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Writing Summaries with AI

How to use AI to write a summary

You can produce a good summary of a text using AI tools. However, there are a few things you should consider before using these tools:

  1. These tools can give you strange or unsuitable results;
  2. If you are working in an academic environment or if you are writing a summary as part of an assignment, you need to be honest about how you produced the summary, otherwise you may be breaking your institution's rules concerning academic integrity See the glossary definition , possibly with serious consequences;
  3. You need to be sure that the summary you produce is an accurate one, produced according to the criteria set by your institution (e.g. word count, style, emphasis);
  4. You need to be able to evaluate the summary produce by the AI tool you used. You cannot do this unless you are able to write a good summary without an AI tool. You may be asked to defend your summary, orally. You will have difficulty doing this if you cannot evaluate a summary and state why you included the the points you chose or why you chose not to include others.

Example AI Generated Summary

The text we are using is taken from The Conversation. It is entitled "Curious Kids: Why do people with synaesthesia link senses, and how does it work?" (Simner 2021). You should click on the link above to view the original article before you read the comments below. It is the same text used on the summaries (non-AI) page.

I asked ChatGPT 3.5 to provide a summary of the text mentioned above. The prompt I used was "Summarize the information in the following text in not more than 200 words + [the text]". The response I received was:

Synesthesia is a phenomenon where senses intertwine, allowing individuals to experience sensations like colors from sounds or tastes from sights. Synesthesia occurs due to tiny brain differences, enabling connections between senses. Synesthetes may associate colors with letters or numbers consistently from childhood, a condition called grapheme-color synesthesia. Having synesthesia can lead to enhanced creativity, memory, and visualization skills. It's estimated that there are two to five synesthetes per school, with synesthesia often being hereditary. Researchers explore the potential for training synesthetic abilities. Despite its rarity, synesthesia offers advantages, such as improved memory and academic performance, making synesthetes unique individuals with special abilities.

This is a reasonable summary of the facts stated in the original article, but there are problems. One problem is a question of style. The original text was written in a simple style in response to a query posed by an eleven-year-old. The ChatGPT response gave "a phenomenon where senses intertwine", which is a good way of rewriting "a special way of sensing the world – a merging or a linking of the senses" but it's more opaque than the original. There is also a question of cohesion. The word "synesthesia" (or it's derivatives; synesthetes, synesthetic) occurs 10 times in the summary, appearing at least once in every sentence but one, which seems excessive for such a short text. So there seems to be a problem with cohesion; there is repetition but there are few other cohesive ties (e.g. pronouns); it's a collection of unconnected sentences.

"It's estimated that there are two to five synesthetes per school" is problematic. The original was "On average, there are likely to be two to five other children in your school with synaesthesia" which is quite vague in itself. The summary version "It's estimated that there are" has a greater air of authority (if it were not a summary we would normally expect a citation at this point). It would probably best just to say that this phenomenon is not common (as in our none-AI summary).

ChatGPT chose "Synesthetes may associate colors with letters or numbers consistently from childhood, a condition called grapheme-color synesthesia" as an example. But it's not the most obvious or clearest example of a synesthetic phenomenon. It's also not clear where the word "consistently" comes from.

Second Example AI Generated Summary

I tried another prompt: Summarize the information in the following text in not more than 200 words. Write the response in language an eleven year old could understand easily. The response was:

Synaesthesia is like having a superpower where your senses, like seeing colors or hearing sounds, mix up and work together in a special way. Imagine if you could hear with your eyes or taste with your ears! It's kind of like that. Normally, our brains tell us what we see, hear, taste, and feel. But for people with synaesthesia, their brains are wired a bit differently. So, they might see colors when they hear music or taste flavors when they read words. Having synaesthesia can make you really good at remembering things and being creative. It's rare, but it's not a bad thing at all. Actually, it's pretty cool! If you have synaesthesia, you're called a synaesthete, and there might even be other kids in your school who have it too. So, if you find out that you have synaesthesia, it's like finding out you have a special talent. It could help you in school and make you see the world in a totally unique way.

