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  • Writer's pictureBethann Garramon Merkle

Can ChatGPT write a #SciComm grant proposal?

Updated: Jan 14

Image displays screenshot of author's interaction with the ChatGPT AI bot. This screenshot was an attempt to recreate the initial chat, because I didn't think to take a screenshot before I ended the chat and logged out. But, the bot responded slightly differently from the transcript linked to in the blog post. So, here's a transcript of the recreation attempt, which only involved 3 comment/response pairs. Me: I'd like to show you some writing I did, to see what you think. ChatGPT: Sure, I'd be happy to take a look and provide my thoughts. Please share your writing with me. Me: Can I paste in text? ChatGPT: Yes, you can paste the text here, and I'll take a look. (Note, the first time, the bot added a caveat that I could paste text if it wasn't too long. It did not clarify that this time.) Me: It's about 2400 words. Is that too long to paste in? ChatGPT: That might be a bit long to paste in here, but you can try to paste it, and we'll see if it works. Alternatively, you can upload the text file to a file-sharing service, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, and share the link with me.
This screenshot was an attempt to recreate the initial chat, because I didn’t think to take a screenshot before I ended the chat and logged out. But, the bot responded slightly differently from the transcript linked to in the blog post. My recreation attempt only involved 3 comment/response pairs. (Detailed alt text provided)

Origins of a Friday-morning “rabbit hole”: Can’t we make/let writing be easier?!

We’ve been hearing a lot of handwringing and concern about ChatGPT up-ending education. We’ve also been hearing a lot of innovative ideas about how to engage with ChatGPT as a teaching tool (which is, let’s be clear, mainly an effort to make sure ChatGPT doesn’t become the beginning and end of student work and writing).

To be honest, I haven't been too invested in the hulabaloo [1]. Of all the approaches I’ve heard, the one that seems most straightforward is to have students use ChatGPT to generate first drafts. That would get developing writers past the daunting blank page, wrangle some initial thoughts into a form that can be refined and enhanced, etc., etc.

But, there’s been a thought tickling the back of my mind as I’ve listened to all these discussions, chatted a bit about it with colleagues, and even shared some commentaries with folks looking for perspectives: “Are we really only going to set up these frameworks of expectation and standards of use/engagement for students?”

Yes, there are already some cite-the-bot or attribute-co-authorship policies coming online.

But, I’m actually thinking more of our own writing, at our own keyboards.

Surely, even the writery writers among us would love to have that first draft be easier.

For example: grant proposals. I’ve written (or co-written) 30-some proposals that have raised over $3 million in funds for everything from community nonprofits and outdoor education to ecology research and systems change in higher ed and the science communication profession. And, I do plenty of coaching for folks writing grants, particularly when they are working on scicomm/broader impacts/engagement aspects of proposals. I've even started leading trainings that leverage narrative/storytelling techniques from the humanities and creative writing plus integrate the strategic, comprehensive budgeting and project planning typical in STEM grant writing.

That amount of money and number of grants might seem like a lot or a little, depending on your context. Point is, grant writing isn’t a brand-new writing task for me. And yet, I still want to get better at it and am open to it being easier. And, I would love to be able to recommend resources that make it easier, more efficient, and productive for people I support.

Even with the experience and positive grant-writing outcomes I’ve had, every proposal feels like pushing a massive boulder uphill.

There’s gotta be a way to make it easier.

Now, I have colleagues who work with AI and have played with writing their own code to train language models on their style of writing. And, supposedly, ChatGPT can model the style of writing samples you feed it. I cannot be the only one who has wondered: could this flashy, new AI thing help write grants?

And today (of course, with a grant deadline looming; next Wednesday, to be exact), I figured I’d check.

So, I created an account on ChatGPT and tried it out [2].

I didn’t want to straightaway ask it to write a proposal. Why? because I’ve read this article about ChatGPT declaring its love (in a stalkery kind of way) to a journalist and this Twitter thread about training AI to write in your writing style. I was particularly curious about the argument that AI can be a viable tool for structure and grunt labor, if you don’t expect it to work as outsourced thinking.

Here's what happened

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