AI Tools for Science Writing: Why, How, When, and When Not To

Researchers often find themselves juggling multiple responsibilities, leaving them with limited time to dedicate to the meticulous task of writing. Artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of large language models (LLM) has emerged as a powerful tool for assisting with academic and medical writing. In this article, we discuss why AI may be helpful in this context, how to apply AI effectively, when it is most beneficial, and when to use caution.

Why Use AI Tools for Science Writing?

Why Use AI Tools for Science Writing?

The use of AI tools for science writing offers several compelling benefits.

First, it significantly enhances efficiency by expediting the writing process. AI-driven tools can swiftly generate drafts and summaries, allowing researchers to focus more on research and analysis.

Second, AI enhances productivity by automating routine tasks like formatting and referencing, freeing up valuable time for higher-level work.

Third, AI contributes to quality improvement by identifying and rectifying grammar and style issues, resulting in more polished and professional documents.

Lastly, AI ensures consistency in writing style, terminology, and formatting, a critical aspect of academic, medical, and science writing, especially in collaborative efforts. These advantages collectively empower writers to produce higher-quality, more efficient, and consistent academic and medical content.

How to Use AI for Scientific Writing

How to Use AI Tools for Scientific Writing

Select the correct large language model

When selecting the appropriate large language model (LLM) for writing your research manuscript using AI tools, consider several factors to ensure the best fit for your specific needs. Available LLMs include GPT-3.5, GPT-4, BARD, LlaMA, Falcon, Cohere, PaLM, Claude v1, among others. To make an informed choice, pay close attention to the following characteristics:

  • Task Suitability: Determine whether the LLM is well-suited for your research manuscript, considering factors like natural language understanding, text generation, summarization, or translation.
  • Training Data: Look at the quality and quantity of the training data. Models trained on diverse and extensive datasets tend to perform better across various domains. Pay attention to how long ago the LLM was trained or if there is ongoing training.
  • Fine-tuning Capability: If your task requires domain-specific language, check if the LLM can be fine-tuned to improve its performance in your field.
  • Data Handling/Retention Practices: Before using any LLM, review the terms of service, privacy policies, and data handling practices of the specific platform or service where the LLM is deployed. These policies can differ, so understand how your data are treated when using any AI model or service.
  • Community and Support: Models with active user communities often have better documentation, support, and open-source resources.
  • Ethical Considerations: Be mindful of responsible AI usage and mitigation of biases, and choose models that align with your ethical principles.
  • Cost and Licensing: Consider the cost associated with using the model, as well as any licensing or usage restrictions.

By carefully evaluating these characteristics, you can select the LLM that best fits your research manuscript needs and leverage AI tools effectively in your writing process.

Next: Create effective prompts

Applying AI for writing can be a bit like learning to navigate a complex maze to yield the results you desire. Crafting effective prompts is a skill that evolves with practice and experimentation.

A prompt, in the context of AI, is a specific instruction or input to generate the desired output or response. Prompts can take various forms, such as text, questions, or commands, and they are essential in shaping the AI’s output to align with the user’s intentions or objectives. The quality and specificity of a prompt play a significant role in determining the relevance and accuracy of the AI-generated results. The key to writing an effective prompt is to strike a balance between providing clear and specific instructions without unnecessary verbosity. How to get started:

  • Be Specific: Clearly define the context and topic of your prompt. The more specific your prompt, the more focused and relevant the AI-generated response will be.
  • State Your Goal: Clearly express what you want from the AI. Whether it’s generating a summary, answering a question, or offering an explanation, specifying your goal helps the AI understand your intent.
  • Use Open-Ended Questions: Instead of asking yes/no questions, use open-ended questions that encourage in-depth responses. These questions often lead to more informative and insightful answers.
  • Provide Context: Briefly introduce the background or context related to the prompt. This can help the AI understand the subject matter and provide more relevant information.
  • Request Multiple Perspectives: If you’re seeking a balanced view or different angles on a topic, explicitly ask the AI to provide multiple perspectives or arguments.
  • Specify Format: If you have a preferred format for the response (e.g., bullet points, a summary, a list), mention it in your prompt. This guides the AI in structuring the output accordingly.
  • Request Citations: If you’re using the AI for research or academic purposes, ask the AI to provide citations or sources to back up its responses. This ensures the information’s credibility. Be sure to check the citations for accuracy. The accuracy of citations generated by AI depends on the quality and accuracy of the data it is trained on, as well as the specific algorithms and models used. See below for more on using AI for citations.
  • Define Tone and Style: If you have a specific tone or writing style in mind, describe it in your prompt. For example, you can request a formal or casual tone, or specify whether you want the response to be technical or easy to understand.
  • Ask for Step-by-Step Instructions: If you need a set of instructions, ask the AI to provide step-by-step guidance for a specific task or process.
  • Limit Word Count: If you want a concise response, specify the desired word or character count. This prevents the AI from generating overly lengthy responses. Note, however, that the word counts provided by AI are often incorrect, and it may be necessary to shorten or increase the length manually.
  • Experiment and Iterate: Don’t hesitate to experiment with different prompts and iterate to refine your queries. AI models can respond differently to slight changes in phrasing and wording.
  • Test for Consistency: If you’re seeking consistency in responses, ask the AI to maintain a consistent stance or viewpoint throughout the text.
  • Use Conditional Statements: Employ conditional statements like “If…then” to guide the AI in generating conditional or hypothetical responses.
  • Include Sample Input: If necessary, provide a sample input or data that the AI can refer to in generating the response.
  • Avoid Ambiguity: Ensure your prompts are unambiguous. Avoid vague language or unclear instructions, as this can lead to confusing or irrelevant responses.
  • Consider Ethical Implications: Be mindful of the ethical implications of your prompts. Use clear, unbiased language and avoid requests that promote harmful, biased, or discriminatory content.
  • Review and Revise: Always review the AI-generated output for accuracy and relevance. If necessary, revise the prompts and responses to achieve the desired outcome.

