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How to use ChatGPT (and how to access GPT-4o)

Want to use the most popular AI chatbot available? We'll walk you through how to get started with ChatGPT and how to get the most out of it.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
OpenAI ChatGPT GPT-4o
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

OpenAI unleashed an artificial intelligence (AI) revolution when the company launched ChatGPT for public use in late 2022. Since then, ChatGPT -- a chatbot powered by OpenAI's large language models (LLMs) -- has dominated headlines and preoccupied the minds of executives running TwitterGoogleAmazon, Microsoft, and Meta, inspiring them to create their own generative AI projects.

The maker of the most popular AI chatbot recently announced a slew of new features coming to free ChatGPT users, most of which were previously accessible only with a Plus subscription, which costs $20 a month. The update will enable free users to use the GPT Store to access custom GPT bots; have a sense of continuity in their conversations with Memory; upload photos and documents to discuss them with ChatGPT; browse to give more current context; use the advanced data analysis feature; and gain access GPT-4o, OpenAI's newest and most advanced LLM.

Also: What does a long context window mean for an AI model, like Gemini?

This update is rolling out gradually to free, Plus, and Team users right now, with ChatGPT Enterprise users coming soon. Because this gradual rollout will take weeks, not all ChatGPT users, free and paid, may see access to these features just yet. We'll cover how you can use ChatGPT and how to use the new features.

How to use ChatGPT

1. Go to chat.openai.com

Start by going to chat.openai.com. You no longer need to create an account on OpenAI's website to log in and access ChatGPT, but you must create a free account if you want to access GPT-4o, including past conversations with the free tier of ChatGPT. You also need to log in if you want to use ChatGPT Plus.

Also: How does ChatGPT work?

To create an account, click "Sign up" on the bottom left of the chat screen and follow the prompts to enter your information. OpenAI requires a valid phone number for verification to create an account on its website.

Go to the ChatGPT website
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

2. Learn how to use ChatGPT

Once you open ChatGPT, learn how to navigate the user interface. Here's a breakdown of what you will see, with the image below as an example:

  • Chat and hide sidebar buttons: On the left side of your screen, there's a "New chat" button that you can click on to start a fresh conversation anytime. ChatGPT remembers what you discussed previously in a conversation and will respond with context. Starting a new chat creates a new discussion without context, though the bot may remember some details if you're logged in.

  • Chat history: The left sidebar keeps your past conversations accessible in case you need to return to one (you can edit the title of each chat). You can also share your chat history with othersturn off chat history, delete individual chats, or delete your entire chat history.

  • Account (if logged in): Clicking on your name on the bottom left of your screen gives you access to your account information, including settings, the option to log out, get help, and customize ChatGPT. If you don't have ChatGPT Plus, you may see an Upgrade button here to sign up for it.

  • ChatGPT dropdown menu: You can choose which model to use near the top of the screen, above your conversation. The options in the menu include GPT-4o, GPT-4, and GPT-3.5. However, you must log in with a paid ChatGPT Plus account to access GPT-4.

  • Your prompts: The questions or prompts you send the AI chatbot appear in the middle of the chat window, with your account photo or initials to the left.

  • ChatGPT's responses: Whenever ChatGPT responds to your queries, the logo will appear on the left. The Copy,Thumbs Up, and Thumbs Down buttons appear to the right of each response. You can copy the text to your clipboard to paste it elsewhere and provide feedback on whether the response was accurate. OpenAI uses this human feedback to fine-tune the AI tool through reinforcement learning.

  • Options below responses: A menu appears below each response, including a read-aloud option, copy text, regenerate, report a bad response, and change the model to regenerate the response with a different model.

  • Text area: This is where you enter your prompts and questions.

  • ChatGPT disclaimer: OpenAI includes some fine print below the text input area. The disclaimer reads: "ChatGPT can make mistakes. Check important info." OpenAI includes this disclaimer because chatbots like ChatGPT can hallucinate and give nonsensical answers (always make sure to fact-check their responses). In the past, this section showed the version of the ChatGPT model currently in use, but OpenAI disabled this.

Also: The ethics of generative AI: How we can harness this powerful technology

Log in to ChatGPT

As you can see here, I've logged into ChatGPT. This is the new UI launched by OpenAI.

Screenshot by Maria Diaz/ZDNET

3. Start writing your prompts and questions

Now that you know how to access ChatGPT, you can ask the chatbot any burning questions you have and see what answers you get -- the possibilities are endless. The ChatGPT tool can be useful in your personal life and many work projects, from software development to writing to translations.

Also: AI business is booming: ChatGPT Enterprise now boasts 600,000+ users

Type a ChatGPT prompt in the text bar at the bottom of the page, and click the submit button to pose your questions. The chatbot will then generate text as an answer to your query.

