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Writing essays can be draining, tedious, and difficult, even for me—and I write all day long for a living. If writing isn’t your special skill, it’s even harder, which is why there are so many sites and products out there that are designed to help you get your homework done. Some of them are pretty unethical, and I’m not going to recommend hiring someone else to write your papers for you, but there are some cool AI tools that can give you a hand that are worth considering. (The essay-writing businesspeople are probably using these, too, so you’re better off eliminating the middleman and using them on your own.)

The best AI essay-helper tools

I have an essay due next week on the history and impact of a federal law, 21 U.S.C. S856, which outlaws the operation of any building where drugs are made or used. I won’t lie: I’m excited to work on it this weekend, but that’s just me. I tested out a few of the more popular AI essay-helper tools, pretending I wasn’t excited about it, to see how they worked. Here’s my assessment. 


First up was Grammarly, which prompted me to fill out a personalization quiz before I could use it. I told the site I was a grad student, interested in improving the vocabulary I use in my work, and looking to brainstorm topics for my essay. I used the text-input section to type a quick introductory paragraph and selected “Generative AI” from the list of options. When I hit the “Improve It” button, Grammarly showed me a revised version that added a bunch of words, but still said the same thing as my more concise entry. To me, that’s annoying, but if you’re trying to hit a word count, this could be useful. I was also given options like “Make it assertive,” “Make it persuasive,” and “Make it confident.” When I selected “Make it more detailed,” the generative AI did expand the information pretty significantly, but it didn’t add any citations and I’m not convinced it drew on material outside of what I inputted. When I hit “Make it persuasive,” the AI automatically assumed the bias should fall in favor of the law, but when I added more detail to my original paragraph, suggesting for argument’s sake that the law has curtailed efforts to reduce drug overdoses throughout the country, the AI assistant said, “Grammarly assistance is unavailable for this prompt because it may result in sensitive content.”

Overall, this wasn’t great for my needs, as my topic’s content was too “sensitive” and the generative AI really only added a bunch of words. This one would be most useful for someone trying to hit a word count. 


Next I tested Cramly, which I hadn’t heard of before. Before upgrading to a $4/month plan, you do get to try five free prompts, so I pasted my basic intro paragraph in there and, after a few seconds, got five paragraphs in return. It was obvious the AI was pulling from external sources somehow, as it mentioned fines and prison sentences associated with the law that I hadn’t specified, but it didn’t actually cite those sources. Still, the information it provided was helpful, so this one would be great if you’re not sure how to frame or expand on a topic and need a general idea of what your essay could look like. You’ll just have to go through everything it spits back at you and look it up independently, finding solid sourcing. 


EssayGenius is extremely easy to use. It asked me to type what I’m writing about into a box. I simply inputted the name of the law and, about 10 seconds later, got 10 paragraphs back, some with subheadings like “historical background” and “implications in criminal law and public policy.” Again, there were no citations here, but the service provided not only a lot of details that could be used as a springboard to find more, but a solid outline for what the paper could look like. The AI played both sides, objectively presenting the cases for and against the law, then provided a conclusion that made it easy to narrow down where to go with the topic. Impressively, I was able to generate all that for free, but if you want to write up to 10 essays per month, it’ll cost you $9.99 a month. 


Finally, I tried out JotBot, which I have seen advertised on social media. It asked me what I was writing about, plus if I wanted an outline, but also gave me an opportunity to upload my old essays so it could replicate my writing style. As scary as it was, the paragraphs it generated after reading some of my older work did sound more like me than standard AI does. It give me subtopic suggestions, like “impact,” “historical background,” and “controversies,” which I could select from a sidebar and, if I liked the paragraph it wrote, drag into the essay itself. From there, I could accept or reject sentences one by one as it generated new ones. I could write in the essay editing section, too, and it generated more suggestions based on what I was typing. Frankly, this one was really cool and I can see how it would help beat writer’s block with ease, since you can type and get suggestions as you go. There was a learning curve, though, and I didn’t realize how quickly I was blowing through my 10 free daily “credits,” since it’s unclear what, exactly, costs credits and how many it costs to, say, accept one suggestion. You can unlock unlimited credits, unlimited autocomplete, unlimited sources, and more for $14 per month. 


Overall, EssayGenius and JotBot were the best AI tools I tested. I was impressed by EssayGenius’s ability to research the topic on its own and JotBot’s mimicry of my own writing style. They do cost money, but that might be worth it if you’re someone who struggles with idea generation, outline creation, or getting into the flow of writing overall. 

Bear in mind these are not meant to churn out entire essays for you and you shouldn’t use them to do that. I don’t mean because it’s unethical, but I mean because it’s pretty easy for professors to catch you doing it. Even if you do use an AI tool to generate a whole paragraph or more, try to write it in your own voice and think of it more as a way to study and learn about your topic than have the writing done for you. 

Or, pay nothing and just use ChatGPT to generate outline ideas. I do that all the time and never have to worry about getting in trouble, cheating myself out of an education, or paying for anything. I just asked ChatGPT to generate an outline for an essay on 21 U.S.C. §856 and its impact on American harm reduction efforts and got eight sections, each with three subsections, and an easy roadmap I could follow to write my paper on my own. Doing it this way ensures I’ll actually research and learn about the topic, which is important to me, but also avoid the risk of going down for plagiarism or cheating, which is probably important to you. 

No matter what you end up doing, always run your work through a plagiarism checker (like Grammarly’s, which is better than its AI essay-writing tools) and ZeroGPT to make sure you’re not turning in something that’s going to get you in trouble.

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