Writing Assignments and Generative AI—An Awkward Alliance?

Who among us has not worried about the impact generative AI will have on our writing assignments? After all, students can prompt a chatbot and copy the prose GPT-4 or Bard generate in seconds, leaving us without a surefire way to discern if an assignment is an authentic reflection of the student’s performance. Worse yet, fears run rampant that students can now hand off critical thinking and analysis to a robot. How could we, mere mortal instructors, possibly confront this challenge? Add to this that robust discussions of generative AI policies are not yet happening on all campuses, and approaches to AI bots vary greatly.

Take heart. At the beginning of the generative AI invasion, some may have been fooled into thinking that AI would take over actual instruction. However, anyone who has used ChatGPT quickly learns that its prose is lackluster at best, makes up incorrect “facts,” and includes no citable sources or references it provides when prompted are fictitious. For the time being, students still need instructors to guide them.

Some instructors may have already taken measures to ensure that students turn in their own work. The following strategies may prove useful when designing this term’s writing assignments to thwart student overuse of AI.

Understand AI. It behooves all writing instructors to familiarize themselves with AI’s capabilities and limitations, and the best way to do that is to use it. Learn its weaknesses and strengths and adjust assignment parameters to reflect what you’ve concluded. Begin with this helpful piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Assign in-class writing. This strategy may work in some settings, but we all know that the writing process demands editing. Nevertheless, these first drafts can be used to compare to more polished drafts the students turn in. Experienced instructors can usually assess whether a student’s improvement is genuine.

Use specificity in writing assignments. The more specific a prompt, the less likely AI bots can produce a realistic finished product. Ask students to link to a classroom discussion, guest speaker, or presentations AI has no knowledge of. Requiring specific and unique points within an assignment will discourage cheating.

Ask students to tailor their writing to specific audiences. A business document may be targeted to a superior, a peer, or an outside audience entirely (CIOs, vendors, etc.) AI will be thwarted if it has to appeal to the unique needs of a specific groups of readers it doesn’t “know.”

In addition to narrowly tailoring assignments, business communication instructors will need to address how generative AI is already being used in the workplace, for example, for creating promotional copy.  Tips for coexisting with AI follow:

Discuss AI classroom policies with students. Bring students into the discussion about setting course policies surrounding the use of AI. Talk about the ethical and responsible use of the tools.

Remind students of plagiarism policies. Discuss academic integrity with students and frame AI as a tool, not a substitute, for the hard work of creating readable prose.

Perform rhetorical analyses of AI generated texts. It’s important for students to understand AI’s plusses and minuses. As a class, discuss the rhetorical conventions in a piece of AI generated prose. Then in small groups have students deconstruct a piece. Provide guided questions that probe students to think deeply about why a text works or does not. Discuss the pros and cons of the AI version as a class.

Ask students to edit AI texts. Just as a peer-editing session helps authors see how others view their prose, conducting a peer edit on AI prose will help students see how that work could be improved. This activity provides an opportunity to remind students of the tenets underlying all business communication: conciseness, correctness, and awareness of audience and purpose.

Encourage students to use AI to begin the writing process. It is always easier to begin writing when the page is not blank. Students can use AI to get started on a project but not rely on it beyond obtaining some basic thoughts on the topic.

Writing instructors have always known that some students cheat, whether they cut and paste from actual sources or pay someone else to do their work. Sometimes we catch them; sometimes we don’t. Policing takes energy away from actual teaching, and in the end, we know it is the cheater who has squandered an opportunity for real learning.


Darby, F. (2023, June 27). 4 steps to help you plan for ChatGPT in your classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com

Prochaska, E. (2023, January 23). Embrace the bot: Designing writing assignments in the face of AI. Faculty Focus. https://facultyfocus.com

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