With the introduction of ChatGPT in November 2022, and other AI tools quickly following, the question of how artificial intelligence (AI) can help with writing has been everywhere. However, it’s not easy or straightforward to answer – especially when it comes to technical writing. While AI has its place, it should not be used as a replacement for “the real deal.” Here’s why, along with some examples of why tools like ChatGPT don’t hit the mark in technical writing.
What is AI Generated Content?
AI-generated content refers to material generated completely through a computer. The user inputs information and parameters of what they would like the AI to create, and the tool returns with a document, artwork, or other information it created using the internet as its sole source of information. The user then can tweak the results by chatting further with the AI until the finished product is what they were looking for.
ChatGPT is a well-known AI content generator, but Microsoft, Google, and other companies have recently put out their own tools in competition. AI-generated content is cost-effective, time-efficient, and scalable, and can help break creative blocks, so it can be helpful to artists, writers, and others who might just need a creative “jump-start.”
AI has come a long way in recent years, and the writing these tools produce can capture a human voice very well. In fact, it’s becoming a problem for teachers in the classroom, admissions departments reviewing college applications, and editors publishing news articles, who are all having a hard time determining who is the author of a piece of writing. Many AI detectors do a very poor job of identifying these AI-generated pieces, and even mark human-written pieces as AI-generated!
Can AI Content Generators Work In Technical Writing?
Artificial technology can certainly be useful when it comes to writing, coding, graphic design, and more. It can be an amazing springboard to get information and brainstorm ideas, too. And you can ask about the technology on almost anything, from cat health to offshore wind energy.
AI has been shown to help writers with:
- Headline creation
- Meta descriptions
- Idea generation
- Finding sources
AI’s cost-effective and time-saving nature can make it very alluring. Since AI tools seem to be able to write about just about anything, it can be tempting to consider it a strong tool for technical writing too.
But should organizations really use ChatGPT and similar tools to create entire technical writing pieces? Probably not.
Why Technical Writing Needs the Human Touch
While AI can be a helpful tool in writing, it really shouldn’t be considered a replacement for an experienced technical writer. Here are four reasons for exactly why you shouldn’t remove a human from the documentation equation.
Calls Ethics into Question
First, ethical concerns can come along with using AI to write entire documents. Where exactly is the AI-generated material coming from? Since these tools pull information from all corners of the internet, the source of the writing isn’t always clear.
Additionally, many AI tools draw from the same pool of information each time they receive a similar prompt. If two individuals request information on a very similar topic from the same AI tool, the resulting documents could turn out very much the same. And since AI draws from details in an online pool, the AI-generated content could be very similar to an existing document originally written by a human! This can result in accusations of plagiarism, especially if you’re passing the writing off as your own.
Finally, if you’re publishing your AI-generated document on the internet, if it turns out to be like other documents found on other company’s websites, you could see your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts take a hit, since search engines like Google disadvantage writing that is too much like others’.
Another example of why AI doesn’t work well for technical writing is that AI tools tend to write with a tone that is almost too human.
Technical writing and article writing are not the same. Articles can be written with a conversational tone (hi!), but technical writing must be written in a straightforward manner that eliminates confusion.
Topics that technical writers must cover can be extremely complicated. For example, manuals and procedures need to be straightforward and to the point. Mistakes in instructions can lead to accidents, misuse of machinery, injury, and more. AI content generation tools tend to put too much emphasis on sounding human to work in these scenarios, which could create problems down the line for your readers.
In addition, technical writing often must meet industry and government regulations. While ChatGPT writing can pass the Bar or a medical school exam, it is not a lawyer, and it is not a doctor. You cannot rely on it to defend you in court or diagnose your medical concerns— you need to go to the experts. The same can be said of technical writers. Technical writers understand the regulations your organization needs to meet to avoid fines or delays in operations. If an AI tool misses even one of these requirements, you could be facing serious problems.
Lack of Language Nuances
Many companies in industries like oil and gas, renewable energy, engineering, and manufacturing have employees all over the globe. Not all of them speak English. While AI content generators can translate, they can also miss nuances in writing.
This can be extremely costly when it comes to technical writing, especially of instructions and procedures. Just one mistake in translation can lead to confusion, machine malfunction, accidents, injuries, and other problems.
AI tools can be a good starting point for translation, but they shouldn’t be wholly relied upon, or you could find yourself with problems on an international scale.
Questionable or Incorrect Information
Another major problem with AI’s use for technical writing is its penchant for questionable or flat-out incorrect information. This can result from both user error and technical error.
First, let’s cover user error. AI content generators need the correct prompts, keywords, phrases, and topics to return usable writing. Users could feel they clearly and completely stated what they wanted the tool to write about, but when the document is returned, it’s nothing like what they requested. The user then needs to tweak their prompts to try again. If this occurs repeatedly, the user could give up or settle for a document that works only incompletely for the project.
Writing AI prompts is not always easy, especially when it comes to technical writing! So much information needs to be input into the program to return viable documents that fit all the parameters of the required project. If you miss even one piece of information that needs to be included, you could be left with a document that has vital details missing, leading to fines, accidents, or other issues in the future.
There have also been “technical errors” on the part of the AI. Fact- checking what the technology produces can lead to some surprises! These content tools have been found to not only pull incorrect or outdated data, but name other AI tools as their source of information! And some have been caught making up information – and entire sources! – that simply can’t be found anywhere.
Relying on this information can be costly to your operations. In addition, it’s important to note that content generators are designed to work off a set of pre-existing information, including data and images. As a result, some AI-generated technical writing can return with human biases that have no place in these types of documents.
AI tools can make our workloads (and lives) easier. They can assist with productivity, efficiency, time management, and brainstorming, and can help us write essays, create resumés, solve complicated math problems, and so much more. And they’re becoming more complex and powerful with each passing day.
While AI content generation tools can be useful in the workplace, they shouldn’t play a large part when it comes to technical writing. They can assist with outlines and structuring, but beyond that, the writing is best left to the experts.
Shea Writing and Training Solutions can make those experts available to you. We have experience in writing documentation across several industries – without the help of AI. From employee handbooks to standard operating procedures, our documents reflect the experienced writing your organization needs for clear and concise documentation that fits within the regulations of your industry. And if you have some AI-generated content that you’d like a second pair of (human!) eyes on, we can help with that, too, with editing and proofreading services to double-check the data and information in your document. Discover what we can do for your documents here.