ChatGPT is the generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool that’s taken the world by storm. While there’s always the possibility it will simply make stuff up, there’s a lot you can do when crafting prompts to ensure the best possible outcome. That’s what we’ll be exploring in this how-to.

In this article, we’ll show you how to write prompts that encourage the large language model (LLM) that powers ChatGPT to provide the best possible answers. 

Writing effective prompts, known as prompt engineering, has even become its own highly-paid discipline. Who knows? These tips could help you build the skills to become one of those highly paid prompt engineers. Apparently, these gigs can pay from $175,000 to $335,000 per year.  

1. Talk to the AI like you would a person

One of the more interesting things I had to get used to when working with ChatGPT is that you don’t program it, you talk to it. As a formally trained programmer, I’ve had to leave a lot of habits by the wayside when engaging with AI. Talking to it (and with it) requires a mindset shift.

When I say talk to it like a person, I mean talk to it like you would a co-worker or team member. If that’s hard to do, give it a name. Alexa is taken, so maybe think of it as “Bob”. This naming helps because when you talk to Bob, you might include conversational details, little anecdotes that give your story texture.

When talking to a person, it would be natural for them to miss your point initially and require clarification, or veer away from the topic at hand and need to be wrangled back. You might need to fill in the backstory for them, or restate complex questions based on the answers they give you. 

This is called interactive prompting. Don’t be afraid to ask multi-step questions: ask, get a response, and based on that response, ask another question. I’ve done this myself, sometimes 10 or 20 times in a row, and gotten very powerful results. Think of this as having a conversation with ChatGPT.

2. Set the stage and provide context

Writing a ChatGPT prompt is more than just asking a one-sentence question. It often involves providing relevant background information to set the context of the query.

Let’s say that you want to prepare for a marathon (for the record, I do not run, dance, or jump — this is merely an example). You could ask ChatGPT:

How can I prepare for a marathon?

However, you’ll get a far more nuanced answer if you add that you’re training for your first marathon. Try this instead: 

I am a beginner runner and have never run a marathon before, but I want to complete one in six months. How can I prepare for a marathon?

By giving the AI more information, you’re helping it return a more focused answer. Even with ChatGPT’s help, there’s no way I’m going to run a marathon (unless I’m doing it with a V-Twin motor under my seat).
Here are two more examples of questions that provide context:

I am planning to travel to Spain in a few months and would like to learn some basic Spanish to help me communicate with local residents. I am looking for online resources that are suitable for beginners and provide a structured and comprehensive approach to learning the language. Can you recommend some online resources for learning Spanish as a beginner?

In this case, rather than just asking about learning resources, the context helps focus the AI on learning how to communicate on the ground with local residents. Here’s another example: 

I am a business owner interested in exploring how blockchain technology can be used to improve supply chain efficiency and transparency. I am looking for a clear and concise explanation of the technology and examples of how it has been used in the context of supply chain management. Can you explain the concept of blockchain technology and its potential applications in supply chain management?

In this example, rather than just asking for information on blockchain and how it works, the focus is specifically on blockchain for supply chain efficiency and how it might be used in a real-world scenario. 

3. Tell the AI to assume an identity or profession

One of ChatGPT’s coolest features is that it can write from the point of view of a specific person or profession. In a previous article, I showed how you can make ChatGPT write like a pirate or Shakespeare, but you can also have it write like a teacher, a marketing executive, a fiction writer — anyone you want. 

For example, I can ask ChatGPT to describe the Amazon Echo smart home device, but to do so from the point of view of a product manager, a caregiver, and a journalist in three separate prompts: 

From the point of view of its product manager, describe the Amazon Echo Alexa device.

From the point of view of an adult child caring for an elderly parent, describe the Amazon Echo Alexa device.

From the point of view of a journalist, describe the Amazon Echo Alexa device.

Try dropping these three prompts into ChatGPT to see its complete response.

I’ve pulled a few lines from ChatGPT’s responses, so you can see how it interprets different perspectives.
From the product manager identity: I can confidently say that this is one of the most innovative and revolutionary products in the smart home industry.

From the caregiver identity: The device’s ability to set reminders and alarms can be particularly helpful for elderly individuals who may have trouble remembering to take their medication or attend appointments.

And from the journalist identity: From a journalistic perspective, the Echo has made headlines due to privacy concerns surrounding the collection and storage of user data.

You can see how different identities allow the AI to provide different perspectives as part of its response. To expand this, you can let the AI do a thought experiment. Let’s look at some of the issues that went into the creation of something like Alexa:

The year is 2012. Siri has been out for the iPhone for about a year, but nothing like an Alexa smart home device has been released. The scene is an Amazon board meeting where the Echo smart assistant based on Alexa has just been proposed. 

Provide the arguments, pro and con, that board members at that meeting would have been likely to discuss as part of their process of deciding whether or not to approve spending to invest in developing the device. 

Feel free to also include participation by engineering design experts and product champions, if that provides more comprehensive perspective.

It’s also good to know that making minor changes to your prompts can significantly change ChatGPT’s response. For example, when I changed the phrase, “Provide the arguments, pro and con, that…” to “Provide the pro and con arguments as dialogue, that…,” ChatGPT rewrote its answer, switching from a list of enumerated pros and cons to an actual dialogue between participants.

4. Keep ChatGPT on track

As mentioned above, ChatGPT has a tendency to go off the rails, lose track of the discussion, or completely fabricate answers. 

There are a few techniques you can use to help keep it on track and honest.

One of my favorite things to do is ask ChatGPT to justify its responses. I’ll use phrases like “Why do you think that?” or “What evidence supports your answer?” Often, the AI will simply apologize for making stuff up and come back with a new answer. Other times, it might give you some useful information about its reasoning path. In any case, don’t forget to apply the tips I provide for having ChatGPT cite sources.

If you have a fairly long conversation with ChatGPT, you’ll start to notice that the AI loses the thread. Not that that’s unique to AIs — even in extended conversations with humans, someone is bound to get lost. That said, you can gently guide the AI back on track by reminding it what the topic is, as well as what you’re trying to explore.

5. Don’t be afraid to play and experiment

One of the best ways to up your skill at this craft is to play around with what the chatbot can do.

Try feeding ChatGPT a variety of interesting prompts to see what it will do with them. Then change them up and see what happens. Here are five to get you started:

  • Imagine you are a raindrop falling from the sky during a thunderstorm. Describe your journey from the moment you form in the cloud to the moment you hit the ground. What do you see, feel, and experience?
  • You are a toy that has been left behind in an attic for decades. Narrate your feelings, memories of playtimes past, and your hopes of being rediscovered.
  • Write the final diary entry of a time traveler who has decided to settle down in a specific era, explaining why they chose that time and what they’ve learned from their travels.
  • Imagine a dialogue between two unlikely objects, like a teacup and a wristwatch, discussing the daily routines and challenges they face.
  • Describe a day in an ant colony from the perspective of an ant. Dive deep into the politics, challenges, and social structures of the ant world.

Pay attention not only to what the AI generates, but how it generates what it does, what mistakes it makes, and where it seems to run into limits. All of that detail will help you expand your prompting horizons.

We hope these tips have been helpful in your business. Please let us know if you have any questions about your IT environment or how to best utilize AI for your business. We are here for you! Contact us at (732) 780-8615 or email at [email protected].

David Gewirtz, “How to write better ChatGPT prompts in 5 steps“,, June 5th, 2024