Opinion | Why writing still matters even with ChatGPT

Emily Wieman, Guest Columnist

Emily Wieman is a second-year graduate student in the Department of English studying composition, rhetoric, and English studies. Her research interests focus on the intersection of technology, language and progress.


I want to start off and say that I am not here to clutch my pearls about ChatGPT. I am not going to gasp in fear and state “Oh no … the terror of change! The end of college writing courses is here.”

Technology has always been impacting the way that we write. From the transition from pencils to typewriters, typewriters to computers, dictionaries to autocorrect, libraries to online databases, we have been adapting our writing practices to the technologies around us. 

Technology has the ability to make things better if we are willing to critically evaluate its uses and incorporate it properly.

By now, I am guessing that you have heard about ChatGPT, an “AI chatbot auto-generative system created by Open AI,” that uses “Natural Language Processing” to write anything from drinking games to dissertation chapters, and even now code.

ChatGPT famously just passed the United States Medical Licensing Exam and law and business school exams, leaving people from a variety of fields, including English, to wonder what their role is as either teachers, students or professionals of the specialty. Due to my background, I will focus on the writing classroom. 

While I cannot predict the ways that writing will change fully in the first-year writing classroom because of ChatGPT, I can tell you that ChatGPT has a place in academia. It can summarize articles, add clarity to complicated topics, fix grammar and provide writing examples.

ChatGPT is a tool and should be used as such.

Concerns have begun to arise surrounding ChatGPT, with one being that ChatGPT can produce writing instantaneously, which has sparked concerns about plagiarism and the general need for writing. 

One notable article addressing that subject includes The Atlantic’s “The End of High-School English” which lamented the purpose of teaching writing if ChatGPT can do it within seconds. The article states, “The question isn’t ‘How will we get around this?’ but rather ‘Is this still worth doing?’” 

I disagree with this author for a few reasons, but my main issue with statements like this is that they are only valuing the product (the final paper) produced by the students, not the process (effort and growth) or what happens after the paper is written (the audience response to the work.)

The emphasis in the writing classroom, despite our best attempts, is often on the product or result, in whatever form. That might be getting an A on a paper, proving our “intelligence,” or passing standardized testing; but being able to write well takes time and the intentionality behind writing is where its value lies. 

When a student is able to take time to write, they begin to understand themselves, the world around them, and how things should change better than before. Writing is based on this feeling of synergy and connection. The final writing product should not be used as a means to value or devalue students’ voices. 

Writing at its root has always been about connection. You write so that someone else might read what you have to say, and perhaps, relate or, in the best case, disagree and expand on what we have started. 

This tension and conversation are how we grow and how we track progress. Learning to write well cannot be viewed as something disposable.

As Chat GPT becomes more commonplace in academic spaces, I ask that instead of flinching against change you evaluate where this tension originates. Realizing the way we write might be changed is scary, but change just means that things are different. Change is a chance for progress.

I ask that you strive to value your work for more than the final product. I value your voice and perspective. Your voice matters, so don’t be scared to use it.