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Student Guide to ChatGPT

Using ChatGPT effectively

Learn what it's useful for and how to prompt effectively.
Remember to always verify the information it gives you.

See all of our FAQs about generative AI.

Different courses will have different policies

Check with your instructor for each course to find out the policy on using ChatGPT and similar tools.

What is ChatGPT good for and not good for?

Remember, you'll always need to verify the information, because ChatGPT will sometimes make things ups (known as "hallucination.")

What is it good for?

  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Narrowing your topic ideas for a research paper, and keywords for searching in library databases.
    See Generate Topics for Your Research Paper with ChatGPT.
  • Explaining information in ways that are easy to understand
  • Summarizing and outlining
  • Asking questions (be sure to fact check the results) You can ask a million questions without fear of being judged.
  • Translating text to different languages (not completely fluent in every language)
  • Helping write or debug computing code

What is it not so good for?


What is prompting?
Simply, it's what you type into the chat box.

The way you prompt makes a huge difference in the output that ChatGPT gives you. So it's worth learning some tips.

Always verify the information it gives you.
Think of ChatGPT as your personal intern. They need very specific instructions, and they need you to verify the information.

ChatGPT sometimes makes things up. That's because it's designed to write in a way that sounds like human writing. It's not designed to know facts.

Tips for writing effective prompts

  1. Give it some context or a role to play.
  2. Give it very detailed instructions, including how you would like the results formatted.
  3. Keep conversing and asking for changes. Ask it to revise the answer in various ways.


  1. A role could be, "Act as an expert in [fill in the blank]." 
    Act as an expert community organizer.
    Act as a high school biology teacher.
    Act as a comedian.
  2. Example prompt:
    Act as an expert academic librarian. I’m writing a research paper for Sociology and I need help coming up with a topic. I’m interested in topics related to climate change. Please give me a list of 10 topic ideas related to climate change.
  3. Example of changes: (keep conversing until you get something useful)
    Now give me some sub-topics or research questions for [one of those topics]. And give me a list of keywords and phrases I can use to search for that topic in library databases and Google Scholar.


    I didn't like any of those topics. Please give me 10 more.

Learn more in this book (available online with your NetID).

More tips for ChatGPT

  1. Sometimes it gets confused if you change topics in the middle of a conversation. When you want to change the subject, start a new chat.
  2. It will remember what you've said in the course of a conversation, so you don't have to repeat everything again. Just continue like you're talking to your intern.
  3. Don't ask ChatGPT (free version) for a list of sources. It will make them up. Instead use library search, library databases, or Google Scholar.
    See I can’t find the citations that ChatGPT gave me. What should I do?
  4. Choose an output format. In addition to paragraphs it can give you a table, a bulleted list, ascii art, multiple choice quiz questions, emojis, computer code, and more.
  5. In ChatGPT you can see a history of your conversations and in the settings you can delete your history and turn off the saving of future history. You can also export your history and save it on your own computer.
  6. Remember, don't enter any personal, private data in ChatGPT, because OpenAI may use your input to help improve the model. The free version is a research experiment.  If you don't want your data used to help improve ChatGPT, you can turn it off in the settings (which means it also won't save your previous chats for your own viewing).

Tutorials on ChatGPT and Generative AI

To learn more, try our new tutorials about ChatGPT.  They contain short videos (3 min or less), and quiz questions for self-review of what you learned.

  1. The technology behind ChatGPT
  2. How does ChatGPT aim to prevent harmful use?
  3. What is generative AI?
  4. Using ChatGPT effectively
  5. Creating multimedia with AI tools