Generative AI for essay and report writing

This guidance is intended to support the responsible and ethical use of Generative AI tools (e.g. Google Gemini and ChatGPT) for academic writing. However, we recognise that much of this guidance also applies to other AI tools (e.g. grammar checkers, translation tools, image generators etc.).


Using Generative AI (Gen AI)

Gen AI can be a powerful tool to support your written work. Used alongside other, more traditional search methods, it can act as a critical friend to help you to develop and refine your ideas, identify alternative perspectives and improve your use of academic language. 

You may wish to use GenAI in the following ways:

  • Scoping and background research: identifying possible avenues to explore further.
  • Planning and structuring your work: suggesting how you might present your ideas as part of a coherent argument or report.
  • Translating: helping you to develop your English language skills. . 
  • Proofreading: providing feedback on your writing and suggestions for improvements. 

However, it is important to be aware of the limitations of Gen AI and make sure that it does not compromise the academic integrity of your work. Always consider the following questions when considering using an AI tool to support your work:

  • Am I allowed to use AI? Always check your department, module or assessment guidance and ask your tutor if you are not sure.
  • What is the aim of the assignment? Is it about communicating my own original thinking, and if so could the use of GenAI compromise the authenticity of my work?
  • What is my own position/idea/argument? Try to identify and write this down first, to ensure that you are using Gen AI to support rather than replace your own thinking.
  • Have I fact checked everything? Gen AI will sometimes produce factually inaccurate information such as fabricated sources. You will always need to follow up on suggestions made by Gen AI using traditional search methods and correct referencing techniques.

Does this represent my own work? You can use AI to enhance your learning and skills, but not replace them. You should never copy and paste from an AI tool, but instead consider how and why its outputs might inform your own writing.

For more information on how the University of Sheffield approaches the use of Generative AI, please visit the Generative AI Principles for Students

The University uses Google Apps, as part of this Gemini is the supported Gen AI tool at The University of Sheffield.

Scoping and background research

Gen AI is very good at presenting a neutral overview of a given topic. However, academic writing is usually about making an informed judgement and adopting your own unique position, which is something that Gen AI is much less good at. Your opinion matters and it is important that you build your work around your original thinking, rather than letting Gen AI do the thinking for you. 

Consider using the following process to use Gen AI to support the development of your own ideas:

  1. Think about the question or topic and write down some of your initial ideas.
  2. Use the University of Sheffield Library, Star Plus, Google Scholar or a subject database to find and read some recent, relevant research relating to your ideas.
  3. Formulate an initial ‘claim’–your overall argument or response to a topic or question–to explore further using Gen AI.
  4. Design a prompt, or use one from the Academic Prompt Bank to explore the topic. For example, ‘Compare and contrast [two or more theories/models] in [subject], highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.’
  5. Consider building on the output by using a follow-on prompt to explore the topic in greater detail. For example, ‘Provide some case studies/real-world examples to illustrate these points.’ 
  6. Consider how the output might relate to or build on your initial position. If you intend to refer to any of the ideas or examples provided in the Gen AI output, be sure to use traditional search tools to fact check and read around them.
  7. Reference any sources referred to using appropriate referencing techniques; acknowledge your use of Gen AI using the Acknowledge, Describe, Evidence template or by following your department guidelines. 

You may wish to follow this process several times to explore different themes related to a topic. Used in this way, Gen AI can provide a powerful tool to help widen your perspective on a chosen research area. 

Please note: if you are undertaking research towards an undergraduate- or masters-level dissertation project, you should exercise caution in your use of prompts to avoid breaching confidentiality or disclosing restricted information or data. This includes the following:

  • Any information relating to an identified or identifiable individuals
  • Confidential information (for example, disclosed as part of an industry partnership)
  • Data or information that can be considered as intellectual property (for example, your own research data)

Always check with your supervisor before using GenAI as part of a dissertation or research project.

Planning and structuring

Identifying an overall structure for an assignment is an important early stage of the planning process and can help you to organise your thoughts and break down the writing process. Once you have identified how you intend to approach a topic (see Scoping and Background Research above), you may be able to use GenAI to help develop your overall structure.

Some points to consider when using Gen AI to help you to develop an assignment structure are as follows: 

  • You will need to identify what format the assignment will take (for example, a report, an essay, a dissertation).
  • You should provide your initial ideas as a starting point. This will ensure that your thinking is leading the GenAI tool rather than the other way around. 
  • You can use the GenAI tool to act as a critical friend by identifying gaps, challenging your thinking and/or suggesting the limitations of your work. 
  • You may wish to use the Structure section of the Academic Prompt Bank for inspiration when you design your prompt 
  • Using GenAI in this way is an iterative process. You may need to write follow-on prompts to build on or develop the outputs. What perspectives may have been missed? 
  • Models or structures generated in this way should be a starting point for your own writing rather than an end point. Do you agree with the suggestions? How can you adapt them and make them your own?
  • Don’t forget to fact-check any new ideas that emerge from this process and make sure you have identified reliable academic sources that can support them.


