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A complete guide to using AI for academic writing

ChatGPT has become incredibly versatile for academic writing. It can help you improve your academic writing (while teaching you how), find (real) citations to prove a point, or analyze papers for relevant statements and examples. In this workflow, we will look at three different AI assistants that will get you from a very rough outline to a polished article.


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But first, a disclaimer: AI will not write the paper for you. Academic writing is very niche, especially if you are writing on a grad/postgrad level, and AI is not good enough for this. At its core, a large language model, like ChatGPT, operates by predicting the most probable next word given a prompt. The result, therefore, is quite often predictable. It excels in extracting information from massive texts, paraphrasing, and finding patterns in language. This is what we are going to use to our advantage!

The general AI writing workflow is as follows:

  • Start with an outline generated from your notes.
  • Use Consensus GPT to find citations as evidence for single statements.
  • Use Ai PDF GPT to extract concise statements from these PDFs that we can use as building blocks
  • Build a writing assistant to help assemble loose sentences into paragraphs, paraphrase stubborn sentences and analyze finished writing.
  • Iterate this loop until your writing is polished and clean
  • We will use Litmaps to go even deeper into the literature review process by mixing papers from multiple domains.

If GPTs are new to you, check out my tutorial on creating customGPTs or go all the way down the rabbit hole by joining my course on GPTs:


Achieve 10x efficiency in research, learning, and everyday tasks with ChatGPT bots. This course takes you from knowing nothing to using the most cutting-edge techniques most people don’t know about in just a few hours.


Let’s get started!

1. Starting your paper

Let’s assume you understand the subject matter and know roughly what you want to write about. If not, go back to reading and note-taking. This is the foundation of your writing process. Start by simply outlining what you want to say in a simple sentence. This can look like this:

This outline is about 300 words and was later expanded to > 3000 words using the workflow you are about to learn. However, this first step is critical, and you will need good notes. To write a good paper or thesis, you must have a solid understanding of your field. AI can’t do it for you. Start learning note-taking in this free 8-day course or the in-depth note-taking course.

If you have too few bullet points you can expand them using plain ChatGPT (see this tutorial). The results are not groundbreaking, but they can help you to think of different aspects of your topic, especially as a novice.

2. ConsensusGPT finds evidence for your statements

Next, we need to find evidence (i.e., papers) that support or reject this point of view. If you already have quite a few in your note collection, you may skip this step entirely or use it as a “backup.” This popular AI assistant is built by Consensus, a tool that helps you discover scientific literature. Allegedly, it has access to over 200 million papers. No single database has all the papers, so be aware of the main limitation of AI: Answers may be incomplete.

Head over to ChatGPT and start a conversation with this assistant. Here is the direct link. You will need a premium subscription to ChatGPT to use this (and all other workflow steps). It is worth it, in my opinion, as ChatGPT is the most versatile tool for academics, and there are countless use cases in your day-to-day work.

Use this straightforward prompt: Find papers that show that [Whatever you are looking for]

Asking ConsensusGPT to find critical references to a statement.

Download the papers that you think are relevant to you. Generally, most suggestions will not be valuable, but almost always, there will be one spot-on suggestion. This is what we are looking for. Repeat this process with different prompts to get different results and collect what works.

3. Skim the papers and download what is relevant

Next, we are going to download these papers. In an ideal world, you will read what you find, likely leading to slow writing progress. So, instead, let’s prioritize and automate. Read the abstract and conclusion first. Let’s upload the PDF to MyAIDrive if the paper still feels relevant. We will need this platform to quickly extract information from the PDF with a different AI assistant.

Copy and pasting the PDF link from AIPDF GPT.

After you upload the PDF and copy the link, head back to ChatGPT and start a conversation with AI PDF GPT. The paper you uploaded might “explore trait-based ecology” (very broad), but what I am looking for are methodological problems (since this is what I am writing about). It might be mentioned only in a few paragraphs. This is where AiPDF can save you massive amounts of time. It will find what you want and give you the section or page number. Now, you can read selectively and decide how and whether you will cite this paper in your work.

Rename the chats to the name of the paper. This helps you to later find this chat and keep the conversation about this paper going.

Some more examples of useful prompts to use with AI PDF:

  1. Explain how X influences Y according to this paper.
  2. Extract the key problems and challenges with approach X from this paper
  3. In which section does this paper speak about X
  4. Critically state why approach X works or doesn't work, short pro's and con's.
  5. Find evidence for X in paper
  6. On a scale of 1-10 how relevant is this paper to ...

I generally use AiPDF to extract information, find relevant viewpoints, and not just summarize it. This helps to form an argument because the extracted data is tied to the argument I am writing about. A summary, on the other hand, is free of context and does not help you as much.

4. Use Litmaps to find more relevant papers

Consensus errs on the side of finding too few papers, in my experience. A better way, therefore, is to use Litmaps. I use this especially when I am trying to bridge two domains. For example, there is a significant body of literature on how plants shift their ranges in climate change and another on predicting where plant species will grow given their traits and the climate. Combining them would yield papers on “predicting ranges from traits and climate.” Google doesn’t find much. However, Litmaps helps me discover these papers swiftly. 

Create an account and add articles by their DOI or title (or export from Zotero). Then click on “Related Articles” to start a search.

This works because Litmaps uses the citation network. So if I add papers on two topics, A and B, into my collection and find related articles, Litmaps will look for papers citing both issues. These will be precisely the papers on the synthesis of A and B, we are looking for. I cover Litmaps as part of my Effortless AI Literature Review course. It is one of my favorite tools for a literature review.

5. Improving your writing with a custom GPT assistant

Now that you have found all the evidence to write the perfect paragraph, you will need to write it. This can be difficult. The easiest way to start is to write a few loose, poorly formulated sentences with citations (from the previous steps) and merge them into a first draft using AI. However, there will be better writing.

Instead, google what good academic writing is and use this information to teach a ChatGPT AI assistant a set of rules for academic writing. You can even add some of your own or your journal’s requirements. Check out this tutorial on building AI assistants, or dive deep into my Effortless AI course if this is your first time building AI assistants. Here are the instructions for “WritingWanda,” my AI assistant:

A few tricks here make these instructions more efficient, like using Markdown and XML for formatting or starting with a role. Note that our bot will have three actions: Rephrase, Analyse, or Join. Initially, WritingWanda had only one task (join) and five rules. But as time goes by, you can keep adding and improving your bot until it matches what you want ideally.

Here is the bot in action. Notice how my sentences are initially loose and incoherent. The AI joins it into an excellent first draft. Now, I can go on and start polishing this to my liking.

Once you have written a paragraph you can use AI to automatically improve your writing. Our use of XML tags and markdown leads to very clear and readable output.

Try out Writing Wanda on ChatGPT. There are no limits what you can build with this technology. The best thing about it, is that you can keep on adding features to your bot and make it more powerful and more personalized to your needs.

Summary

This writing process starts with a few notes and loose ideas you want to write about.

  • We found evidence for your initial statements using ConsensusGPT
  • Where we need to be more thorough, we used Litmaps to find better papers.
  • Then we skimmed the papers and uploaded the relevant ones to MyAIDrive
  • This allowed us to use AiPDF GPT to analyze these papers, looking for relevant passages and sections for our writing.
  • Combining bits of information from various PDFs, we created a “raw” sentence collection.
  • Using a writing assistant, Writing Wanda, we transformed sentences into coherent paragraphs.
  • After polishing the paragraph manually, we used AI to analyze the result using standard academic writing rules.

The result is a workflow that allows you to write very fast, as you spend most of your time building a logical argument instead of looking for the right papers and juggling words into readable prose.