What are AI writing tools and how can they improve your writing?

what are ai writing tools

AI writing tools can help you write more efficiently and creatively. It can also help you kick writer’s block and establish a repeatable content repurposing and distribution framework.

With the wide variety of tools available thanks to recent advancements in AI language technology, you have a number of platforms to choose from ranging from low price points for freelancers and small startups with limited functionality to high price points with a myriad of features and functions to help your large marketing team execute sophisticated content creation pipelines.

What are AI writing tools?

AI writing tools generate original text based on inputs from users by using AI that is trained on text from billions of websites all across the internet.

The underlying technology for most AI writing tools is the same. Advancements in this area started to accelerate in 2018 which unleashed huge opportunities for developers and marketers to create new ways to use the technology. Marketers and sales professionals have benefited the most from these advancements.

There are a few tasks that AI writing tools are great at. Overall, most tools work the same way. They accept text from a user, and perform an operation on that text. The text from the user is called the “prompt.” The prompt tells the AI platform what to do with a simple set of instructions and extra context if available.

In this section, we’ll provide a brief overview of the underlying technology behind most AI writing platforms and go through the most common tasks that AI writing platforms do very well.

GPT-3: The technology that powers most AI writing tools

GPT-3 by OpenAI is an AI language model that is able to produce human-like text. Users provide a prompt, and GPT-3 responds to the prompt. With each prompt, the model is asking “which sequence of words is most likely to come next?”. It is able to do this because it has processed billions of web pages across the internet and can identify common patterns of language.

There was a lot of buzz around the release of GPT-3 in 2020. Many saw a huge potential in the technology and others scoffed at the idea of using AI to generate usable text. Paul Graham noticed a pattern similar to other new technologies in the past:

We’ve seen over the past few years that companies have started and are continuing to thrive with GPT-3 as the backbone of their applications. 

How are AI writing tools used?

There are many applications for AI writing tools from creating marketing copy for websites, sales copy for emails, grammar checking, text transformations, topical analysis, and more. However, our main focus is creating tools for content marketers, so that is what we are naturally most excited about. 

Content marketing is the backbone of many marketing strategies and creates opportunities for companies to establish brand recognition, drive traffic to their websites, produce thought leadership on social media, and ultimately create a brand that their current and prospective customers trust.

Below are a series of common functions that can be accomplished with most AI writing tools. Together they offer a powerful toolset to help you create more high quality marketing content.

Text completion

Text completion is straightforward and does what you think it does. You provide some text, the AI writing tool completes the text. This is the classic application of GPT-3. It attempts to answer the question “what word should come next?” over and over again. 

There are a number of limitations here. However, the main criticism is that the AI writing platforms tend to go off topic or continuously repeat themselves if given enough space. For example, if we ask the AI to add 1,000 words on the back of 10 input words, you probably won’t like the output. However, if you ask the AI to add 10 words on the back of 1,000 words, the output will likely be extremely relevant and usable. The more information provided, and the less information requested, the higher the quality of the output.

Here’s an example of text completion where I started off with the introduction to this section. AI generated content is not always perfect, but it’s a great way to get started and to get the “creative juices flowing.”

Text summarization

Text summarization is something GPT-3 excels at and many writing tools have great applications for this feature. AI writing tools are able to understand the key points of a large amount of text (a large amount of text means a large amount of contextual information—this is good) and create net-new text that summarizes the main points.

The great part about this application is that it’s not simply extracting important sections of the input text. The summaries are completely unique.

Here’s an example of an AI platform summarizing the beginning of this section. Notice that the summary is not a direct excerpt of the passage, but a net-new summary.

Text rewriting

Oftentimes writers want to rewrite a section of text because it is too complicated, too formal, too pedantic, too boring, or too unprofessional. AI writing platforms are able to understand the tone of a section of text and rewrite it to fit another tone or characteristic. This becomes handy when repurposing or reusing a piece of text for another channel or format.

Here’s an example of rewriting the same section for a less informed audience. The original text is not particularly complex, so the differences are subtle, but you’ll see that the message is simpler and sentences are shorter.

Text Reformatting

Reformatting a piece of text is an extremely important capability of AI writing tools. A great application of this is turning one piece of content into one or more smaller pieces of content to be used on other platforms or channels. For example, turning a blog post into a series of Tweets or turning a webinar transcript into a blog outline. 

The content is largely the same, but the AI writing tools are able to understand the overall structure of the input text and convert it into commonly understood structures and patterns for other target formats.

Below is an example of reformatting the introduction of this section into a Tweet. The output is a short, snappy statement that has the style and sentiment of something you would find on Twitter.

Idea generation

Coming up with new ideas for content is hard. It’s especially hard when you are tasked with creating a high volume of content about similar topics. Coming up with new angles and points of view is critical to keep the machine running. We at Automata use the following procedure for our content creation pipeline:

  1. Create a new piece of content (like this blog post)
  2. Run it through our AI content expansion platform
  3. Request new article ideas.
  4. Choose one good new article idea related to this piece of content and add it to the end of our content calendar.

This helps us keep our content calendar growing, makes sure all of our content is on brand and topically similar. Site-wide topic similarity is going to become more important over time with Google’s “helpful content update” which analyzes the topical landscape of an entire site rather than a single page. Having multiple pieces of content inspire new pieces of content with AI-powered content suggestions is a powerful way to accomplish multiple goals.

The video below is an example of how we can convert a passage (the introduction to this section) into a list of new blog ideas.

