Between The AI Writer and Writing Assistant
Different Approaches to Human+AI Collaboration in Writing
DEAR READER: For the past few weeks, you've read about our human+AI adventures to build Gabrielle, the witty and wonderful AI columnist. Today's tale looks between the lines at how our human+AI collaboration crafts compelling content, whether it's for Gabrielle's automated advice or these posts documenting our teamwork.
In this chapter, we'll dive into the benefits of AI-assisted writing, explore the dynamics of our human-AI writing duo, and share handy AI writing tips. You'll also read about things to look for when choosing an AI writing tool.
So, consider this your golden ticket to the AI version of Willy Wonka's factory. Instead of chocolate waterfalls and everlasting gobstoppers, we offer cascades of words and endless narratives. Ready to discover the exciting world of collaborative AI writing? Strap in, word lovers, and let's begin our journey.
A) Collaborative AI Writing: Balancing Humans and AI
Language and writing are everywhere in our project. Gabrielle, our AI-powered columnist, shares brilliantly written advice via email and blog. Meanwhile, the AI and I document our collaborative process in these posts.
The benefits of working with AI for writing extend from boosting productivity to less obvious benefits such as learning and fun! See this diagram with three different ways this collaboration works across our writing exploits - and read about it below.
Benefits of AI in writing:
Productivity: AI can speed up writing or even write autonomously. Gabrielle could answer thousands of emails daily, and her advice blog posts take just an hour from start to finish.
Quality: AI helps improve every "Dear AI" post you read, from better structure to style to new creative ideas.
Learning: Collaborating with AI helps me improve my writing skills through feedback and seeing the AI's written output.
Fun! Writing with AI is not just more pleasant than writing alone - it can even feel like a fun game! More about that in part C) below about AI writing tools.
Three modes of human-AI balance in our writing:
1. The Note Hoarders: I (a human) gather and refine, AI organizes
I've collected 120 pages of project notes so far, from ChatGPT's best marketing ideas to my frustrated thoughts when the code breaks.
I manually pick out the gems from these notes and then hand them to the AI to organize into a structured format for our articles.
We follow this collaboration mode at the start of every "Dear AI" post, which works well. It saves some manual effort and ends up with clear, well-defined structures
2. The "Rewrite Relay": Back and forth with AI
This is like a game of tag with ChatGPT. First, I write a section and hand it to ChatGPT for feedback.
ChatGPT often offers recommendations, such as adding more concrete examples, improving sentence structure, or enhancing the flow of ideas. I add specific details according to the suggestions and then hand it back, asking, "Can you rewrite it now, incorporating your feedback?"
This feedback+rewrite approach works quite well. It usually ends with a better piece than just asking for a rewrite. We often play this game 2-3 times until ChatGPT's feedback becomes too minor or non-existent.
3. The autonomous AI writer: AI takes the stage
When Gabrielle responds to incoming emails, she's flying solo. To let her take the spotlight, we need three things: style, content, and trust.
a) Style: I first describe to ChatGPT the writing vibe we're after. For Gabrielle, it's all about being personable, funny, caring, and including her trademark phrases, such as 'like my mum used to say.'
b) Content: I then tell ChatGPT what content to include. For example, the prompts for Gabrielle's advice blog posts consist of a reader's question plus talking points for Gabrielle to address in her response.
c) Trust! Finally, I'm ready to hand over the reins. Gabrielle's emails are fully automated, which takes a leap of faith. But it's not blind faith. Gabrielle is powered by ChatGPT, which has undergone much training and testing. On top of that, I constantly test and refine Gabrielle's personality and style. It's not foolproof, but I trust her responses end up as they should be - insightful and delightfully entertaining.
These modes serve different needs: automatic writing produces AI-generated stories and advice efficiently in minutes. Meanwhile, human+AI collaboration leads to in-depth, high-quality posts. Next, we'll delve into some tips and tricks for AI writing in any of these modes.
B) AI writing tips and tricks
I often use a few techniques when writing with AI: Playing with style, dealing with context length, AI-powered editing, and some writing decorations.
1) Style Swap: Fun with AI writing
AI models are experts at mimicking styles. At first, this sparked controversy about copyrights when people used AI text-to-image models to generate images 'in the style of' various artists.
Similarly, language models can imitate the styles of famous writers:
But the magic isn't in the imitation; it's in the versatility. With the proper guidance, AI can adapt to a broad range of styles. Want to lighten the tone of your piece? Just tell AI to "Make it funnier." Need to make sure your write-up is clear? Ask AI to "Write so that a teenager would understand." The possibilities are endless.
And remember, the AI's writing style can differ depending on the model used. For instance, you might get fun results with ChatGPT and more corporate-style outputs with Bard.
2) The context length: memory management in AI writing
Today's language models have a limited 'context length,' which is like their short-term memory. This determines how much input they can use when generating responses.
The context length for ChatGPT is about three pages of information. Newer models can do better: GPT-4 can handle ~30 pages, and Anthropic's AI model, Claude, can read entire books.
In writing, context helps maintain consistency throughout your article, chapter, or book. And without enough context, AI can veer off course —like it's lost the narrative thread. For an amusing demonstration of what happens without enough context, see this example:
But there's a workaround: summarizing! You can split an article into parts and ask ChatGPT to summarize each section. Or you can provide a short overview of the relevant information for the task. Here's an example of the background info I gave ChatGPT about this article:
3) AI-assisted editing: the writing tool you didn't know you needed
My go-to editing tool is Grammarly, which fixes grammar issues and offers suggestions for clarity and style.
