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Using AI Tools in Your Research

A continually-updated guide on using AI tools like ChatGPT in your research

Instruction Librarian

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Michelle Guittar
Main Library
Northwestern University
1970 Campus Dr
Evanston, IL 60208

Instruction Librarian

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Jeannette Moss
University Library
2 North (Core) Rm. 2303
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208

ChatGPT and text-based AI

Text-based Generative AI tools like ChatGPT can be useful for you when you are brainstorming topic ideas or trying to come up with keywords to use to search on a specific topic. Remember that these tools are NOT sources of knowledge -- they are fluency-based text-language generators ("large language models"), which means that they literally guess what word comes next.

ChatGPT cannot yet find specific peer-reviewed articles, but it can help you get ideas for how to search for scholarship. It can suggest keywords, search strings, and format citations. 

Example: I asked ChatGPT for some keywords to search for sources on the Conquest of Mexico. ChatGPT generated the following list, is mostly fine until about the 15th option:

Here are some keywords that you could use to research the conquest of Mexico:

Hernán Cortés, Aztecs, Montezuma II, Spanish Conquest, Tenochtitlan, Indigenous peoples of Mexico, Conquistadors, New Spain, Mesoamerica, Nahuatl language, Mexica, Tlaxcala, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, La Malinche, (less-than-accurate keywords begin here): Francisco Pizarro (best known for expeditions that led to conquest of Peru - not Mexico), Inca Empire (The primary indigenous empire of Peru), Conquest of Peru, Colonialism (too broad), Imperialism (too broad), Indigenous resistance (too broad)

You can prompt ChatGPT to be more specific in one or more areas, but note that the same will happen - a mix of good ideas, wrong ideas, and overly broad suggestions. 

In addition to ChatGPT, there are several other AI tools that are similarly useful.

Using Machine Learning for Finding Research

These tools can help you discover new sources either similar to one you've already found or those relevant to your question or topic. They have slightly different features so we encourage you to experiment with them and see what you can find. Except for Science Direct, these are free sources, and are not very clear about the sources of the scholarship in their applications.