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How to use ChatGPT to summarize a book, article, or research paper

chatgpt on mobile phone

Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

AI chatbots like ChatGPT can be used to make summarizing long articles, research papers, and books an easier task. If you’re supposed to write a summary for school or work on a body of written text, remember that ChatGPT should be used to help you understand a topic rather than to write your work for you.

Also: How to use ChatGPT to write an essay

If you’re a student writing a research paper, someone wanting to know more about a lengthy article, or someone who wants to know more about a complicated subject, you can use ChatGPT to simplify the process.

How ChatGPT can create summaries for you

Materials needed: You will need a device that can connect to the internet, an OpenAI account, as well as a URL to an article, research paper, or the title of a book. The process should take about one to three minutes.

screenshot of OpenAI log in and sign up page

Screenshot by Jada Jones/ZDNET

In the chat box, type in TLDR: followed by the link to your article or research paper. TLDR stands for too long, didn’t read. 

Also: How to use ChatGPT to write code

After you type in the prompt, paste the copied URL of your article or research paper, and ChatGPT knows you’re requesting the chatbot to give you a summary. Then, press the send button, and the chatbot will provide you with a summary. 

Or — sometimes, it won’t. 

Using ChatGPT to summarize an article via URL is a hit or miss. Sometimes, the chatbot will provide you with a seemingly accurate and short summary of an article. But other times, it will hallucinate or give you an error message saying it cannot access the internet. 

Also: Is this the snarkiest AI chatbot so far? I tried HuggingChat and it was weird

It’s recommended that you read the article or research paper in its entirety before asking ChatGPT to summarize it, that way you can decide if the chatbot’s response is accurate. The more reliable but more tedious way to get an more accurate summary is by copying and pasting the text of the article or research paper into the prompt. 

To summarize a book, type into the prompt: summarize [book title]. Be sure the book was published before 2021.

It’s not recommended to use ChatGPT to summarize a book you haven’t read to make sure you’re not regurgitating false information into a book report or to a person wanting to know about the book. But if it’s been a few years since you’ve read the book and you want a refresh, using ChatGPT to summarize it can be useful.

Screenshot of ChatGPT summarizing a NYT article about the 2019 college admissions scandal

This is an accurate summary of the URL I put into the prompt. But I still read the article in its entirety to ensure it’s accuracy.

Screenshot by Jada Jones/ZDNET


What are ChatGPT’s limitations?

If you’re using ChatGPT to summarize an article, book, or piece of research, keep in mind that ChatGPT isn’t aware of events that occurred past 2021. 

Also: Want to learn more about prompt engineering? This free course can help

For example, suppose you ask ChatGPT to tell you about Joe Biden’s campaign this year to ban TikTok. In that case, the chatbot will tell you, “It is currently unclear what actions, if any, the Biden administration may take regarding TikTok in the future.”

If you try to get around this and provide ChatGPT with an article that contains information post-2021, it may hallucinate. Here, I asked the chatbot to summarize an article about a new app I wrote about, and it made up a few details. 

Screenshot of ChatGPT offering false information about a ZDNET article

Lemon8 is a new app from TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance. Although the TikTok trend may exist, that’s not what the article is about.

Screenshot by Jada Jones/ZDNET

Can ChatGPT summarize a PDF?

If you can open a PDF in your web browser, you can try copying the link and pasting it into ChatGPT. But with using URLs in ChatGPT comes the possibility for the chatbot to hallucinate. It’s best to read the PDF and use the chatbot as a summary tool and not as an educator. 

If you’re looking for an AI chatbot that you can regularly rely on to give you an accurate summary of a PDF, consider using ChatPDF. You can summarize up to three PDFs of up to 120 pages per day and an upgraded plan is available for $5 per month.

Can ChatGPT summarize an email thread?

Sort of. If you want to copy and paste every single email, ChatGPT can summarize the thread’s contents for you. It would be more helpful to scan an email thread yourself and ask ChatGPT to help you write a response based on the key points you know about the conversation. 

Editor’s note: We’ve added additional context to the step concerning ChatGPT summarizing articles by URL. 

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