ChatGPT and Plagiarism: Academic Authenticity

Plagiarism updated on  December 11, 2023 6 min read

Is ChatGPT plagiarism free? It’s designed not to plagiarize, but it may draw from other writers’ work in a way that may be plagiarism or that may be perceived as plagiarism.

You can use ChatGPT and still create original writing by fact-checking, citing, and editing carefully while relying on it as an assistant, not a substitute writer.

Does ChatGPT plagiarize?

No, ChatGPT doesn’t plagiarize in the sense that it doesn’t copy information and pass it along to you. But—and it’s a but you can’t overlook—because it learns from existing sources to write the information it gives you, it may borrow other writers’ ideas without giving them credit, which is a form of plagiarism. It may also generate content that closely resembles existing content, which can be mistaken for plagiarism.

Is ChatGPT content plagiarism-free?

Plagiarism is more than just copying another text word for word. Since there’s more than one type of plagiarism, ChatGPT may contain text that could be seen as plagiarized.

For example, if it draws on ideas from another writer but doesn’t give accurate source information, that is plagiarism. It could also appear to contain paraphrasing plagiarism, in which it seems to rephrase another writer’s text in different words without citing it.

Although ChatGPT is designed to create unique content, it sometimes falls short or is misunderstood.

Is using ChatGPT content plagiarizing?

Debate is ongoing about whether it’s possible to plagiarize content written by an entity that’s not human, such as as AI tool. We typically think of plagiarism as using information from another person without properly crediting them.

But at the heart of this concept is the need for originality—when work is original, it’s important not only that it doesn’t come from someone else but that it does come from you.

In other words, your work might be plagiarized if you didn’t generate it, even if you didn’t steal it from another person.

This is why some organizations recommend citing ChatGPT as a source when you use it. One example is the APA, which says to quote and cite the language model like you would any other source. It offers a citation format for ChatGPT texts.

Using ChatGPT with a citation is one way to prevent plagiarism; is forbidding its use an equally valid way? Prohibition might be the most certain way to prevent it, but in our technology-driven world, it may be unrealistic and even seem like micromanagement to expect students not to use helpful and accessible tools.

For instance, when my kids were very small and we moved to a home with a staircase, I didn’t put up gates. Instead, I taught them how to navigate the stairs safely. It took a little time and some extra supervision, but it let them expand their skills and gave them more freedom.

In the same way, students can learn how to use ChatGPT wisely, benefit from it, and still create original work.

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5 tips to ensure authenticity in academic writing

Instead of avoiding ChatGPT and other AI-powered tools, you can use them while ensuring your writing is actually yours. The following are some ways you can keep it real.

1. Get permission to use AI-generated content

To adapt to the new technology, many educational institutions, scientific journals, and publishers are revisiting their plagiarism policies. Their responses range from strictly banning the use of ChatGPT to redefining plagiarism and giving rules for using the tool.

It’s best to check with your instructor if you’re not sure about how to complete an assignment. That includes finding out what kinds of tools you can use and how.

2. Remember that ChatGPT is just a tool

If you have permission to use ChatGPT and you’re aiming to create a unique and original piece of writing, you can’t just plug in a simple prompt and then accept whatever you get. That’s like relying on only a hammer to construct an entire building—it’s just a tool, so you can’t expect it to handle everything. You’re still the one doing the task, and you still have to think, use other tools, follow blueprints, and so on.

What you get out of ChatGPT depends on what you put in. Give it a sufficiently detailed prompt to get specific, not generic, information. According to ChatGPT’s creator, OpenAI, the language model “is sensitive to tweaks to the input phrasing” and assumes your intent rather than asking questions to clarify it. To get the best results, ask several versions of your question, rephrasing or adding detail each time.

The best uses of ChatGPT focus on looking for ideas or augmenting sections of your writing rather than trying to get the tool to write a whole paper for you. For example, you might use it to overcome writer’s block, create an outline, summarize long works, or look for sources.