But AI editing can do more than just sentence-level corrections. It can improve the structure and flow of longer pieces of text, as I've often found in the "rewrite relay" cycles. For example, if a section is too long, I can ask the AI for a shorter version that keeps all the details. I'm often impressed by how well it picks up the relevant points and reorganizes them into a more concise version.
4) Ad-hoc writing decorations:
Surprisingly (or not), language models are handy with... language!
Need a rhetorical question as an example? What about a synonym for "enticing" that starts with "a" to make an alluring alliteration? Or, you might ask for help with a writing-focused simile for "AI is at your service, offering as much lexical variety as a... well-stocked library."
Now that we've discussed various ways to enhance your writing with AI, let's look at the tools that make this possible.
C) Some thoughts about AI writing tools and their interface
Picking an AI-powered writing tool is like selecting a pen. One person might prefer the feel of a fountain pen, and another might go for a stack of Pilot pens. The best pen is the one that works for you. There are many AI writing tools out there, and most writing tools are adding AI assistants. The two tools I'll be focusing on—Grammarly and ChatGPT—have become my personal favorites for several reasons:
Grammarly: For its natural and fun interface that helps edit for clarity.
ChatGPT: for the persistence of the thread and back-and-forth iteration.
Here are some thoughts about why this combination works for me:
1) Persistence and iteration
We discussed the "rewrite-relay" above, the iterative back-and-forth writing process with ChatGPT. For example, it can imbue an intro paragraph with humor, easing the reader in with a laugh, or deepen the emotional impact of the letters to Gabrielle in her blog.
A persistent chat thread with the AI makes this iteration possible. I especially love ChatGPT's interface, where all my threads are saved in history by default. So I can return to any of them to pick up the conversation, and if I need something we worked on in the past, it's still right there.
On the other hand, none of the other AI tools stack up. For example, Bing's AI threads are limited to 20 answers and don't persist anywhere. Bard keeps the history of your questions - but none of the AI's responses. AI writing tools like GrammarlyGO, Jasper AI, and Notion AI rely on transient popup windows for AI interactions. Frustratingly, these popup windows often disappear if you click elsewhere, making your work vanish like disappearing ink.
2) The copy-paste conundrum
In AI writing, you often need to copy and paste your text into a separate AI window. This is annoying but has a hidden benefit: side drafts. With the AI's suggestions in a side window, you can compare them with your current draft and pick and choose which pieces to incorporate.
This is similar to the 'layers' concept in image editing, where you can work on a piece of the image in one layer without changing other layers like the background. Indeed, image editors like Photoshop place the images generated by AI in new layers.
Will we ever see layers in AI writing software, such as bullet points in a base layer, AI-generated text on a 'layer' above it, and a final one for style and polish? Maybe. Layers and other image editing features might be helpful in AI-powered word editors (imagine a slider that shifts the tone of a piece of text between 'blue' and 'happy'!)
Meanwhile, the 'AI draft in a separate window' method offers similar benefits.
3) The feel-good factor: AI as a writing coach.
Grammarly and ChatGPT are not just helpful; they're also fun!
Grammarly's score system gives instant feedback on your writing and makes fixing grammar feel like winning points in a game. The suggestions range from correcting grammar to adopting a more engaging style. And, alongside the dopamine hit with every adjustment, I learn how to write more clearly and confidently.
Similarly, ChatGPT offers friendly feedback on a broader scale. It gives actionable, encouraging advice beyond the single sentence and considers the context. For example, I asked for help with a LinkedIn post draft. It suggested adding a punchy opening to grab readers' attention, a personal connection to the post, and a question to invite discussion.
Besides being helpful, ChatGPT also leans toward being nice! Its constructive feedback is always encouraging regardless of how poorly the text is written. For example, I gave it a text with mistakes, slang, and inconsistent style. It started, "Your text is an interesting mix of contrasting styles and tones," and then suggested ways to improve it.
Although it doesn't have a 'fix it' button, you can ask ChatGPT to rewrite the text based on its own advice. I've been impressed with how often this leads to better content that has me thinking, "On point!"
Conclusion: Welcoming AI as Your Writing Companion
Stepping into collaborative AI writing is like exploring Willy Wonka's factory - full of surprises and boundless creativity. But it isn't all about the marvel. It's about finding a new companion in your writing process: AI.
AI isn't merely a tool; it can also be a coach and collaborator, ready to amplify your productivity, inspire fresh ideas, refine your style, and turn writing into an exciting adventure. AI can generate content autonomously but shines brightest when it collaborates with humans.
So why not invite AI into your writing world? Pick an AI-powered editor, or ask ChatGPT about an email or document and see what happens. Embrace this exciting era of AI-assisted writing, and may your words flow as freely as chocolate in Willy Wonka's factory. Here's to the adventures that await you and your AI writing assistant!
Have you used AI in your writing? Got any other tips or tricks worth sharing? Did you notice that the conclusion to the article was automatically generated by AI? Tell us in the comments! Or share anonymous feedback here.
To see some examples of AI-generated writing, email firstname.lastname@example.org for her automated yet personable life advice, or check out her blog - here’s an example article that was written entirely by AI - both the reader’s question and Gabrielle’s answer:
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