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Artificial Intelligence in Research

What is Generative AI?

Generative AI is a branch of artificial intelligence. It uses machine learning algorithms to generate new content like text, images, media, data, etc.

"Generative AI can be thought of as a machine-learning model that is trained to create new data, rather than making a prediction about a specific dataset. A generative AI system is one that learns to generate more objects that look like the data it was trained on" (Zewe, 2023, para. 4).

ChatGPT is a well-known Generative AI tool, but it is not the only Generative AI tool. Some other tools include: BERT, Dall-E, Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and BardeenThrough prompts, Generative AI can understand and mimic patterns from data and produce new content, brainstorm ideas/keywords, summarize or synthesize information, translate text, and more.

Libraries, Research & AI

AI is here to stay and ignoring it will only do a disservice to students and researchers. The Library's role is to provide clear guidelines on how to use AI ethically to enhance research needs, while also outlining the limitations of AI.

Currently, the Library's stance is that the best way to use AI is using it as an enhancement tool, rather than the final answer. We hope that if you are not receiving the information you want, not receiving correct information, or receiving fake sources through AI, you will reach out to a librarian for help.


Research Assistance

  • Recommending keywords related to your topic that you could use to get started with research in other databases or Sofia.
  • Providing database suggestions that you can use to find resources needed for your assignments/research. However, there are some limitations to those recommendations. Your prompt needs to be specific enough for AI to recommend helpful databases otherwise it will just provide commonly used databases that may not be relevant to your research topic. AI will also not list all the databases that would be helpful to your research.
  • Generating ideas and concepts that you may not have thought of. You can use AI to focus and narrow your research question or provide other perspectives.
  • Encouraging students and professors to think outside of the box. For students, it can allow them to discover perspectives or arguments they hadn't thought of. For professors, it can encourage them to reevaluate their lesson plans and modernize them to incorporate AI.
  • Summarizing content and information that students can use for inspiration in their essays, conclusions, literature reviews, etc.
Writing Assistance
  • Drafting an outline or structure for your paper/essay.
  • Providing writing assistance by checking spelling and grammar. AI can also provide feedback on text and point out areas that may need more development or clarification.
  • Translating portions of text into another language. You can use prompts to tell AI to generate the text into a more natural or formal text. This typically work benefits second-language students.
  • Checking text for plagiarism. AI can web crawl to see if any portions of text match other sources. This can help students who are new to citing sources detect areas of text that may need an in-text citation or need to be cited better. 
Data Analysis and Visualization
  • Generating analysis or visualization of datasets. AI can find patterns in data that students may struggle to notice.
Providing clarification  
  • Students may be shy or embarrassed to ask questions to their peers or professors. AI can provide answers to these questions free of embarrassment or judgment. It may also provide students with clarification or confidence to then reach out to their professors, librarians, etc., for more information.
Studying and Revision
  • Generative AI can develop quizzes or study aids to help you prepare for exams, interviews, or presentations. You can also ask generative AI to provide multiple-choice, true or false, or essay questions that you can use to study with.
  • ChatGPT provides everyone who signs up with a free version of their generative AI tool. Making it accessible to anyone who wants to try it.

Research Assistance

  • Some may argue that a benefit of Generative AI is aiding with research. It is our opinion, based on our experience with Generative AI, that AI is not currently capable of providing good research assistance with the following:
    • Generating citations. Many citations are poorly cited or cited using incorrect information. Citations provided by AI may also be fake and fabricated.
    • Providing sources of information. In addition to citations being fake, AI has been known to generate fake sources to support its findings. Furthermore, Generative AI only gets peer-reviewed sources through web crawling, meaning it misses many of the very significant research articles, papers, and books that can be found in academic databases.


  • Creating interesting and engaging writing. AI-generated text is often seen as boring, and/or repetitive.
  • AI struggles with understanding the nuances of certain topics, especially topics involving complex ethical, cultural, or theoretical themes. 
  • Lacks subject expertise; therefore, AI content is best interpreted by users who already have some expertise in the subject area they are inputting. Those who already have some subject expertise can better evaluate the information AI is generating.
  • Because generative AI is trained using existing data, it may not be up-to-date on some research topics. It may also be trained using incorrect data/information, meaning it could reproduce content using that incorrect information. This is why having some subject expertise in the area you are researching is a benefit when using AI.
Ethics and Plagiarism
  • The ethics surrounding AI and copyright is a concern. Several lawsuits are taking place to address AI using copyrighted content to generate new content without providing proper citations on where that information originates from.
  • Students might use AI-generated content without proper referencing or rely on it too heavily which constitutes plagiarism. Understanding how to ethically use AI tools in academic work is crucial.
Data Privacy and Security
  • Using AI tools often requires uploading documents or inputting sensitive information, which raises concerns about data privacy and security. Students should be aware of how their data is being used and stored. 
  • While ChatGPT provides everyone who signs up with a free version of their generative AI tool, accessibility to the more robust version is limited to those with the means to afford it. Therefore, not all have access to advanced AI tools due to financial or technological constraints.

Table of Capabilities and Limitations inspired by: Cairnes, S., & Perkovic, I. (2023, November 2023). How do I cite Generative AI? McMaster Libraries Research Guides.