also possible. However, here I focus on how I use ChatGPT in its most straightforward form, categorizing these into four distinct scenarios that I refer to as the "4S Approach": Searches, Summaries, Suggestions, and Snippets.
The 4S Approach
As many people have noted, there are many uses for generative AI tools such as ChatGPT. There are also several versions of ChatGPT itself, and a wealth of capabilities that these tools offer. You can find out much more about these if you take a look at the ChatGPT website.
My simple use of ChatGPT is focused on 4 broad scenarios: Searches, Summaries, Suggestions, and Snippets.
Searches: ChatGPT as an Intelligent Search Engine
The most apparent use of ChatGPT is as a replacement for traditional search engines like Google. You can use it to seek answers to general questions, explore topics, or obtain explanations on a wide range of subjects. With ChatGPT, you can ask a wide set of queries on topics of interest, just as you would with any other search engine. ChatGPT is powered by a vast language model that has amassed knowledge from various sources, enabling it to provide informative, narrative responses. This is particularly valuable when you need a comprehensive overview or a broad description of a subject, akin to what you'd find on Wikipedia.
For instance, asking ChatGPT, "Tell me about the background and history of artificial intelligence," would yield a detailed summary of the origins of AI and the current key issues being addressed.
Suggestions: Generating Ideas and Recommendations
Sometimes, all you need are fresh ideas to assist with tasks like writing. You can leverage ChatGPT to brainstorm ideas or receive suggestions for creative projects, business strategies, or even educational material. When faced with a blank page or unsure where to start, ChatGPT can provide recommendations and help formulate a series of ideas for your work.
Prompting ChatGPT with a request like, "Provide an outline for an article about the background and origins of AI," would yield suggested headings and initial ideas for your essay.
Summaries: Simplifying Complex Topics
One of the most common uses of ChatGPT is to summarize complex topics, long documents, or other materials. This is immensely valuable when time is limited or when you seek a concise overview of a complex subject. Researchers, students, and many others can use this feature to save time.
For example, you can feed ChatGPT with a long article or other document describing the origins of AI and ask it to summarize the content, making it much easier to grasp the author's main arguments and key themes.
Snippets: Generating Short Text Pieces
The use of ChatGPT to generate text, images, and other content may be controversial, but it can be valuable for producing small text pieces to incorporate into longer documents, such as emails or blog posts. These must be limited additions, and they must be selected with care to ensure that they are accurate, and that they appropriately represent your position and views. If you do that, you can save time without posing a challenge to the document's overall authorship.
For example, you can request ChatGPT to create three 100-word summaries describing how AI is used in education. Instead of directly copying the text, you can selectively incorporate aspects of it into your document as appropriate to the context in which you are using them.
Use ChatGPT with Care
Of course, all these applications of ChatGPT should be approached with care. Controversies exist regarding the source of ChatGPT's text, potential biases, and issues related to intellectual property. ChatGPT is a powerful tool that can be incredibly useful in various applications. However, it should be used responsibly, ethically, and with consideration of its limitations. When using ChatGPT, it is essential to actively acknowledge, understand, and address these concerns.
By following these guidelines and suggestions, I have found that ChatGPT can be a valuable tool that I use daily, as do many others. When considering its use, be sure to consult your organization's guidelines, take into account the needs of your community, and explore the 4S of ChatGPT—Search, Summarize, Suggest, and Snippets—to determine how it can provide value in your context.
Epilogue: How was this document created?
To create this document, I used all of the 4S approaches. I began by thinking through my own use cases, making several searches using ChatGPT and similar Generative AI tools. I sketched out the main use cases. Then I used ChatGPT with a prompt that asked it to provide me with suggestions about the most appropriate ways to use ChatGPT, and when the use of ChatGPT would be inappropriate. After reviewing this, I used the “Dictation” facility in Microsoft Word to quickly record my thoughts and experiences using ChatGPT. Word converted what I dictated into a text document. I asked ChatGPT to summarise and review that document, This included rewriting it to correct the grammar and making it suitable for a blog post. Finally, I reviewed the document for accuracy and completeness, adding snippets from additional ChatGPT requests, adjusting headings and text to better reflect my style of writing.