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Is it ethical for writers to use AI content writing tools?

By Jeremy Bursey

Jeremy Bursey is the author of many short stories, essays, and poems, along with a modest number of novels and screenplays. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Central Florida and currently works at a local college as a writing tutor. He appreciates feedback for anything he offers to the public. He also takes too many pictures of cats and the ocean.

December 28, 2021

Pros and Cons (and Ethics) of Using AI Content Tools for Writing

Writing is a tough job. Despite what your family, friends, or Stewie from Family Guy may say, it can take a lot out of you. Thinking about the project, organizing it, writing it, finishing it, and making sure it’s both accurate and compelling requires a creative and analytical investment that can end in a headache, exhaustion, or even alcoholism. And this doesn’t even touch on the inevitability of carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis attacking the body after several decades of work. Regardless what your naysayers say, writing is not the cushy job non-writers think it is.

So, just as an auto mechanic may prefer using a hydraulic jack for lifting a car to using a manual one (or his bare hands), or just as a cook may prefer turning a dial on a stove to gathering the wood for the fire under that stove, it can be tempting for a writer to use a tool that can minimize the pain inflicted on his or her mind and wrist by doing the hard work for him. But does one such tool exist?

Well, yes, there are many, in fact. They are called AI content writing tools, and they are essentially robots that can write captions, social media posts, or entire blog articles from just a few keywords.

Here’s one example of an AI content writer in action. If you go down the rabbit hole, you’ll find more. Probably a lot more.

But how good are they at doing the writer’s job? And more importantly, should writers even consider using them for assistance?

While I can’t comment on every AI writing tool’s effectiveness at content writing, I do have an opinion about the advantages and disadvantages of using such a tool (assuming it works as intended), as well as the ethical question of whether a writer should even bother with such a tool to help with his job (or do it outright).

The ditzy robot (Photo Credit: Kindel Media, Pexels)

The ditzy robot (Photo Credit: Kindel Media, Pexels)

 

The Advantages of Using AI Content Writing Tools for Assistance

First of all, I do think there are benefits to relying on AI content writing tools for doing the job of a writer. But these benefits are limited, and specific to certain tasks or goals.

And to be consistent with my main idea, I am not including grammar and spellchecking tools like Grammarly or ProWritingAid in this opinion (with one exception I’ll highlight in the “cons” section). Although they definitely count as AI writing assistants, they do not count as AI content writing assistants. My opinions focus on the latter, which would include any app or software that can craft entire sentences related to the topic at the push of a button. Just wanted to clarify that before moving on.

1. Writers who write book-length content (novels, biographies, how-tos, etc.) already have plenty of work to do when it comes to researching, outlining, drafting, and revising. Adding marketing to that list is overkill for some and draining for others. But we still have to market if we want to sell. It’s the cup to our coffee, the sail to our boat. Without marketing, we’re on the floor, dead in the water, on the couch red-eyed with a nervous thumb on the remote. We have to do it if we want to sell more than a few copies of our work in a lifetime. Fortunately, AI content writing tools can help us with that.

Here are some ways they free up our time:

  • They can craft email messages that use keywords and starter sentences to focus on the topic and content material, while delivering facts to support the main idea.
  • They can draft blog posts with SEO content and layouts from a bank of keywords and leading titles.
  • They can come up with descriptive captions or targeted social media posts that we can then schedule out at a certain time to engage a specific audience.

Sloughing off our extra work to a robot can certainly save us a lot of time, which we could give back to our paid writing projects or books. Any writer who hates spending any time marketing would love having this extra bit of assistance.

But that’s not all.

2. Writers who write books can use AI content writing tools for supplemental materials. Similar to marketing, writing email newsletters and blogs can take precious storytelling time away from the writer, but all the experts agree we should still do it. But what do we send to our audiences when we’re only halfway through a novel? Pictures of our pets? Kids? Shoes with holes in them?

Maybe not. Instead, writers can use AI content writing tools to craft interesting articles based on AI research. For example:

  • A writer types in “apple orchards” and gets a long list of facts about apple orchards.
  • The writer types in those facts as keywords and gets even deeper facts about apple orchards.
  • This leads to posting a content-rich article about apple orchards and how they’re used in the writer’s next book.

Having this supplemental content allows the writer to engage with his audience without taking up too much extra time or brain power. Definitely a “plus one” for AI.

3. Speaking of research, using AI content writing tools can mitigate the search time required for adequate information on a specific topic just by pulling in all relevant details into a centralized space. Based on the above example, drilling down the keywords can drudge up new or unexpected facts about a topic, leading to new ideas and avenues to explore for the work-in-progress. Even if the research results don’t lead to supplemental content, they can still add support to your main content, depending on what they find.

