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6 skills writers need to hone amid the AI boom

As published in Forbes

The emergence of powerful large language models (LLMs) over the past year has already transformed industries—though I'd wager that few have felt the impact more than writers. While brands and agencies figure out how they can use these AI models to improve their content operations, writers can take this time to make themselves indispensable.

Because while these models are undeniably impressive, they still struggle with certain writing-related tasks. Writers can make themselves essential by honing the skills that AI models struggle with. Then it won't be a matter of AI replacing anyone—instead, AI and humans will work together to create better content more efficiently.

Below are six skills writers should work on over the coming years to make the most of this exciting technological shift.a


Generally, as AI models generate text, they're using a large corpus of training data to predict the next word. From there, these models manage to write long pieces of writing. But sometimes the training data contains inaccurate information, so as a result, the models confidently "spout falsehoods."

At a time when people are more concerned than ever about the spread of misinformation, it's imperative to carefully fact-check AI's output. Avoid using AI to generate text on current events, as ChatGPT's knowledge cutoff is September 2021. And always strengthen AI output with useful information that you've manually collected from trusted sources.

Conveying Specialized, Industry-Specific Knowledge

While AI is an impressive generalist with a solid base of knowledge across many domains, these models can't easily acquaint themselves with the intricacies of specific workplaces and fields of research. The writers best positioned to thrive in the AI boom are writers with specialized, industry-specific knowledge.

As Cal Newport writes in the New Yorker, most knowledge work "depends on industry expertise and an understanding of the personalities and processes that are specific to their workplace." Remaining an expert in your field and at the company you work for will make you indispensable in the face of models that can generate text quickly but struggle to learn specialized, industry-specific information.

Emphasizing Quality Over Quantity

Already there are horror stories of job listings that ask "AI editors" to generate 200 to 250 articles per week with the help of AI. With the rise of AI, there is a good chance we'll experience a deluge of spam content—which is bad news for anyone who likes to keep their inbox clean.

No one has the time to read 200 to 250 articles in a week, so it's safe to say that much of the barrage of content unleashed by AI will be low-value and disposable. That's why this is instead a time for content teams—and writers at the individual level—to focus on crafting original, well-researched work that can stand out in a sea of quickly generated AI-assisted content. An extra few days of research and a couple more rounds of revisions can help elevate your next piece.

Adding Personal Color And Emotion

As legendary songwriter Leonard Cohen once said, "The more personal you get, the more universal the application." In short, stuff straight from the soul resonates and stays with the reader. Whether you're looking for an eye-catching opening or an engaging throughline, it never hurts to get personal and connect your own life to the topic at hand. Personal anecdotes add depth and emotional texture to even the most standard pieces.

ChatGPT—an AI model that hasn't had any personal experiences—is unable to write these more human-centric moments that set a work of writing apart. As a writer, meanwhile, you should hone your observational skills and practice your ability to describe personal experiences with depth and clarity. No, you don't have to bare your soul. But adding some personal color to a piece will enhance it in a way that an LLM never could.

Strengthening Sentence-Level Originality

Anyone who's played around with ChatGPT has likely been wowed by its ability to generate a lot of text after just a prompt. In seconds, it can write paragraphs and paragraphs and paragraphs. But when you read the writing, you might find that it reads a bit bland. At the sentence level, the prose lacks interesting turns of phrase.

So how do you improve your ability to form original sentences? Read widely. Read the classics, read good new fiction, read literary magazines and read poetry. See the many different ways writers have arranged sentences through time and understand the thought processes undergirding them. While it might feel intimidating to be up against models that can generate a book in just a few hours, you should see this moment as a call to arms to stretch yourself and assert the unique power of the written word.

Using Chatbots Effectively

While it might sound a bit counterintuitive, the writers who are poised to win during the AI boom are the ones who learn how to effectively use AI models. ChatGPT and other models are impressive researchers, brainstormers and outliners, so learning how to use them as an effective tool in these areas can improve your writing and help you work more efficiently.

It might be tempting to embrace your inner Luddite and ignore AI. After all, most writers know AI models aren't capable of creating the sort of great writing that convinced them to follow this calling in the first place. But putting your head in the sand would be a mistake. You should place AI side by side with other technologies that have made the craft of writing easier over the years, like the thesaurus, the printing press, word processors and Google search.

Many writers have spent the last year anxiously reading articles about the rise of AI and its potential decimation of writing as a profession. While anxiety is understandable, this is no time to panic. By understanding AI and rising to the occasion, you won't just survive the AI transformation—you'll be poised to thrive.