ChatGPT and other AI Composition Tools: A Guide for Students

How this resource helps:

Provides information and recommendations to help students understand ChatGPT, its benefits and limitations, and when it is (or isn't) appropriate to use it in an academic setting.

We will be updating the information and recommendations on this page as we all learn more about this new technology. Last modified: Aug 25, 2023. 

What is ChatGPT? 

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot that was launched in November 2022 by the company Open AI. A chatbot is an interface that allows someone to have an automated and dynamic “conversation” with a computer that replicates an interaction with an actual person. What makes ChatGPT somewhat different from other bots is the extremely high quality of its responses and the wide range of topics it can respond to. ChatGPT 3.5 is publicly available and free to use, which means almost anyone can use the tool to quickly generate text. Since ChatGPT’s launch, other similar advanced AI composition tools have become publicly available, such as Microsoft Bing, Claude, Google Bard, and Khanmigo. Many are free, but others are “freemium” or paid, including the enhanced ChatGPT 4.  

Capabilities of ChatGPT and Other AI Tools  

AI composition tools can complete a variety of tasks, from writing short essays on almost any topic to generating working software code. We offer some examples of ChatGPT’s responses to a number of prompts. Each answer was generated in a matter of seconds. While these examples can give you an idea of the tool’s capabilities, the best way to understand what AI tools can do is to try them out yourself. 

AI tools can be trained to perform specific tasks, like writing emails, reaching out to students with resources, suggesting grammar and style edits (e.g., Grammarly), have conversations (e.g., Snapchat AI) filtering for profanity (e.g., Padlet), generating images (e.g, Midjourney), and teaching specific topics (e.g., Khanmigo, Duolingo).  

Limitations of AI Composition Tools 

ChatGPT has limited abilities in some languages outside of English, and generally has trouble producing citations for what it writes. Most importantly, ChatGPT and other AI tools can be wrong and sometimes produce plausible sounding, yet nonsensical responses.  

These tools use large language models (LLM) that base responses on existing information and make their best guess at the response by building at the sentence and word level. What they do best is predicting words and pulling out patterns available in the world, so they are not “thinking” and producing ideas. Because many AI tools are trained on internet content, they may also reflect the bias inherent on the internet, which tend to include extreme perspectives from a few, rather than all the diverse perspectives within our society. “It’s essential for users to be critical of the information AI provides and consider supplementing with other reputable sources.” (OpenAI, 2023) 

The Use of ChatGPT in Academic Settings 

ChatGPT and other AI tools will likely become a part of your future work and life, much like we rely on technologies for specific tasks from our phones to calculators and programmable kitchen tools. However, we are still in a stage of learning its capabilities and shortfalls. There are unsettled legal, ethical, and societal issues raised by AI, and we all have much to learn about how it fits into the fabric of society.  

In regard to your classwork, please check with your instructor and the syllabus about whether and how you can use ChatGPT and other tools to help you with your classwork. Ask the instructor how AI tools are or are not to be used in the class. There is no set policy across instructors as they are also figuring out how AI fits into the future of their disciplines and how best to teach you the skills needed for future professions. For the same reason calculators, the internet, and other technology tools are sometimes banned during classes, your instructors may decide that the AI tools hinder your learning or that you need to gain practice developing the underlying processes that a technology may hide behind its algorithms. Others may permit creative uses of AI or guide you in using AI in specific ways to help you better understand its role in their discipline. If there is no explicit policy outlined, it is better to assume that AI use is banned.  

If and when you use ChatGPT, use it with caution. Because it is primarily a word predictor and pattern finder, you should recognize that it can make up facts and produce biased work. Thus, make sure to double-check and vet its responses. It works better as a starting point for ideas, rather than as a trusted source for research.  

Understanding Academic Integrity with AI 

Never take the output from AI tools and represent it as your own work. This not only violates the Terms of Use for most AI tools, creating a legal issue, but is also clearly and unarguably plagiarism. Plagiarism occurs when you turn in work that you didn’t create yet attempt to pass it off as your own work. This can include using AI to generate ideas or outlines that you then use to write a paper, cleaning up grammar or style in a paper, making images for presentations, and more. Even if use of AI is permitted in your class, you need to cite the work that is not your own (see resources below). It doesn’t matter that no other humans were involved, and it’s not a “victimless crime.” If you present work as your own and you didn’t create all of it, that’s plagiarism.  

Plagiarism could lead to an Academic Misconduct allegation and an academic consequence in your course, such as a zero on the assignment or an F in the course. Further, it doesn’t help you develop essential critical thinking skills. College aims to train your mind so that you will be successful in your career. When you take shortcuts to the idea of training your mind, you are literally cheating yourself. *YOU* are the one suffering the consequences of letting college slip by without learning the skills and ways of thinking that help you in a long and rewarding career (as opposed to just landing a first job). Approach the assignments knowing why the professor wants you to do this work *yourself* and attempt to meet that challenge. 

To avoid plagiarism when you use AI tools, make sure you cite its contribution accordingly when you use it. You can learn more from your instructor, the WashU Libraries, or on the web. For instance, see this APA post, MLA guidelines, and other websites to learn how to cite ChatGPT.  

Recommendations and Resources 

  • Talk to your instructor about if and how AI can be used for your classwork. 
  • Learn how to cite your use of AI tools through your classes, the WashU Libraries, or on the web.  
  • Learn about how AI is being used in your future professional contexts from political campaigns writing emails to a changing landscape of software development. You may even be recruited by companies that provide ChatGPT Plus as a work perk. 
  • Use AI tools to help you learn content by asking it to tutor/mentor you through a difficult concept: try asking it to quiz you or give you additional examples to help you practice. It can also especially help students who are non-native English speakers or need accommodations by sharing content in different ways or providing feedback on your thinking.  
  • Check out more resources:


OpenAI. (2023). ChatGPT (Mar 14 version) [Large language model]. 


This resource was developed by Dr. Sally Wu, Assistant Director for Educational Technology at the Washington University in St Louis Center for Teaching and Learning and includes paraphrased text from University of Central Florida Faculty Center for Teaching & Learning, which was shared with permission to adopt at other universities. It was reviewed by ChatGPT 4 (all quotes from ChatGPT are cited accordingly), three staff members in The Learning Center, and others affiliated with the Center for Teaching and Learning for improvements.  

For questions about this document or to provide feedback, please contact the CTL at