ChatGPT doesn't work like a search engine. Instead, the chatbot responds with information based on the training data in GPT-3.5, GPT-4, or GPT-4o. The free version of ChatGPT uses GPT-3.5 (trained on information leading up to January 2022) and GPT-4o (when available), which is OpenAI's smartest and fastest model. Like GPT-4o, GPT-4 -- accessible through a paid ChatGPT Plus subscription -- can access the internet and respond with more up-to-date information.

ChatGPT window

When you send ChatGPT a message, it'll reply within a few seconds. 

Screenshot by Maria Diaz/ZDNET

ZDNET's ChatGPT guides

ChatGPT users have come up with creative ideas for using the chatbot, from asking questions in search of funny answers to correcting a bug in code. Across all these areas, one thing is abundantly clear: this AI tool is remarkable not due to any particular innovations but rather because it's accessible and easy to use. 

Here are some of ZDNET's guides on different ways to use ChatGPT:

How to use ChatGPT for coding

How to use ChatGPT for work

How to use ChatGPT for school

Useful ChatGPT tips


How can I use GPT-4o?

GPT-4o is gradually rolling out to all ChatGPT users, free and paid. Once your account has access to GPT-4o, you can use it by clicking on the model selector at the top of the chat window and then selecting GPT-4o from the dropdown menu that appears. 

What's the difference between free and paid ChatGPT?

There are two big differences between using the free ChatGPT tier and using a Plus subscription: First, paid users will have up to five times the limit of free users. Two, subscribers can use GPT-4 when their GPT-4o limit runs out, while free users can use only GPT-3.5 when their quota runs out.

Aside from that, ChatGPT Plus subscribers have priority access to new features from OpenAI, including the upcoming Voice Mode over the coming weeks. 

What are some good prompts for ChatGPT?

ChatGPT's responses to prompts are good enough that the technology can be an essential tool for content generation, from writing essays to summarizing a book.

The better the prompt, the better the response you'll get. Here are examples of prompts you could start with:

  • How does a computer store and process information?
  • Analyze this code and tell me how to fix it: [Paste the code].
  • Write a poem about migraines in Walt Whitman's style.
  • What is the difference between a virus and a bacterium?
  • Write a sick note for my child who has to miss school.
  • Write a song/poem about [insert topic here] (try adding multiple details). 
  • Give it a list of ingredients from your pantry and ask it to write a recipe with them.
  • Ask it to summarize ideas or concepts.
  • Request a packing list for a three-day trip to the beach.

Your imagination is the limit. Have fun with different ChatGPT prompts. For example, ZDNET's David Gewirtz asked the AI chatbot to write a WordPress plugin and used it to help him fix code faster. He also requested ChatGPT to write a Star Trek script and start a business using the technology and other AI tools.

Also: 4 ways generative AI can stimulate the creator economy

Others have used the tool to write malware. ChatGPT is an AI assistant programmed to reject inappropriate requests and doesn't generate unsafe content, so it may push back if you give it certain potentially unethical requests.

Can I use ChatGPT without a login?

OpenAI now allows users to access the free version of ChatGPT, powered by GPT-3.5 and GPT-4o, without logging in, though you must create an account to access your chat history. To access GPT-4, you need an account and a ChatGPT Plus subscription.

Also: ChatGPT vs. Microsoft Copilot vs. Gemini: Which is the best AI chatbot?

If you'd rather access GPT-4 for free and without logging in to a website, you can use Microsoft Copilot, formerly known as Bing Chat, which uses OpenAI's GPT-4, a larger and newer model than GPT-3.5. You can log in with a Microsoft account for extended conversations. GPT-4o is a faster and smarter model than GPT-4, but free users revert back to GPT-3.5 when they reach their usage limit, though OpenAI doesn't specify the limit. 

What is ChatGPT Plus?

ChatGPT Plus is OpenAI's paid subscription to ChatGPT that offers access to GPT-3.5, GPT-4, and GPT-4o. A paid subscription gives you priority access to new features, has a higher usage limit than a free account, and lets you use the AI chatbot during peak times.

Also: Why the future must be BYO AI: Model lock-in deters users and stifles innovation

Is ChatGPT accurate?

ChatGPT and other AI assistants are prone to misinformation because they're trained on massive amounts of data humans create. These tools can be biased if their data is flawed and can give inaccurate responses, especially regarding world events.

You should challenge any incorrect premises and always fact-check information from ChatGPT and other chatbots.

Can I use ChatGPT on my phone?

OpenAI offers mobile apps for iOS and Android. These apps offer a rich ChatGPT experience, letting you talk with ChatGPT through voice conversations powered by OpenAI's Whisper without requiring a ChatGPT Plus subscription.

Also: These are my 4 favorite AI chatbot apps for Android

If you don't want to download an app, you can use the AI-based tool in your mobile browser. The steps to use OpenAI's ChatGPT from your mobile browser are the same as on a PC: Go to chat.openai.com and start typing. The AI chatbot should work just as when you access it from your computer.

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