In this case the response was longer - 163 words. Although it is simpler to read, the style is still unsuitable; it's too chatty.

If you produced a summary like this from a ChatGPT response without editing it and without stating it was AI generated, and you were asked to defend it you might find yourself in trouble. It may be that you could get a better response by providing more information about your requirements in the prompt. But, whatever the response, you would still need to evaluate it and perhaps edit it. And you would still need to declare that you used ChatGPT to help you with your task.

Use ChatGPT to list Main Ideas

An alternative approach is not to ask for a summary but to ask for a list of the main points in the submitted text.

In this case the prompt was: Extract five main ideas from the following text.

The response was:

  1. Definition of Synaesthesia: Synaesthesia is described as a blending or linking of senses, allowing individuals to experience sensations like seeing colors when hearing music or tasting flavors while reading words.
  2. Explanation of Brain's Role: The brain plays a pivotal role in synaesthesia, where signals from one sense can activate another sense due to tiny differences in brain wiring. For instance, seeing a red rose activates the occipital cortex, resulting in the sensation of redness.
  3. Variability of Synaesthetic Experiences: There are numerous ways to experience synaesthesia, with over 100 known variants. Some people may hear sounds when observing colors, while others may taste flavors when reading.
  4. Synaesthetic Individuals and Their Experiences: Synaesthetes have unique connections across their senses, leading to experiences uncommon in others. They may perceive colors associated with letters or numbers consistently, such as associating the letter A with the color red.
  5. Advantages and Impact of Synaesthesia: Having synaesthesia offers certain advantages, such as enhanced memory, creativity, and visualization skills. Synaesthetes tend to perform better in tasks like spelling and have a keener ability to picture things in their minds.

I then asked ChatGPT for use the response to create a summary. In this case the prompt was: Use the above response to write a summary of not more than 150 words. The response was:

Synaesthesia is a phenomenon where senses blend, enabling individuals to experience sensations like seeing colors when hearing music or tasting flavors while reading. The brain plays a crucial role, with signals from one sense activating another due to subtle differences in brain wiring. With over 100 known variants, synaesthesia manifests differently for each individual, such as hearing sounds when observing colors. Synaesthetes, those who experience synaesthesia, have unique sensory connections, associating colors with letters or numbers consistently. This condition offers advantages like enhanced memory, creativity, and visualization skills, leading to better performance in tasks like spelling. Overall, synaesthesia enriches sensory experiences and cognitive abilities, making synaesthetes unique individuals with special perceptual gifts.

This is still not a excellent summary but it's the best AI generated one so far. It is more coherent with better cohesive ties. But it still has problems. It states that "Synaesthetes, those who experience synaesthesia, have unique sensory connections, associating colors with letters or numbers consistently." Written like that it seems that ALL synaesthetes associate colours with letters, but the original text only gives this as "one common type". Also, it is still unclear what "consistently" refers to.


ChatGPT can provide a summary which on a first reading seems plausible but to get a good one you need to write very specific instructions in the prompt. It's probably better to ask ChatGPT to provide a list of main points and then write the summary yourself. Whatever you do, you need to evaluate the result you are given and you can't do that well if you can't write a good summary yourself. You have to check for factual errors and you have to check for coherence See the glossary definition and cohesion See the glossary definition ; a summary is still a text, not just a list of unrelated sentences. There needs to be a sense of flow. There should also be nothing in the summary which is not traceable to something in the original text. The recommendations concerning what not to include still apply if you use this tool. ChatGPT itself warns you "ChatGPT can make mistakes. Consider checking important information".

Whatever you write and publish, you need to be in control. If you use AI to help you write, edit or summarise, you need to give explicit instructions about what you require and you need to evaluate the text which AI provides. Otherwise the text is not yours and you are not in control.

Finally, if you use these tools, you must cite the source. The APA recommendations tell you how to do this. Other style guides will have similar recommendations. (OpenAI, 2024; see the Summaries Transcript Page for the full transcript). If you use AI in your work you need to declare that. You must consult your own institution's policy on academic integrity regarding the use of AI in you work, and abide by your institution's rules. See also Academic Integrity in the Age of AI.

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