Citation and Formatting Tools

Using AI tools for citations and formatting in your research manuscript can be efficient and time-saving, but it’s essential to follow a systematic approach while being mindful of potential pitfalls. Here’s a guide on how to use AI for citations and formatting efficiently, what input to provide, and where to use caution.

  • Reference Correction: LLMs can help identify and correct errors in your reference list, such as inconsistencies in formatting, missing details, or incorrect citation styles. You can provide the LLM with your reference information, and it can generate correctly formatted references according to the chosen citation style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.).
  • Style Guide Compliance: LLMs can ensure that your references adhere to the specific style guidelines required by your academic institution or publication. They can provide guidance on the proper arrangement of elements like authors’ names, publication dates, titles, and more.
  • Citation Style Conversion: If you need to switch between different citation styles, LLMs can help you convert your existing references into the desired format. This is particularly helpful if you’re submitting your paper to multiple journals with varying citation requirements.
  • Checking for Missing Citations: LLMs can assist in checking your manuscript for any missing citations or references, helping you avoid unintentional plagiarism and ensuring that all sources are properly cited.
  • Consistency and Organization: LLMs can assist in maintaining consistency throughout your reference list, ensuring that all references are formatted in the same way and that the citation style is consistent across the entire document.

When utilizing AI for referencing and formatting in your research manuscript, it’s crucial to exercise caution. Despite the general reliability of AI tools, the potential for errors remains, making it essential to meticulously double-check AI-generated citations and the formatting of your reference list to ensure accuracy. It’s equally important to ensure that the input data for your sources are comprehensive and precise, reducing the likelihood of inaccuracies.

Moreover, some AI tools may encounter challenges when dealing with less common or unconventional source types, necessitating vigilance on your part to both verify the correctness of the formatting and make manual adjustments if necessary. In collaborative research efforts, maintaining version control is pivotal. Ensuring that all team members employ the same AI tool and version guarantees consistency in formatting and referencing throughout the manuscript.

Grammar and Language Style Tools

AI can be highly useful for checking your grammar, punctuation, and language style as you write. Understanding what AI can and cannot do is essential.

  • Select a Reliable AI Tool: Choose a reputable AI-powered grammar and style-checking tool. Popular options include Grammarly, ProWritingAid, and Microsoft Word’s built-in grammar checker.
  • Integrate with Your Writing Software: Ensure that the AI tool integrates seamlessly with your preferred word processing software, such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or LaTeX. Most AI tools offer browser extensions or desktop applications for this purpose.
  • Document Preparation: Write or import your science research manuscript into your chosen word processing software.
  • Activate the AI Tool: Enable the AI tool’s grammar and style-checking features. Depending on the tool, this may involve clicking on a toolbar or selecting a specific option in the software.
  • Real-Time Suggestions: As you write, the AI tool will provide real-time suggestions for grammar, punctuation, and style improvements. Pay attention to the tool’s suggestions and implement them if they enhance the clarity and coherence of your writing.
  • Contextual Feedback: AI tools often offer contextual feedback, such as explanations for suggested changes. Use this feedback to understand the reasons behind the suggestions, check that the AI understands the context of your writing, and improve your writing skills.
  • Style Consistency: Ensure that your writing adheres to the specific style guide required for your science research manuscript (e.g., APA, IEEE). The AI tool can help you maintain consistency in style and formatting.
  • Customization: Some AI tools allow customization to align with your specific writing preferences. Explore the customization options to tailor the tool to your needs.
  • Document Review: Once you’ve completed your manuscript, run a comprehensive grammar and style check using the AI tool. This will help catch any overlooked issues.
  • Collaborative Editing: If you’re working with co-authors, share the document and invite them to review the AI tool’s suggestions. Collaborative editing can enhance the overall quality of the manuscript.
  • Final Review: After addressing all the AI tool’s suggestions, conduct a final manual review of your manuscript to ensure that the changes align with the context and content of your research. AI is a valuable assistant but should not replace your critical assessment.