3. Find and cite sources carefully

While ChatGPT draws on myriad sources, it’s earned a reputation for not citing them correctly—or at all. The information you get from it is more of a starting point than a finished product, and it may not give you sources unless you specifically ask for them. Plus, those sources may be bogus.

Computer scientist David Gewirtz recommends carefully wording a prompt to get better source results from ChatGPT. For example, to eliminate offline sources and get more of them, you might input “Please provide 10 URL sources.”

But even then, keep in mind that ChatGPT offers only information it has learned from 2021 or earlier. So if your study field or topic requires the latest data, you’ll need to dig it up yourself.

Once you’ve found the sources you need, ChatGPT can help you save time by picking out the most relevant points or simplifying complex texts.

But to cite those sources correctly, which ChatGPT isn’t designed to do, it’s wise to turn to a citation generator instead. QuillBot has a great one (and we recommend it!).

4. Fact-check

According to OpenAI, “ChatGPT sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers.” This means you can’t always rely on the information it gives you because it could be completely made up. Check and re-check every piece of data and every claim for accuracy so that your work has credibility and you don’t get accused of fabricating evidence.

5. Edit carefully

OpenAI also warns that “the model is often excessively verbose and overuses certain phrases, such as restating that it’s a language model trained by OpenAI.” There’s no quicker revelation that you didn’t write a paper yourself than when it makes statements from the perspective of a computer model, so remember to read and edit it carefully.

This warning from OpenAI also highlights another issue: ChatGPT has a somewhat distinctive writing style. It’s not concise, which is a vital feature of good academic writing, and it’s often simplistic. It fails to vary word choices and sentence structures like a human would, which makes it sound, well, robotic.

Another shortcoming of the model relates to content more than mechanics. “It will sometimes respond to harmful instructions or exhibit biased behavior,” OpenAI says. Because ChatGPT learns from a wide range of sources and some of those sources are inappropriate, the content it outputs may also be inappropriate or biased.

So: does ChatGPT plagiarize? AI content is tricky, and the answer falls in a gray area. However, if you are careful and use all of the resources available to you, ChatGPT can be a very powerful tool in your arsenal.

Never forget that you, as the author, are always ultimately responsible for what you write, including anything you write using ChatGPT. Submitting a paper you wrote with assistance from ChatGPT without editing it thoroughly is a big mistake. Make sure your composition is free of errors, inaccuracies, and bias and that it’s actually well written. And finally, use a plagiarism detection tool like QuillBot’s Plagiarism Checker to guarantee that everything in it is truly plagiarism free.

Bringing in a few other tools to help you overcome ChatGPT’s shortfalls is an easy way to make these edits. QuillBot’s Grammar Checker, Proofreader, and QuillBot Flow can help you clean up AI-generated text fast by offering helpful suggestions that make you a better author.

Can universities detect ChatGPT?

Many universities use AI detection software along with plagiarism checkers, and these programs are often able to detect AI-generated content.

Is it safe to use ChatGPT for essays?

Before using ChatGPT to write essays, it’s best to ask your instructor and/or check your school’s policy. If you’re allowed to use it, you’ll still need to fact-check and edit any content generated by ChatGPT to improve the writing and ensure accuracy and correct source citation.

How do you ensure originality in academic writing?

You can write original papers by doing thorough research, building on that research with your own ideas, citing sources properly, and editing thoroughly. All of these steps apply whether you get help from AI or not.

What is the importance of authenticity in academic writing?

Authenticity is about honesty, which matters in academic writing for two reasons:

  1. Developing your own ideas is a key part of real learning and growth
  2. Giving credit to others for their work shows that you respect their contributions and genuinely considered other perspectives when formulating your own

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Hannah Skaggs

Along with Paige Pfeifer

Hannah, a writer and editor since 2017, specializes in clear and concise academic and business writing. She has mentored countless scholars and companies in writing authoritative and engaging content.

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