5 Tips for Effective Prompting in ChatGPT + Bonus Prompt

5 Tips for Effective Prompting in ChatGPT + Bonus Prompt
Midjourney: /imagine little bunny's grand adventure in a rainbow-colored forest to boost ROI --s 250 --niji 5

ChatGPT is a powerful pattern recognition machine trained on a large amount of text data. It's basically a robot that has ingested millions of books. But it's important to remember that ChatGPT does not understand language or the world in the way humans do because it doesn't truly comprehend the meaning, implications, or nuances behind the words it generates.

When we communicate, we draw upon a lifetime of personal experiences, emotions, sensory perceptions, learned knowledge, and cultural context. We understand what we're saying, why we're saying it, and what the potential impact might be. ChatGPT, on the other hand, uses statistical patterns to generate text. It looks at the input it's given and predicts what text should come next based on patterns it learned during training.

The acronym "GPT" of ChatGPT stands for "Generative Pre-trained Transformer," which means it is a Large Language Model (LLM) that 'generates' new, contextually relevant text based on an input. It's 'pre-trained' because words, grammar, and word significance have all been mapped out beforehand. And as a 'transformer,' ChatGPT processes the question or prompt and changes (transforms) it into a meaningful response. This is similar to how if you throw a ball in the air, you can predict where it will land based on patterns of gravity and motion, not because you understand the ball's inner thoughts or feelings. At least, I can't.

ChatGPT is a language model, and the more we understand how the model works, the better we can leverage ChatGPT's greatest strengths and unique capabilities. Most importantly, the words we use for prompting are the greatest determiner of the success of our responses. Everything from grammar, to word order, to synonym analysis is thoroughly evaluated and reflected in the quality of the response given. So, to optimize your interactions with ChatGPT, here are five rules that help you make more effective prompts. They are: Be explicit, Give context, Use appropriate vocabulary, Consider word associations, and Iterative refinement.

1. Be explicit

If you want a specific type of response, ensure your prompt is clear and explicit. Implications in prompts won't work because ChatGPT doesn't understand or intuit meaning. Instead, the input is analyzed, and a response is generated based on patterns learned during training. In short, being explicit reduces ambiguity and generates the kind of response you're looking for. Here's an example:

Meeting Agenda:

  • Less explicit prompt: "I need an agenda for a meeting."
  • More explicit prompt: "Please help me create an agenda for a 60-minute team meeting on improving remote collaboration. The agenda should include time for updates from each team member, a discussion of current challenges, brainstorming solutions, and setting action items."

Productivity Tips:

  • Less explicit prompt: "Give me some productivity tips."
  • More explicit prompt: "Please provide a list of five strategies for improving focus and productivity while working from home, with a brief explanation of how each works."

In both examples, being explicit allows the model to provide responses that are not only relevant but also fine-tuned to the user's specific requirements. This is why investing a bit more time in crafting explicit, detailed prompts is advantageous.

2. Give Context

If being explicit is about making your specific request or instruction clearer, then giving context is about providing background or situational information to make a better response. Here is a comparison.

  • Explicit Prompt: "Please list five strategies for improving communication within a remote team."
  • Explicit Prompt, with Added Context: "I've recently transitioned my team to a remote working setup due to the pandemic. We're facing challenges related to keeping everyone in the loop and maintaining the same level of camaraderie we had in the office. Please list five strategies for improving communication specifically tailored to a remote team in this situation."

Providing context is particularly important when asking for advice or when your situation has unique aspects that might impact the answer. Remember, while the model has been trained on a diverse range of text, it doesn't inherently understand your individual circumstances unless you include that information in your prompt. And if you share personal details, please remember to anonymize your information.

3. Use Relevant Vocabulary

Word choice matters. Different words have different connotations, even if they have similar or related meanings. Select words or phrases that accurately represent the topic you're asking about and that ChatGPT will likely understand and respond appropriately.

Use Domain-Specific Language

If you're asking about a specific domain or topic, use the terminology and jargon common in that field. For instance, if you're asking about a marketing topic, use marketing terminology such as 'target audience,' 'brand awareness,' 'SEO,' or 'conversion rate.' If you're discussing programming, use programming terms like 'functions,' 'variables,' 'loops,' or 'algorithms.'

Audience-Appropriate Language

If you're asking the model to generate text for a specific audience (like a professional business report or a children's story), use appropriate vocabulary for that audience. If you were writing a professional business report, you would use more formal, business-related terms and avoid slang or colloquialisms. Likewise, if you were writing a children's story, the language would be simpler, more engaging, and might include more playful and imaginative terms. Unless you intend to write a children's story about a professional business report, in which case you ask ChatGPT to "weave a magical tale about a little bunny's grand adventure in a rainbow-colored forest to boost ROI for the next five years."

By adjusting your language to fit the intended audience, you can ensure the response aligns with the expectations and understanding of your audience. For better or worse, ChatGPT acts like you act and talks like you talk and essentially matches the caliber of the question you ask.

4. Consider word associations

The word embeddings used by ChatGPT encode semantic relationships between terms. If you're not getting the response you want, consider using synonyms or related words in your prompt.

For example, consider the words "frugal" and "cheap." Both could be used to describe someone careful with their money. Still, they have different connotations - "frugal" is generally positive, suggesting careful and efficient money management. In contrast, "cheap" can mean someone who is excessively tight with their money to the point of stinginess.

So, if you ask ChatGPT to "Describe a cheap person," you might get a response focusing on the negative aspects of being tight with money. But if you ask it to "Describe a frugal person," the response will focus more on the positive aspects of careful money management.

Slight changes in wording will likely lead to different responses from ChatGPT. So if you don't like the response, you may want to explore searching for a more appropriate synonym.

5. Iterative refinement

If a prompt doesn't give you the response you want, don't be afraid to tweak it and try again. You might need to experiment to find the best way to phrase your prompt. The process of using ChatGPT to improve the quality of your prompts is called metaprompting. While I've written a book on metaprompting, at a bare minimum, you can ask ChatGPT, What can I do to increase the clarity of this prompt? {insert your prompt here}.

Bonus Prompt: Automate Quality

Now that we have five steps for prompt improvement, here is a prompt that will automatically validate and improve the quality of your prompt, returning a newly minted, updated prompt for you to use based on the above steps! I call it the Better Prompt, prompt.

The Better Prompt, prompt

A comprehensive prompt to drastically improve quality and results.

Access this Prompt