GenAI is built into a number of popular translation and writing tools including Google Translate and Grammarly. Used appropriately, these tools can help you to develop and refine your use and understanding of academic English. However, it is important to recognise that demonstrating a proficiency in written English may be a requirement of your programme. With this in mind, you should ensure that you are using GenAI tools to enhance your writing skills, rather than replace them. 

You may wish to use GenAI translation tools in the following ways:

  • Clarifying instructions and course materials: if you are not sure what something means in an assignment question or in your course materials, you could try using a translation tool to seek clarification. Please remember that you can also ask your tutor for clarification if you are still not sure. 
  • As a language-learning tool: are you finding it difficult to understand a complex concept in your notes or in a source? Try using a translation tool to engage with it in your first language. Compare the translation to the original to help understand the language and grammatical structures that have been used in the original. This may be especially helpful if you are trying to paraphrase an idea in English using your own words. 
  • Sense-checking your own writing: if you are not confident that you have expressed something accurately in your writing, you could use a translation tool to translate it into your first language. Does the output reflect what you wanted to say? If not, try adjusting your writing until you are satisfied that it does. 

You should be aware of the following issues when using translation tools:

  • Writing generated by a translation tool does not count as your own work. You should not submit sections of translated text for assessment. Instead, use generated text as a way to inform the process of expressing yourself using your own words. 
  • Translation tools often make mistakes. You should not accept the output of a translation tool uncritically. Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from it to influence your own writing?

Over-reliance on translation tools can impact negatively on your learning. Using academic English is not easy, but it gets easier with practice. Try to avoid reaching for a translation tool if you can avoid it and you will soon develop your own academic voice.


Proofreading your own work is a key part of the academic writing process. In some circumstances, it can also be helpful to seek feedback on your writing from a third party, as they may be able to spot things that you have not noticed, although you should always check with your department that this is allowed. GenAI can also act as an objective reader of your work and can suggest ways in which you might want to refine your grammar and use of language. 

You may wish to use GenAI translation tools in the following ways:

  • Assess the accuracy and suitability of specific phrases that you are unsure about. 
  • Identify the types of grammar or syntax errors that you may be making and provide suggestions on how to address them.
  • Assess the tone and register of your writing and make suggestions to help achieve an appropriate level of formality. 
  • Evaluate the structure and organisation of your writing.

Remember: GenAI will not always know best so you should use your judgement at all times when you are deciding whether or not to accept a recommendation or feedback on your work. Things to watch out for include:

  • Use of personal pronouns and first person: GenAI may recommend that you express things directly using ‘I’. Sometimes that may help to improve the clarity of your writing, but it may also compromise your academic tone. 
  • Use of hedging language: hedging language (such as ‘literature suggests’, ‘it seems that’ etc) is an important feature of academic writing that allows us to avoid overstatement. Gen AI tools may recommend that you drop hedging language in favour of more assertive language, which may not be appropriate to the evidence available. 

Things to watch out for

As described above, Generative AI (Gen AI) tools can be helpful when researching, developing and refining a piece of written work. However, it is important to remember the limitations to watch out for. Just because these tools are available, it doesn’t mean that you either have to or should use them in every situation. 

  • GenAI tools can’t match human levels of creativity and you need to ensure that your own style and voice shine through in your writing 
  • GenAI tools usually produce a generic and surface level output which is likely to lack the critical insight required of good academic writing
  • Remember that the outputs from AI tools often contain inaccuracies. You therefore need to undertake your own research and due diligence to ensure any such errors are not carried forward into your own work. Particular issues have been highlighted with references, a number of which have been shown to be wrong or even fabricated completely
  • Outputs from AI tools can also contain bias as a result of biases that exist within the data sources they are trained on
  • Never copy and paste from AI outputs. This leaves you at significant risk of plagiarism and other forms of unfair means
  • Issues have been reported with AI tools outputs being presented in American English. Consider this when proofreading your work (remembering that you shouldn’t be copying and pasting any text from AI generated outputs)
  • Be aware that not all AI tools are trained on up to date information. For example, the free version of Chat GPT only draws on data up to 2021 
  • It may not be clear what range of sources the AI tool has drawn on and what the validity of these sources is. This could be a particular issue for fields where not much has yet been written or published and so be sure to use traditional search tools to fact check and read around them.. 

Remember, using AI doesn’t always make things quicker or easier. Take a considered approach to how you use AI as a tool to support learning whilst recognising when it might hinder the acquisition of key skills and knowledge. 

And finally, recognise the importance of logging how you have used AI tools throughout the process of planning and writing your essay or report. Keep good records of what you have used GenAI tools for, how you have used them, and what the outputs were. Many departments will require you to complete a declaration using the Acknowledge, Describe, Evidence model. 

Always remember to check your assessment guidelines or speak to your department to check if the use of AI tools within a particular piece of work is allowed.

Useful links and further information

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