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Making the most of Generative AI


There are three different ways you might use Generative AI in your work, and they are each treated differently in APA referencing:

  • When you use an unpublished source created by Generative AI based on your own prompts as evidence or an example to support your arguments in your work;

  • When you use a published source created or translated by Generative AI as evidence or an example to support your arguments in your work

  • When you use Generative AI as a tool to help you in your own work in other ways

Each of the following three sections discusses how you reference in these different contexts. There is also a section looking at adding appendices to your work, which will be relevant in some cases.

Using unpublished content created by an AI

A reference for AI-generated content follows the otherwise-little-used template for referencing rare or bespoke software: effectively you are referencing the AI itself, rather than the content it produces. If the terms and conditions of the AI permit it, it is then good practice to also include the AI-generated content as an appendix in your work.

Reference Format:

Author. (Year of publication). Name of AI (Version) [Description]. Originating company only if different from author. URL,

Reference Example:

OpenAI. (2023). ChatGPT (Mar 3 version) [Large language model].

Citation Example:

(OpenAI, 2023)


The author is the people or organisation responsible for creating the AI: given the scale of resources needed to create an AI, this is almost certainly a corporate author. If the author also counts as the originating company- which is very likely- then you do not need to include the originating company in the reference, as you try to avoid unnecessarily duplicating information when referencing.

The version number is presented as given in the AI: for example, in ChatGPT you can find this information at the bottom of the screen (please note that the ChatGPT itself uses a version notation based on release date, not the ChatGPT-3/ ChatGPT-4/ etc. format you may have seen in the press)

The description is just a short indication of what kind of AI it is (eg, text, image, etc.): use the description given in the AI if available, or create your own if not.

The URL should be to the AI interface if possible- eg, the actual chat screen in ChatGPT- rather than the author/ publisher homepage.

The unique nature of AI means that ;it departs from many usual referencing rules. It is not normally necessary to reference well-known software: but then software isn't normally used to generate evidence to support your arguments in the same way as AI. Likewise, sources your readers can't access themselves would normally be referenced as Personal Communication: however, this can't apply to AI, as it's not possible to ask an AI to confirm what it said in the same way as a human being. And you don't normally need to include the content of a reference in an appendix: but there's no other way your reader can see the unique output the AI generated based on your prompts.

Using published sources created or translated by an AI

AIs are sometimes used to produce content for websites, magazines and other traditional published formats: if AI content has been published in such a traditional format, then it would follow the standard template for referencing that kind of source (eg, webpage, magazine article, etc) without an author. Please see the guideAPA 7: Sources and Examplesfor more information on how to reference different types of sources, and the guide How to Use APA 7th Edition for what to do when there is no author.

Some AI-generated content may claim to be co-written by a human being (who typically wrote the prompts or edited the piece). But unless the human shares the author byline with the AI, then the source still counts as having no author. In cases where a human or humans genuinely share the author credit with an AI, leave the AI out of the reference and citation when giving the author names.

Reference example:

Morocco: city, sights, and the Sahara. (2023, March 23). Buzzfeed.

Citation example:

(Morocco: City, Sights and the Sahara, 2023)

Likewise, if you use AI or other software to translate a published source, the citation and reference are to the original source, with a translator credit for the AI or software after the title in the reference, eg (ChatGPT September 25 version, Trans.). Normally, AI can't count as an author or translator (or editor, director, etc) because it's not a human: but for the sake of brevity and clarity, an exception is made in this case.

Reference Example:

Peeters, B. (2022). Génie de la bandee dessinée: de Rodolphe Töpffer à Emil Ferris [Genius of comic art: from Rodolphe Töpffer to Emil Ferris] (ChatGPT September 25 version, Trans.). Collège de France.

Citation Example:

(Peeters, 2022)

Please be aware that you would not usually include a copy of the AI's translation as an appendix. In part, this is because there's not any need to do this for a source that has been translated by any means, as your reader can locate the original source from your reference and translate it themselves. But in addition, intellectual property rights can often apply even to translations of a work, so there is a risk of infringing copyright and other laws if you add the translation as an appendix.

Using AI as a tool rather than a source or evidence

Referencing is normally applied to sources of information you use to support or illustrate; the arguments you make in your work: however, AIs and other software are often used for other purposes than this, such as:

  • doing calculations and analyses
  • proofreading or editing
  • sorting, summarising or organising data
  • running searches
  • and so on.

Under APA 7th edition, you do not normally need to cite or reference any software- including AIs- which you use to help you in your work in these alternate ways.

However, it is always good practice to say what software you have used in your work, whether it is AI or not. Telling your readers what software or AI you used makes it easier for them to replicate your work, or to detect errors, bugs and biases in it. You should always give the name of the AI, and the version number or specific AI model if available or relevant. This information doesn't take the form of a reference or citation, but should appear in some form at an appropriate place in your work: for example, if your assignment has one, the methodology section is often a good place. You can find some suggested methods for doing this in the Preparing to Submit Work section of Assessment4Students.

There are ways of referencing rare or unusual software: but almost all software used in academic work is sufficiently widespread that it will be familiar to your readers, and no further details are needed beyond the name and version. Besides, the effect of an AI used in such a way is likely to be diffused throughout your entire assignment, so there's no obvious single place to put a citation.

Of course, you don't even need to provide the name of software when it's obvious to your reader which software you used: for example, there's no need to tell your reader that you used Microsoft Word to write the Word document they're reading!

Strictly speaking, these rules apply when including AI-generated text, images or music in your assignments that is not being used as supporting evidence for your arguments: for example, producing decorative illustrations or creating forms or questionnaires for you. However, if you include AI-generated content within an assignment, you should always make it possible for the people marking your work to distinguish between what you created and what the AI created: if they are not clearly differentiated, there is a risk of being accused of academic misconduct. These rules will usually be sufficient to do that: but in some cases, particularly where the AI-generated content is integrated closely with your own work, you may instead wish to use the rules for referencing AI as a source of evidence to provide extra clarity as to what is or isn't your own work.

Referencing and Appendices

Appendices contain additional information that doesn’t fit neatly into the main argument or flow of your written work, but which could still be useful and informative for your readers.

Referencing is intended to help your readers locate a source of information: as the appendix is attached to the document they are currently reading; your readers have already located the appendix! So, in normal circumstances there is no need to include a reference to material in your appendices in your reference list: however, the peculiarities of AIs mean that you include both a reference and an appendix.

You need to tell your reader in your citation when information appears in an appendix , otherwise, they might not know to look for it.For example:

(OpenAI, 2023. See Appendix A for full transcript)

If you have more than one appendix, label them alphabetically and give them an appropriate descriptive title, e.g.:

Appendix A: ChatGPT search transcript

Appendix B: Example consent form

Appendix C: Interview schedule

Appendices come at the end of your work and are not usually included in the word count. If you are ever uncertain whether, or how, to include appendices for a particular assignment, ask your lecturer.

An appendix might itself refer to other sources: sources which you refer to in your appendices are treated like sources anywhere else in your work, so add citations and include a reference for them in your main reference list as you would normally do for that type of source.

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