While AI-powered grammar and writing style tools offer substantial benefits, they are not without their shortcomings. Some common pitfalls include over-correction, where AI suggests technically correct changes that may alter the intended meaning, such as replacing informal language with formal equivalents. Contextual misinterpretation can lead to suggestions that don’t align with the author’s intended meaning, particularly in specialized fields where technical terms are involved. False positives may flag constructions as errors that aren’t incorrect, such as sentence fragments or discipline-specific terminology. AI tools often favor active voice for clarity, potentially causing overcorrection in scientific writing, where passive voice may be preferred (see our article Knowing How, When, and Where to Use Active and Passive Voice in Science Writing). Inconsistencies, homonym errors, and the introduction of incorrect suggestive language are also possible. Misplacement of modifiers can result in awkward or unclear sentences. To address these pitfalls, researchers should use AI tools as aids and perform a critical evaluation of their suggestions, ensuring that the research’s intended meaning and style are preserved. Combining AI tools with human judgment remains the most effective approach.

Plagiarism and Other Ethical Issues

The ethical implications of using AI should not be overlooked. Consider issues related to plagiarism, copyright, and data privacy, and ensure that your utilization of AI aligns with responsible and ethical practices. To ensure the originality of your AI-assisted work, it is advisable to run your manuscript through dedicated plagiarism detection software.

  • Plagiarism Detection: Use dedicated plagiarism detection software to ensure that your manuscript is free from any unintentional or intentional plagiarism. AI tools can assist with writing but may not identify potential issues with originality (see our article How to Avoid Plagiarism).
  • Citation and Attribution: Properly attribute all sources, quotes, and references in your manuscript. AI tools can help with formatting citations, but it’s your responsibility to ensure that all sources are accurate and appropriately credited.
  • Review and Accountability: Always review and take responsibility for the content generated by AI. Do not solely rely on AI for the accuracy and ethical standards of your research.
  • Transparency: Most journals require transparency regarding the use of AI tools in the writing process. Check the journal instructions for guidance on how to disclose your use of AI tools in your manuscript preparation.
When Is AI Most Beneficial for Academic and Science Writing?

When Is AI Most Beneficial for Academic and Science Writing?

AI can be highly advantageous in specific academic and medical writing scenarios. First, it proves invaluable for time-sensitive projects when tight deadlines necessitate quick content generation or efficient proofreading to meet submission timelines. For example, AI can be leveraged to create presentation content. Second, AI can be particularly beneficial in the initial drafting of academic and medical manuscripts by providing a structured outline and content that authors can subsequently refine.

For example, researchers embarking on a new research paper can utilize AI to generate a preliminary outline and introduction, expediting the writing process. Additionally, AI serves as a valuable language enhancement tool, especially for non-native English speakers looking to improve the language and grammar of their academic or medical documents.

When Is AI Most Beneficial for Academic and Science Writing?

When to Approach AI with Caution in Academic and Medical Writing

The use of AI tools for science writing like medical and research manuscripts, offers undeniable time-saving benefits, but it also comes with potential drawbacks. AI’s lack of contextual understanding can lead to content misalignment with the research question and result in misinterpretations of intricate scientific concepts, potentially introducing inaccuracies. Language enhancement tools may inadvertently introduce errors or reduce clarity, emphasizing the need for human oversight. There’s a risk of AI generating false citations or referencing incorrect sources, which could compromise research integrity. Ethical decision-making, especially in sensitive research areas, might challenge AI, as nuanced judgment is often necessary. Additionally, AI’s inability to infuse creativity and insightful perspectives into writing, coupled with difficulties handling subjective elements in research, highlights the importance of human intervention to maintain the quality and ethical standards of research manuscripts.

Conclusion

AI has emerged as a valuable tool in science, academic, and medical writing, offering efficiency, quality enhancement, and consistency. Responsible and ethical usage of AI in your writing, however, remains critical. Authors must be transparent about their use of AI tools, diligently review AI-generated content, and uphold ethical standards throughout the writing process.

As AI technology continues to advance, researchers and medical professionals can anticipate even more sophisticated AI tools tailored to the specific needs of academic and medical writing. By embracing AI while recognizing its limitations, authors can leverage its capabilities to enhance the impact and quality of their research publications.

AI Disclaimer: This article was generated with the assistance of ChatGPT, an AI large language model, to enhance its content. The AI-generated content was thoroughly reviewed, rewritten, and edited to ensure accuracy and coherence. The authors take full responsibility for this article.

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