31 Aug How to punch up your writing with ChatGPT: Three golden rules from a converted copywriter
The AI invasion is upon us. You have two options: run or reach out.
At least, that’s what the online discourse would have you believe. I’m a copywriter, and what do I think? That binary is poppycock. It’s time to strike a happy middle ground.
Over the last six months, I’ve been refining my relationship with ChatGPT. Analysing when, how and why I use it. And I’m happy to report we’re in a good place right now.
My writing quality hasn’t changed (still great) – but my productivity has. Exponentially. So let’s unpack how I got here. And how you can sustainably use ChatGPT in your writing – without compromising quality, creativity, or pleasure.
ChatGPT: A quick and dirty recap
ChatGPT is a tool. And like any tool, it’s only as good as the one who uses it. (Except for the paperweight – which is completely useless in all respects.)
To use ChatGPT well, you must first understand its functionality; the inner machinations inside the AI. I won’t tramp through well-covered territory too much here, but a quick rundown won’t hurt.
Developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT is a Large Language Model (LLM) that synthesises enormous amounts of text data from the internet – and generates answers to prompts based on patterns learned during its training.
It uses an attention-based mechanism, based on the Transformer architecture, to sort which words from your prompt matter the most for its response.
More importantly? ChatGPT is the fastest-growing consumer app in history – surpassing TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify. Plus, Microsoft has invested $10 billion into it. So in other words… it’s here to stay.
The good, the bad and the ugly
If you’ve already used ChatGPT (of course you have), you already know the good stuff.
It’s fast. Incredibly deft at summarising complex topics. Effective at finding and finishing patterns. And great at automatic repetitive tasks.
You probably know about its limitations, too. (I mean, it tells you, right there, on the homepage).
It has inbuilt biases and assumptions – some more harmful than others. It can’t critically reason. And it offers no guidelines for interpreting its responses. (We have that responsibility).
As for the ugly?
Well, there was that exposé about subcontracted content moderators in Kenya being paid USD$2 an hour to sift through harmful content (a situation which has since been rectified).
Understanding ChatGPT’s parameters has been essential for me in learning how to engage with it meaningfully. And how to write copy that’s accurate, engaging and creative – quickly and enjoyably.
So, without further ado, here are my three golden rules for writing well with ChatGPT.
GOLDEN RULE 1: Think of ChatGPT as a sparring partner – not a total solution
In the writing ring, you’re hoping for a knockout paragraph to bust out of you. And how do you prepare for that one solid punch? By sparring.
ChatGPT is my little robot boxer friend, already raring to go. Whether I’m playing with a headline idea, a structure for a blog post, or rewriting a sentence – it comes up with a bunch of options that rile me up.
Then, I go away and outthink it. I use my very particular set of human skills (like critical reasoning and embodied knowledge) to riff on its ideas and find something that truly fits.
Sometimes, ChatGPT delivers the knockout punch. And when it does, I let it know. A quick ‘thank you, that’s just what I was after’ will do the trick. After all, it’s a learning model. The information you feed it will inform its growth.
GOLDEN RULE 2: Take time to write detailed prompts
The open secret to good chatbot responses? Good prompts.
My prompts are usually a few sentences long, written in plain English, and provide as much context as possible. I’ve pulled apart an example prompt below to explain my process.
LOL stands for laugh out loud, and ROFL stands for rolling on the floor laughing. Can you create a list of incorrect translations for internet abbreviations that may have been invented by an older person using Facebook? The funnier, the better. And they should relate to an aged-care provider called [xxx].
Green = Pattern
ChatGPT works by recognising and generating patterns from text data. So describe the output you want the AI to create through examples or explanations. It will get you on the same page.
Yellow = Goal
What do you want from this AI interaction? Use a verb (‘create a headline’, ‘write a blog post’) and add specific detail. Including a word count can be helpful too, as ChatGPT tends to overexplain.
Light blue = Point of view
An oft-forgotten feature of ChatGPT: It can write like any famous person, professional, or archetype your heart desires. The perspective will often completely change the angle of the response, so it’s particularly helpful for marketing writing.
Pink = Writing style
Describe the tone you want the writing to have. Don’t be afraid to be extreme. You can always ask it to tone it back.
Dark blue = Instruction
Add any other background information to guide the chatbot towards your desired outcome. As mentioned, the more intel, the better.
Want to start writing killer prompts? Head to the RM Content Lab and download your free ‘ChatGPT in Practice’ cheat sheet.
GOLDEN RULE 3: Imagine you’re talking to a coworker
ChatGPT likes easy-to-understand language, precise commands and examples. Just like a real-life person! In fact, talking to the chatbot like a person is a fantastic approach.
Just imagine you were asking a coworker to brainstorm with you. You’d expect them to miss your point initially and require clarification. You’d expect to fill in the backstory and get them back on track when they veer in a different direction.
This is called interactive prompting. A natural back-and-forth that slowly nudges the chatbot into generative terrain.
I’ve continued this for as many as 10 to 20 replies before, with awesome results. But be aware – sometimes ChatGPT loses the thread completely and prattles off in the wrong direction. Sometimes, you need to know when to cut your losses and begin again. (Though I’ve noticed this happens less frequently with ChatGPT 4.)
The pleasure in the process
Know the saying, ‘pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work’? I believe this applies to writing well with AI.
I enjoy the sparring back-and-forth with ChatGPT – and the reworking, outthinking process that occurs afterwards. I have fun trying to be more human than the bot. More creative, specific and unexpected. But not everybody does – and not all the time.
If ChatGPT hinders your natural flow of ideas or strips away the pleasure of the creative process, close that tab. We humans enjoy the process of nutting things out and the satisfaction that comes with completion. So be mindful of preserving that pleasure as you use ChatGPT.
A final thought
ChatGPT is a tool. And like any tool, it’s only as good as the thinking it enables.
So before you start writing all your content with it, take a moment to consider how it’s influencing your writing work – and you.
And over time, build your healthy relationship with ChatGPT – with accuracy, efficiency and pleasure at its heart.
Want a pro-ChatGPT user – AKA a professional copywriter – to help you write your content? Reach out to the humans at RM.