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How to collaborate with ChatGPT in the research process and actually learn something

If you have used chatGPT before, it can sometimes feel like talking with someone who has done too much of their 'research on Facebook', filling in gaps with random facts marginally related to the topic just so they can respond and keep the conversation going. However, if applied or 'prompted' correctly, with the user utterly aware of the limitations and ethical considerations, chatGPT can be a helpful research assistant. There is already a wide range of tools available that are built on chatGPT that can support many of the things described below; however, I am still a bit hesitant to rush in with most of them being 'freemium' or asking you to upload your own research and other details or data into their database, I'm happy to stick with the open version of chatGPT as it is what our students have access to.

Image created with AI

The following guide highlights some prompts, some follow-up questions and most importantly, what you need to do next to follow up and build your knowledge. While you could ask ChatGPT to write much of the introductory sections of a research report, it won't stretch your learning or be worthwhile if you hope to gain anything from your study.

I have been using these prompts with students working on practice-based research projects, especially in the early phases of testing an idea, exploring the literature and understanding more about appropriate methodologies. These prompts could be applied to school-age students embarking on project-based learning through masters-level educators looking to change education practices on a large scale.

Just a few pointers on prompt creation before we begin:

  • Be clear and specific - avoid using vague or very open-ended questions
  • Use technical language - this is where your expertise as an educator comes in; you know and understand the relevant terms and language in your field, and this will help with more accurate responses
  • Provide context - this is critical and, again an area of your expertise that will create more bespoke responses
  • Use a variety of prompts - this will take some experimentation but try different phrases and combinations of words based on the same line of inquiry.

To start with, I'll always start by defining the persona or identity, for example;

Prompt: You are a NZQA level 9 masters level research advisor supporting me with my practice-based research project.

Alternatively, if you want to start using commands you can type: /role_play "NZQA level 9 masters level research advisor supporting me with my practice-based research project".

I'd then continue the thread, building on previous ideas. The guide below follows the process our students could take at the beginning stages of a research project. It isn't expected that you'd complete this all in one sitting as there is too much to cover; however, you'd come back to it by saving your 'chats' in the left-hand navigation menu.

I. Introduction/scoping the challenge:

Prompt: What are some current trends or emerging issues in [Education in New Zealand/related to x] that could be relevant to my research project?

  • Further prompts are required here to uncover potential areas you could look into based on your context and the areas you are passionate about as an educator. You would follow up by learning more about what has previously been done in this area and looking for evidence in your context that this could be a potential challenge/opportunity.
Prompt: How can I ensure that my research project is original and makes a valuable contribution to the field?

  • Different prompts here would lead you into the following sections of the report, and the follow-up for you would be to start reading more about your chosen topic through the literature review.

II. Literature Review:

Prompt: What are the seminal peer-reviewed academic texts related to [x]

  • You will probably have to reduce your topics so they are less complex here; the literature-searching function seems quite limited, so it would be worth simplifying it. There is the risk of hallucination here where ChatGPT will make up entire research articles, including the authors and the DOI, and they do not exist. I have linked an example here in the transcript created through these prompts. However, I have found that chatGPT is good at comparing and contrasting topics, so this would be worth exploring. I mentioned earlier that I wouldn't link to other tools beyond chatGPT; however, Consensus is reasonable (even the free version) and more reliable at finding literature than ChatGPT. One other tool to help you explore the literature is Elicit.
Prompt: Are there any key scholars or research studies that I should be aware of in relation to my research topic?
  • Further prompts might ask for DOIs or web links. Remember that if you are searching for articles online, it is always a good idea to start with a verified source, for example, an online library through your place of study. This way, the DOI and metadata will be correct. Your follow-up would be to read the articles or use a tool like ChatDoc to summarise and explore the pdfs. You can also use ChatGPT and other AI to help with APA referencing.

III. Methodology:

Prompt: [Type in your research question(s)]
  • Further prompts would undoubtedly be helpful here to identify gaps in the research. An interesting idea would be to ask ChatGPT for subquestions based on an overarching research question. Your follow-up here is to understand more about the suggested questions or modifications of your overarching question and return to the literature to cover any gaps in your knowledge or explore if more justification is required.
Prompt: Ok, so I will go with the following research questions. Can you provide suggestions on suitable methods for each research question? [Insert questions here…]
  • Further prompts could help you understand more about the methods and suggest peer-reviewed sources to support your learning. Your follow-up would be (you guessed it!) to return to the literature and explore how the selected methods could be applied in your context.
Prompt: Can you recommend any other research methods or tools that would be suitable for my project?
  • Further prompts could explore questions you might ask in each suggested method or if any particular frameworks would guide the data collection. You would then follow up here by finding those sources and learning about them.
Prompt: With regard to the methods that have been highlighted, can you suggest ways to ensure ethical considerations are addressed in my research project?
  • Although AI cannot give ethical advice, it can highlight some areas you would need to consider to maintain safety for your participants and yourself - as the researcher, you need to make the final call here.
Prompt: How can I effectively communicate the outcomes of my project to different audiences? My key stakeholders will be [x]?
  • Further prompts could explore particular communication channels that your stakeholders use. Your follow-up here would be to gain direct feedback and ask your stakeholders how they prefer to communicate.
Prompt: How can I ensure that my research project aligns with the standards and requirements set out by NZQA for a level 9 masters degree?
  • Further prompts could explore opportunities to build on the attributes mentioned in the response within the context of your research. Your follow-up here would be to look at your overall research plan and integrate opportunities to ensure you can complete the project successfully.

Hopefully, these prompts have helped you move your ideas forward. There are obvious limitations; for example, at each stage, you could ask for the source in chatGPT; however, I've found that it needs to be more accurate, and chatGPT will probably make something up. I will write a follow-up post focusing on data analysis, discussion and conclusions, and a few more tips that can help with the research process.

This post was written by a Human, and the version of ChatGPT that the prompts were tested on was ChatGPT Mar 23 version, which means this all might be irrelevant by the time you are reading it!

If you are interested in looking at the transcript developed using the prompts above, you can see that here. When using chatGPT and AI, please exercise caution and refrain from adding information that isn't yours. It's essential to be considerate and respectful of others.


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