4. Finally, using AI content writing tools can save on expensive copywriting tasks, even if that expense is the result of losing money on bad copywriting because you did it yourself. Because most AI content writing tools are based on copywriting language and formulas, the descriptions they spit out are most likely formatted for SEO and buyer interests. This can come in super handy for any writer who’s trained to write academic or fictitious content, but inexperienced in copywriting or budget-limited on hiring a professional copywriter.

There are probably other pros to using AI content writing tools, but in the interest of time I’ll keep this list short. Hopefully, the theme is clear. Artificially intelligent writers are most beneficial to any human writer who needs to save time on marketing, researching, or copywriting efforts.

But, of course, there are cons to such use.

Human to robot (Photo Credit: Tara Winstead, Pexels)

Human to robot (Photo Credit: Tara Winstead, Pexels)

 

The Disadvantages of Using AI Content Writing Tools for Assistance

After reading the above list, it may be tempting to close your eyes and smile and nod in favor of using AI content writers to take up your extra writing jobs. I wouldn’t be writing this article if I didn’t agree. However, I think it’s dangerous to simply give over all extra work to the robot just because it makes your life easier. In fact, I’d argue that making your life easier is the reason you shouldn’t be so quick to give all of your extra work away.

You can get a detailed explanation about why deferring all extra writing tasks to a robot is a bad idea in the excellent technology-centric book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.

But assuming you haven’t read it, or won’t, let me boil it down to one main point:

Relying too heavily on artificial intelligence to do our thinking for us will ultimately diminish our brain function to the point that we no longer know how to think for ourselves. This can lead to catastrophic results, including the loss of innovation, analysis, and self-reflection. It could also lead to us forgetting how to turn on a light bulb, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

There are other side effects to this loss of thinking:

1. We can also lose our voice. No, I don’t mean our physical speaking voice. I mean our “writer’s voice.” Because AI content writers have no distinct voice, they can’t very well capture ours or anyone’s voice. It just becomes a sea of marketing jargon, impersonal to the writer who takes ownership of the article, as well as to his or her audience. Because we can no longer think for ourselves, there’s a good chance we may also forget how to relay our voice onto the page should we ever attempt to go back to organic writing. Sure, this loss of voice would happen only over a long period of time, but with AI content writing becoming more sophisticated each year, a time may come when we no longer want to write content ourselves because the robot can do it better. If that happens, we’re done.

2. There’s also the risk that our readers will no longer have tolerance for content written by humans if everything they read is sanitized and regurgitated by some robot. Let’s be honest, having a writerly voice means adding tones, languages, and ideas that capture our written “fingerprints,” but it can also lead to “fluffier” writing than what a robot may offer. If readers are already losing their attention spans for our work, it can only get worse if we keep letting the robots write for us. You think a robot is going to opine about its new puppy to gain the reader’s emotions the way you might? No, because it’s just going to feed the bulleted checklist the reader’s looking for, and because the reader has been trained to get what he wants when he wants it, no fluff, no BS, he’s going to lose patience if he has to read about that puppy of yours. He didn’t come here for puppies; he came here for that Top 11 list of “Best Home Remedies for Elephantiasis.” If you won’t give it to him in a timely manner, then he’s going to get that information from your competitor. And thanks to your competitor’s AI-drafted article, your lost reader will get what he’s looking for there, along with an article on how to occupy both front seats while driving. He doesn’t want your emotional support. He just wants the cure. What he doesn’t know is that he also needs a good laugh, because elephantiasis between the legs is no laughing matter.

3. And, let us not forget the likelihood that our articles may eventually take an SEO hit or our emails may start hitting the trash folders if the algorithms suspect that the same language is creeping up in multiple sources of content, including our own. If we rely too heavily on AI content, there’s a chance we’ll pass it along without consequence. But with search and detect algorithms advancing at the same pace as the AI content algorithms, they’ll eventually catch up to each other the same way Batman always catches up to the Joker. This is especially likely if the AI content tools are based on scripts that professional copywriters compose for them, as these same copywriters will eventually stop producing unique content. Unless the AI content services hire new copywriters to produce new drafts that (thousands or more) content creators can use, these templates will eventually fail the “freshness” test, and their content score will lead them into the trash. Theoretically. Time will tell if it’s also realized.

