How to use ChatGPT in your assignments without getting accused of plagiarism

chatgpt and plagiarism
While ChatGPT has took the world by storm, it has also shook up "education" as we know it — and here's how you can use this tool properly when writing your assignments. Source: Olivier Douliery/AFP

ChatGPT and plagiarism — these two words are coming together more often recently. 

The chatbot powered by artificial intelligence (AI) sounded alarm bells in education circles when it threatened to upend the authenticity of student essays. 

At Furman University, Darren Hick — a philosophy professor — caught a student turning in an AI-generated essay, Insider reports. 

Likewise, Antony Aumann, a religious studies and philosophy professor at Northern Michigan University, told the news site that he caught two students submitting essays written by ChatGPT.

The students failed their classes and were told to rewrite their essays, respectively.

That’s just the start. 

OpenAI’s latest release, GPT-4, is set to build on the mechanics of ChatGPT — providing students with a better, smarter, and faster chatbot. 

The possibilities are endless, The Guardian reported. 

Give GPT-4 a question for a US bar exam? It will write an essay that demonstrates legal knowledge. 

Provide it with a medical module? It will apply biomedical expertise when you ask for variations. 

The hype is real and the chatbot is powerful — but unis are starting to look keenly on how to combat the misuse of ChatGPT.

South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) might be expelled if they use AI tools, including ChatGPT, improperly or without authorisation in their work. 

SCMP also reported that students at Baptist University, another uni in Hong Kong, were told they would be committing plagiarism if they took words or ideas from other sources, including ChatGPT and other AI technologies.

What’s more, Turnitin, a provider of plagiarism checker software and other tools designed to encourage original work, has enhanced its products in 2023 to be more watchful of ChatGPT misuse.

If you are an international student, it’s crucial for you to proceed with caution when using ChatGPT.

One wrong move and your scores for a particular assignment might be invalidated. 

Worse, you could be suspended and expelled and could just lose your study visa if you’re not careful.

But note that we said it’s dangerous to misuse ChatGPT — this does not mean you cannot use GPT at all.

You just have to use it the right way — therein, however, lies the problem.

The line between the right way and the wrong way of using ChatGPT is often blurred.

It is important that any student understands both sides deeply before proceeding to use the chatbot.

Here are four ways to help understand the line between ChatGPT and plagiarism: 

chatgpt and plagiarism

Baffled about how to properly utilise this powerful chatbot? Here are four ways you can use ChatGPT when writing your assignment. Source: Stefani Reynolds/AFP

5 ways to use ChatGPT when writing your assignments

1. Source for ideas

Picture this: you boot up your laptop, open a new Microsoft Word document, and rest your hands above the keyboard. 

Right as about to begin writing, you wonder: where do I start? 

Luckily, ChatGPT learns quickly. 

By “feeding” on hundreds of billions of words in the form of books, conversations and web articles based on a model known as a large language model, the chatbot produces entire sentences that come from its “learnings” of the model.  

If you feel lost about what you learned in a class like calculus or mechanical engineering, try bouncing ideas with ChatGPT.

Some questions you can ask include:

  • “Is [topic] a good dissertation idea?”
  • “How can I study more productively?”
  • “What are some time management hacks?”

Here’s the catch: Responses are only limited to information until 2021, and this remains true even with the latest version of ChatGPT, GPT-4. 

Plus, ChatGPT doesn’t always have the most accurate answers, so you shouldn’t rely solely on it to validate your ideas.

2. Outline your assignments

Did you know that ChatGPT can also help you to draft a clear, well-structured outline for your assignment?

This is really helpful if you can’t make up your mind about a given structure, so having a sample will provide you with different variations on how your final product will look.

You can by inputting the following prompt:

“Create an outline for an academic research paper with the following research question”

You can specify the page length and the number of headings and subheadings you want to include. 

Remember that this prompt would not help the chatbot deepen its understanding of the topic. At times, ChatGPT might generate inappropriate headings. 

If so, trying the following prompt:

“This seems like too much information to fit into only eight pages. Can you condense the outline, for example, removing the appendices and simplifying the structure?”

Remember to check that the outline makes sense and covers all the points needed to answer the question in your assignment.

chatgpt and plagiarism

With the increasing popularity of AI chatbots such as ChatGPT, AI plagiarism checkers have been developed to combat the misuse of these chatbots. Source: Olivier Douliery/AFP

3. Use AI plagiarism tools

Say you did use ChatGPT for your assignment. 

How do you ensure that piece of work is plagiarism free? 

One way to separate ChatGPT and plagiarism is by using an AI plagiarism checker. 

Apart from Turnitin, you can consider using other free AI plagiarism checkers such as GPTZero, ZeroGPT, and Winston AI

While a plagiarism checker might not definitively determine whether a language model was used to generate a piece of text, it can help you identify instances of copying or paraphrasing from other sources.

In this, it can still be hard to detect plagiarism by an AI chatbot.

That’s because AI writing tools use natural language and grammar to craft “unique and almost individualised content,” even if the content is drawn from a database, according to Aaron Leong from Digital Trends.

4. Break down your research

Researching for an assignment is time-consuming and takes up a lot of energy. 

Remember the last time you had to comb through a dozen books just to get the right source for a killer point? 

Since ChatGPT is an AI chatbot, it can effortlessly go through large amounts of materials in a short period of time.

If you’re looking for a swift solution, here’s how the chatbot can help you summarise long articles and break down the main points: 

  1. Create an account or log into your account on ChatGPT. 
  2. Write the command, “Please summarise the following article into a list of talking points.”
  3. Copy and paste the link below the above command.
  4. Hit Enter.
  5. Your list of pointers will show up on the screen below your chat.

5. Get the green light from your lecturers

Play safe. Never assume that your lecturers and professors are okay with how you presume you’ve used ChatGPT correctly or that your work is 100% original.

What may seem okay or ethical to you may not be seen the same way by your university.

It’s highly advisable to speak to your lecturers and be honest about all the ways you’ve used the chatbot — and get their written consent that you won’t be penalised for plagiarism for it.

It’s better that they point out any mistakes before you’ve gone ahead to write an entire essay or when it’s too late for you to make any changes.

chatbot and plagiarism

One wrong move and you could lose your status as an international student. Source: Anthony Wallace/AFP

What happens if you are caught misusing ChatGPT in your assignments?

Your student handbook or uni’s rulebook will lay out the consequences for several misconducts, which include plagiarism.

If you were caught committing plagiarism by taking words or ideas from others sources, including ChatGPT and other AI technologies, at Baptist University, the penalties include reduced grades, course failure, suspension and dismissal, according to the South China Morning Post.

Suspension and expulsion from your uni will affect your status as an international student. According to Monash University’s website, the uni reports any case of suspension and expulsion to the Department of Education, which may result in the cancellation of a student’s study visa. 

At the University of Bath, students will be told to return to their home country if they are suspended from their studies.

The same applies in the US. One UNC Charlotte document, “Academic Dismissal and Effects on Immigration Status for F-1 and J-1 Students,” states:

“If an F-1 or J-1 student is academically dismissed (suspension or termination) during or after the semester resulting in the inability to enroll for classes, there can be severe immigration consequences.”

These consequences include their International Student and Scholar Office terminating your SEVIS record, a federal law requirement.

This is immediately after the date on which the dismissal letter was issued.

“Once your SEVIS record is terminated, you will be considered ‘Out of Status’ and you must leave the US immediately or request reinstatement from the Department of Homeland Security,” the document read.