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I used ChatGPT to polish my essay, now I’m freaking out.

As above, in Feb I had to write a reflective piece about 1000 words for university. The essay was based on my real experiences and reflection. I wrote the essay myself then fed it into ChatGPT with prompts like “ revise this to make it more professional.” And the output it gave looked much better than my original writing, but did not change my original meanings, and I used the chatgpt output pretty much word for word as the essay I submitted. The essay might not be marked until July/August. At the time my intention was not to cheat, I thought it was like using a better version of Grammarly. Especially because I am not a native speaker and have always struggled with writing. Fast forward to today, I realised what I did was shady, put my essay into multiple AI detectors and got picked up as AI written by some. I looked up my university’s policy about AI (published after I submitted the essay), which states you have to openly disclose any use of CharGPT or it will count as contract cheating. I have been living in pure fear the last couple of weeks and it’s ruining my life. I am in my last year of a professional program which means it will attract more severe penalties. I have immense regret for putting my education and career at risk for something so stupid. I also wish the university had talked to us about AI directly early on. In fact, to this day, I have received no information about AI from any faculty member. If I had known this was contract cheating I would never have done it.

I have had no previous experience with academic misconduct, and I have no idea what to expect.

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    Assuming the instructor does not detect the source, I'm kind of curious if you will get a good mark on your essay. I have seen a lot of results from ChatGPT that are not what I would call high quality. It seem to be grabbing things from the net based on keywords (or whatever the correct term is for key phrases) rather than a true understanding.
    – Boba Fit
    Apr 6, 2023 at 19:23
  • I doubt it. Reading back at the essay I submitted now, I realised I could have done a better job myself. Apr 6, 2023 at 19:42
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    They'll use ChatGPT to score it :) More seriously, I wouldn't worry too much about it, because you're right that people use things like Grammarly also. Also, people show their essays to others for feedback all the time. My impression is that since you actually wrote the essay and used ChatGPT as a tool, that's different from just asking ChatGPT to write the whole essay for you. But it's better to err on the side of caution in the future.
    – cgb5436
    Apr 6, 2023 at 19:54
  • After this I think I have PTSD from chatgpt and certainly will not being using AI for any future writings. Apr 6, 2023 at 20:07
  • " I thought it was like using a better version of Grammarly." You are correct. The issue is that the policies are making a bit fuss about chatGPT and the likes. Just retire from the prize, you do not need to provide a motivation but you can always provide it if you feel like, maybe you can write an essay on why you equated chatGPT as Grammarly on steroids to motivate your dropping out of the competition.
    – EarlGrey
    Apr 26, 2023 at 19:52

4 Answers 4

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The consequences for any sort of cheating/misconduct are determined by your institution. Generally, I'd expect more leniency for first offenses and more leniency for things in a "gray area" versus clear violations.

It would seem extremely unfair to me to apply a policy published after your submission, and if you were accused under that policy this seems like a straightforward defense. There is certainly some level of novelty to these tools for everyone involved, and likely to be some growing pains associated with that.

It's possible a strict interpretation would find you have violated some already existing policies, with the new policy only meant to clarify. It could be argued that, especially if you are expected to be graded on things like the language used, you have not submitted work that reflects your own writing abilities. You've also violated any terms of using ChatGPT that require disclosure/attribution.

I don't know what academic system you are in where assignments are graded so long after they are submitted. Possibly you could in the meantime write a proper version of your original script without ChatGPT, confess to having violated a policy before it was a clear policy, and ask that your new submission be accepted. If it were me responsible for assigning a grade, I'd find this to be honest and commendable, but I can't have any idea what the attitude will be at your institution. As BobaFit alludes to in a comment, many people find that ChatGPT's idea of "professional" or good writing really...isn't, so it's also quite possible that the version you've submitted will not get a better grade than what you could have produced yourself, even with your low confidence in your writing.

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  • Thank you for your comment. The reason why it takes so long is because it wasn’t actually an assignment, it was an application for a prize I was eligible to apply due to good academic standings (how ironic, I know), and we won’t find out who gets the prize until much later. The “policy” about the definition of contract cheating re involving a third party has always been around, but correlating using AI to contract cheating was only published on my University’s website couple of days ago. Apr 6, 2023 at 19:47
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    @LonelyStudent If you're feeling so much stress about it, can you simply withdraw your name from consideration for the prize?
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 6, 2023 at 19:56
  • I actually really want to withdraw my name but do not know how to. I emailed the person who sent out the invitations to apply weeks ago asking when we might find out the results but got no response. There’s no clear procedures on how to withdraw, and I’m worried if I ask to withdraw now it will look suspicious. I don’t think I will get the prize and I certainly hope I don’t, due to the essay being mediocre and off topic. Apr 6, 2023 at 20:03
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    @LonelyStudent I think it's really probably not a big deal. You could email them and say "there's a new policy that makes clear that disclosure of ChatGPT usage is required, you had used ChatGPT previously to edit your submission, even though the policy was posted after your submission you feel most comfortable if your name is withdrawn from consideration". They might thank you for your honesty and withdraw your name, they might say oh it really doesn't matter, I think it's extremely unlikely there would be any other consequence. It's not worth anyone's time and you haven't benefitted.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 6, 2023 at 20:11
  • Thank you for your time and valuable advice. I think I will write an email to formally ask for my application to be withdrawn, but I don’t feel comfortable admitting using ChatGPT as the reason as I feel embarrassed and worry that it will attract unwanted attention . However, if they raise the suspicion of using AI I will be honest and admit. Apr 6, 2023 at 21:33
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Earlier in the year, I wrote a policy thought on conversational AI (ChatGPT.
I refer to this as in my view, your use of ChatGPT us what I thought it could be. An assistive tool rather than a replacement tool.