4. That leads us to the final negative: all the previous pros and cons depend on how likely the produced content is even accurate. If the generated content pulls in “false facts” or unverified content, then your finished product is faulty unless you perform your due diligence and check the research before publishing. For something that’s designed to save you time, it could very well force you to devote that time (and more) to finding the original sources of that information and fact-checking the end result. In the end, was it even worth the extra time deferring your responsibilities to the robot? What does a robot even know about intention? This doesn’t even touch on the quality of the produced work, which can fall apart if the robot doesn’t understand the relationship between the keywords you feed it.

Fun Fact: A social media scheduler I have called Ocoya uses an AI copywriting assistant called Travis AI. When testing the AI for a YouTube caption (about writing YouTube descriptions), one of its descriptions taught me about cooking utensils. Another one gave me information about hairbrushes. It proved that AI needs more time in the oven. You can see it fail in action in the last twelve minutes of my companion video to this topic.

Robot power (Photo Credit: cottonbro, Pexels)

Robot power (Photo Credit: cottonbro, Pexels)

 

The Ethical Considerations of Writers Using AI Content Writing Tools for Assistance

So, as we can see, using AI content writing tools to start or complete a work has clear advantages and disadvantages for the writer using it, with questionable accuracy playing the alpha ghost that hovers over everything.

But is using an AI content writing tool ethical when your job is to write?

I think the answer to that question comes down to personal viewpoint, but there are a few considerations I can think of that highlights the answer:

1. Related to my comment about accuracy, I think using a content tool for research straddles a gray area when you consider the possibility that the content pulled is out of context from the ideas you present in your final work. If you use the content without double-checking the sources (and how can you if the AI content tool doesn’t provide you with sources?), then you risk publishing false or misleading content, and that can destroy your reputation. When your credibility is based on your sources, you risk losing all of it if you can’t provide your sources.

2. This brings me to plagiarism. Now, let’s be honest for a moment. If you use AI content writing tools to write your content and you put your name on it, then you are plagiarizing a robot or its content supplier. Ethically, this is about as dishonest as it gets. But only if you take full credit for the content. I think you can minimize the ethical hit to your reputation if you disclose your use of an AI content writer to write your article or post, even if you credit it at the bottom of the text. Obviously, it’s better for your credibility if you disclose the exact places where the AI dominates the content, and even better if you choose to write the whole thing without help from the AI. But if you feel like you need the AI’s help to get something written, then crediting the source of that AI at the bottom of the text (or next to your name at the top) is better than nothing. If what matters here is the content, then your reader shouldn’t care who or what the source is, so crediting AI support shouldn’t hurt your reputation as a writer. It’s ultimately no different than a nonfiction writer crediting his or her sources at the back of a book. We all know he didn’t come up with those ideas himself, and he knows that we know, so he’s doing us the service of telling us where those sources came from. You should do the same, robot or not.

3. Finally, going back to my original thoughts about the benefits of using AI, I think using AI assistance for supplemental material is perfectly fine, as your reader cares more about your main content, which should be from your brain, since that’s what your reader is paying for. However, when the AI does your paid (or contracted) work for you, then you’re breaching your readers’ trust, and that crosses the line into the unethical. If you’re having a crisis of conscience about whether you should use AI assistance in your writing, the top question you should ask is, “What’s my primary job?” Whatever your answer, you should do that yourself.

Sharing with the robot (Photo Credit: Pavel Danilyuk, Pexels)

Sharing with the robot (Photo Credit: Pavel Danilyuk, Pexels)

 

So, hopefully that sheds some light on the topic of AI content writing tools and whether a writer should use them. Like anything debatable, there are reasons for and against using them, but I hope this opens the door for more discussion.

Please note that I’ve recorded a 57-minute video on the topic (shown at the bottom of this post), which you can view if you want the full discussion, along with a demonstration of an actual AI content writing tool in action. The video addresses why I’m even thinking about the topic and the related tools that caught my attention and tempted my wallet. If you have extra time, please give it a watch and a like. I’d also appreciate your comments if you have any (here or on YouTube).

And if you’re still reading, please be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for the latest news on books, important events, and other exclusive offers sent directly to your inbox. You can unsubscribe anytime.

What do you think about the rise in AI content writing? Comment your thoughts below.

Not at all harmful (Photo Credit: Pavel Danilyuk, Pexels)

Not at all harmful (Photo Credit: Pavel Danilyuk, Pexels)

 

Author’s Note: I wrote this article and its supplemental YouTube description without help from any AI writing source. This is 100% me, or rather 99% me and 1% Microsoft Word. As I implied at the top with my references to Grammarly and ProWritingAid, some tools are essential for the writer’s well-being, and Microsoft Word is one of those essentials, in my opinion.

 

 

 

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