Generative artificial intelligence (GAI) tools have made it very easy to write and polish emails or presentations, summarize reports, write code, create social media campaigns, and accelerate customer service interactions. But not everyone uses it to its full potential — and that likely comes down to the prompt — or questions and statements — you feed into GAI products. The better the generative AI prompts, the better the response.
The main takeaway
To get the most out of GAI and the generative pre-trained transformer (GPT) models that produce its conversational language, practice prompt engineering. This gives the GAI model more focused details for what you want to learn instead of being ambiguous. GAI is smart and getting smarter, but it’s not a mind reader. It can only give you what you want if your prompt is very specific.
“With GPT, it’s to your advantage to make the prompt longer,” said John Nosta, president of NostaLab, a think tank that looks at how technology impacts people’s lives and society. “That prompt — or what is it you’re asking GPT — requires accuracy and contextual information. That’s where we find the magic.”
What you need to know
Write like you’re having a conversation and use specific language and descriptions. The GAI tools will work to your advantage the clearer you are in your prompt, so get detailed. You can have a back-and-forth discussion with GAI tools and go deeper into what you’re looking for. Consider these tips when writing generative AI prompts:
- Write clearly and concisely so the GAI tool knows your specific request.
- Compose full sentences with descriptive words, active verbs, and text that describes what you’re looking for.
- Ask specific questions, avoiding closed-ended questions that offer yes/no answers.
- Add context, explaining what you’re trying to achieve or what audience you’re targeting.
- Follow up after the initial response to go deeper and get even more explicit responses.
What is prompt engineering?
Prompt engineering is the act of asking very specific questions or feeding detailed information to GAI tools, like a GPT product or chatbot, to get the best results. Some refer to prompt engineering as “AI whispering” because you’re essentially guiding the GAI product to give you a creative solution to your question or prompt.
With the rise in popularity of GAI tools for personal and business use, good prompt engineering skills can help with your queries. The more specific and detailed your prompt, the better your result. And you can get super creative — even asking the GAI product to reply as someone well known, like Albert Einstein, to get a response from that person’s point of view. It mostly pulls the information from reams of data available on the internet, but narrowing your prompt and adding context will deliver more refined, creative results.
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6 tips to write better generative AI prompts
Here are 6 rules to help guide you when writing your prompts.
- Be specific: For instance, instead of saying, “Create a social media campaign,” you can write, “Create a social media campaign for an ecommerce website that sells graphic T-shirts for fans of movies and comics like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”
- Take a conversational tone: Avoid jargon, slang, or complex phrases GAI may not understand. Write like you’re talking to a colleague, not a computer.
- Use open-ended questions: Avoid yes or no questions, which limit the GAI’s ability to provide more detailed information.
- Set a persona: Ask the GAI to give answers from the perspective of someone well-known, like Albert Einstein or Oprah Winfrey — or a specific type of person like a middle manager or a demanding customer.
- Define your audience and channel: If you’re writing for Gen Z or middle-aged dads, specify that in your prompt. Are they reading on a social media platform like Twitter or LinkedIn, a blog post, or on a store’s website? Give that information as well.
- Ask follow-up questions: If you’re not satisfied with the initial response, ask follow-up questions to get more information. This is also known as “prompt chaining,” where you break up your prompts to get more concrete and customized answers — and use answers from one prompt to elicit the next.
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Use prompt engineering so GAI products work with — not against — you
GAI tools are not perfect and they’re definitely not human. It may feel like you’re having a conversation, but in reality, it’s a back-and-forth with a machine that has been fed and accumulated loads of data. Keep these ideas in mind during your GAI writing or design process:
- GAI is not always factual. It sometimes makes up answers, so be sure you verify what it gives you.
- Be careful of any copyright concerns and confirm that what GAI products give you isn’t plagiarized from another source.
- GPT doesn’t understand nuance and subtlety, so your prompt needs to be as specific and clear as possible.
“You have to understand [GAI] is not absolutely accurate,” Nosta said. “I don’t look at that as an intrinsic flaw. I look at that as the fundamental reality.”
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