You indicated that you used ChatGPT to polish up your essay. Although you did not say to what degree this polishing up is. What is instructive is that you're not saying you wrote your essay with ChatGPT: in essence, it was not written by ChatGPT from ground up.

In the circumstances, I'll strongly iterate that

  • you send a follow-up declaration email: indicating that ChatGPT was used as a consulted tool to polish your essay.
  • you could even send through a supplemented copy of your essay (unofficially, as the submitted essay remains the official), along with your declarative email. The supplementary will be in two parts. The first is the exact same copy you submitted. The second part (more of appendix), will succinctly outline how ChatGPT was used or consulted.

PS: I took note of

I looked up my university’s policy about AI (published after I submitted the essay), which states you have to openly disclose any use of CharGPT or it will count as contract cheating.

By sending the declarative email, you are infact (proactively) aligning to the university's policy.
The policy came after you've submitted. You've now sighted it and acting on it.

My view about conversation AI like ChatGPT is that it should not be banned outrightly. It should be encouraged as part of learning processes: as learning scaffolding.

[Extract from my policy thought on ChatGPT]

  1. Students must disclose their ChatGPT search terms (keywords)
  2. Students must include their ChatGPT result verbatim as an appendix
  3. Students must write their own assignment/assessment submission
  4. Students must show their creativity, their critical thinking and cognitive skills in their writing
  5. It is a crime or punishable offence to use tools to paraphrase ChatGPT results.
  6. Students must show their own originality.
  7. For computing-based assignments/assessments, students must fully comment on their work: introduction/summary, each line of code, and each function/class
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    Thank you for your advice. Unfortunately I cleared ChatGPT history so I don’t have access to the conversations anymore. As this essay wasn’t an assignment but a application for a prize, my plan is to consult with the student advocate first and then send a formal email acknowledging the use of ChatGPT and ask for my application to be withdrawn. Apr 9, 2023 at 7:07
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    Do you still have a copy of the essay that you originally wrote?
    – Neithea
    Apr 9, 2023 at 9:52
  • I used google doc, which has version histories, but it did not save every single edit so I only have the first half of the essay I originally wrote Apr 9, 2023 at 10:35
  • I would imagine it won’t be too difficult to argue the essay was originally written by me since it was based on personal experiences, which AI can’t do Apr 9, 2023 at 10:37
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If we don't know where you study and we don't know the internal regulations, we can't answer this question. Each university deals with this according to its own regulations, so it would probably be best to contact your own study department or someone who understands these regulations and consult them.

From a professional point of view, I would recommend developing your own methodology for recognizing the veracity of chatGPT responses. ChatGPT is not an AI that has logical intelligence, so its answers may be wrong. ChatGPT is a chatbot that synthesizes some text (probabilistically, I guess) from bibliographic sources provided to it during learning. The output is then sorted - the developers assign points to the individual outputs (so, for example, expressive answers are pushed to the back). However, this mechanism cannot check for itself if, for example, there are things that contradict each other in its answer. It is developed to synthesize text, answer, and speak. It can be worse with the truth of the lyrics.

The correctness of the answer also depends on the accuracy of the question. When you ask a question that is not in direct line with the answer (even if it seems like it is), the chatbot will answer it, but in reality, it is not an answer to your question. It is best to play with it a little to see what answers different chatGPT contexts offer to the same question asked in different ways and how the bot answers conflicting questions or situations that occurred after the last update.

With the above two paragraphs, I want to tell you that after using chatbots, for example in the direction of deepening information, you need to be careful about them not to ruin your knowledge.

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Disclose to your lecturer, and seek to remedy the problem

Since your essay has not yet been assessed, and the university itself has not detected the use of ChatGPT, I recommend that you approach them and advise your use of this facility for "polishing", let them know that you are worried that this may not be allowable, and ask them if they would prefer for you to resubmit the earlier version of your essay prior to adding this "polish".

If you were the one to make this approach (as opposed to having the university detect it and raise it with you) then that is much less likely to be interpreted as cheating. Moreover, even if your previous submission were to be regarded as a breach of academic rules, if you were to take the initiative to bring this to the attention of the university and offer to resubmit, that would be a heavily mitigating factor. The likely outcome is that your lecturer will counsel you on what is and is not allowed, and will want you to submit the pre-ChatGPT version of your essay.

Assuming you still have your pre-ChatGPT draft, I recommend that you immediately write to your lecturer to disclose the problem and seek a solution. Here is an example of the kind of thing I have in mind:

Dear Professor ...

I am writing in relation to my essay I submitted in February, which I understand is due to be assessed soon. I am writing to disclose that for this essay I constructed an initial draft that I wrote myself, but then I used ChatGPT to polish the prose for the essay, and took substantive changes from this source. The essay presently does not cite ChatGPT as a source.

It has come to my attention that this might not be allowed under university rules, and so I would like to find out (a) if use of ChatGPT for this purpose is allowed; (b) if and how I am supposed to cite ChatGPT as a source; and (c) if not allowed at all, what I should do to go about remedying this error. In case it is not allowable to use ChatGPT for revisions of the essay, I have retained the previous draft of my essay prior to use of ChatGPT and would be happy to submit that version in lieu of the presently submitted version. If use of ChatGPT is allowable with attribution, then I would like to revise my essay to make the required attribution.

Please accept my sincere apologies if I have done the wrong thing here, and for any inconvenience it has caused. I would appreciate if you could advise me on what you would like me to do with my essay in order to make sure it is compliant with university rules.

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