(I added a modified version of #4 to my content calendar).

Topic Analysis

What is the content about? 

This may not be a question you need to ask of your own content, but it might be a good way to evaluate large groups of content (your entire archive) or to understand what your competition and partners are writing about. Understanding your competitive content landscape is a critical part of designing a content strategy because your audience is likely reviewing the content of your competition alongside your own.

Having a different point of view, or aligning with your partners, or whatever else you may want to accomplish with topical analysis can be accomplished with many AI writing tools.

Here’s an example of extracting the main topics of the introduction of this section. There aren’t a lot of topics to be explored, but you can see the relevance of the topics extracted.

How can AI writing tools improve your writing?

AI writing tools can improve your writing by increasing your content output, allowing you to write more creatively, helping you kick writer’s block, and helping you create a repeatable content repurposing and distribution strategy.

Increase your content volume

Content volume is not the most important aspect of a content strategy, however it is certainly important. The quality of your content is by far the most important part of your content strategy, especially under the guidelines in Google’s “helpful content update”, however the best combination is a high volume of high quality content. Although most applications of AI will not be affected by this update, it is still important to consider how to use these tools responsibly to stay in the good graces of the most important search engine.

There are a number of things to consider with respect to creating a high volume of content. It’s not recommended to put AI on autopilot to generate 100’s of articles per week unless you have the staff and skills to manage and edit that amount of content. Many brands will get into trouble with the SERPs if they do this, because Google will undoubtedly recognize the strategy and penalize them due to the wide variety of low quality articles.

However, AI writing tools can help responsible marketers create a higher volume of high quality content. By leveraging the techniques in the above section, AI writing tools can help you be a more effective writer in less time.  

Worried that your introduction is too technical? Use AI to rewrite the section to give you ideas on how to simplify it.

Looking to create some meta descriptions for your blog posts? Quickly run them through an AI platform to generate a short summary.

Not sure what to write about next? Let an AI platform suggest relevant blog titles to add to your content calendar.

The applications really are endless, but there is certainly a right and a wrong way to use this technology. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses, you can safely increase the volume of your content production by publishing high quality content faster. Get stuck on the menial and supporting aspects of content creation less often and move on to your next task.

Write more creatively

We all get in a rut sometimes. We start using the same phrases over and over. We wonder if our readers are recognizing the same thing or whether or not anybody cares. Regardless, AI writing tools give us a great opportunity to explore perpendicular lines of creativity in the writing process. 

GPT-3 and other AI language models have explored the entire internet and understand the language used across a number of applications, communities, and environments. Not everyone is writing marketing content, and that is a good thing. AI platforms understand language in a very broad sense and can give you inspiration on how to word things differently or come with a different point of view than you normally would.

Of course there are always brand guidelines and expectations of professionalism, but luckily AI writing tools can understand this as well. Simply ask the platforms what you are looking for and it will likely understand it and point you in the right direction.

Kick writer’s block

Writer’s block is a b****. 

Staring at a blank page unclear of what to write is not fun. However, AI writing tools can certainly offer some help in this department. Even if the output only gets you 50% of the way there, it’s 50% further than where you were before.

Generating an outline from a title or generating a title from a list of ideas is sometimes all you need to get started. For example, I wrote this article by first writing down a title. Then I wrote out the headers that made the most sense. After that, I wrote the introduction to each main section. By attacking a piece of content a little bit at a time in a systematic way, you’ll start to see the piece come together faster than you expected. AI writing tools can help you with every aspect of this process from generating a title, to an outline, to an introduction.

Repeatable content repurposing

Content repurposing is an extremely powerful concept in many content creation workflows. It allows you to extract as much value as possible from every marketing asset. Many companies tend to publish a research or resource intensive marketing asset on their website and let it decay there.

A webinar is great, but it’s only as great as how many eyeballs see it. What if you turned that webinar into a blog post, a series of Tweets, a native LinkedIn post, a post on Reddit, a question on Quora, and an infographic? This is a lot of work, but the number of eyeballs on your content exponentially increases with the number of additional channels and formats you convert your webinar into.

AI writing tools can help with your content repurposing strategy in a number of different ways. First, summarizing large pieces of text is a bread-and-butter application for AI writing tools. Turning a huge blog post or webinar transcript into zero-click social posts, headlines, or email subject lines is a great way to start repurposing your content.

Automata offers a few ways to repurpose any piece of content including converting marketing assets into Twitter threads, LinkedIn posts, email subject lines, email marketing content, and headlines for landing pages or elsewhere.

Repeatable content distribution

Content distribution is as important as content creation. Without a solid distribution strategy, no one is going to see your content outside of the few clicks from organic search. Organic search is the main driver of traffic for many brands, but it takes a long time and a lot of expertise to get to the point of reliable organic traffic.

For companies trying to get the most out of their content outside of organic search via SEO, sharing and repurposing on social media, niche communities, and email marketing are great options. Converting and promoting your content on these other channels is a great way to improve the reach of your content. AI writing tools can help summarize and extract insights from your content to distribute on channels outside of your own website.

Automata can help your content distribution strategy by automatically generating email subject lines, email marketing content, and promotional Tweets and LinkedIn posts for every piece of content you create.

Key Takeaway

AI writing tools are here to stay. There is a right way to use these tools and there is a wrong way. Having a good understanding of the core capabilities like summarizing, text completion, and topical analysis, will help you determine where these tools can fit in your content creation pipeline.