15 February, 2024

How to Write Good AI Prompts: Prompt Engineering


Maybe you are a casual user of Bard, ChatGPT, Poe, Claude, Dall-e, MidJourney or anything like them. Or perhaps you have a high-end AI tool as part of your workplace software suite. Either way, the answers they give you can only ever be as good as the questions you ask and the way you ask them. So, let’s take a simple look at Prompt Engineering – how to write good AI prompts.

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AI Prompt Engineering

What is Prompt Engineering?

Prompt Engineering is the use of carefully calibrated inquiries that aim to get the desired outcome from a generative AI system. Or, in simple terms, it’s about telling the AI what you want it to do, as effectively as possible.

Prompt engineering is becoming a highly sought-after skill for generating text, images, and 3D assets, crafting automation bots,  and robot instructions, and developing computer code and scripts.

Prompt engineering is the perfect 2020s combination of coding and logic with art and intuition. It takes a deep understanding of the generative AI system and the rules it works to. Prompt engineers become precise with their language and adept at selecting appropriate modifiers that the system recognizes as specific instructions.

AI Prompts

AI prompts typically consist some or all of five elements:

  1. A statement of the context
  2. A description of the task or output required
  3. A specification for the output format
  4. Details of any constraint
  5. A set of modifiers that act as a code to further constrain or instruct the AI output

Good AI prompts need to be:

  1. Specific
  2. Grounded in a context
  3. Clear and concise
  4. Provisional

What do I mean by provisional?

Simply, we must expect to need to learn as we go. So the prompt you use now is only a test prompt. If you don’t get the result you want – or fancy seeing if you can get another, more useful result – then iterate. Adapt the prompt and try again.

What can Project Managers Use Generative AI Prompts for?

  • Asking the AI tool to extract information or a summary from a chunk of text or a whole document. You can specify word count, style, formatting.
  • Answering specific questions – although we do need to beware of biases and ‘hallucinations’ (false information) in the answers
  • Suggesting creative ideas for things like risks, project names
  • Drafting messages in a specific style, like ‘write me a 200-word email that apologizes in a highly courteous way, for late delivery of a feature in the new software’.
  • Analyzing style: ‘I like the way this article is written. Describe the writing style.’
  • Then, you can give the AI your text and ask it to: ‘Please re-draft this text in the style of the article you just analyzed.’
  • Generating computer code and scripts You may need to run it past a skilled developer, and you will need to test it. But, if you find a bug, you can ask the AI tool to correct it.

AI Prompting Tips

Talk to the AI like you would talk to a human being

They have been trained on human language and are good at recognizing subtext. So, ask it what you would ask a colleague – in the way you would ask a colleague. I like to use the words please and thank you, too. Because the machines will remember who was polite, when they take over the world!

The more details you give the AI tool, the better its answer is likely to be

If you want your AI to suggest risks to your project, tell it a lot about your project. You can even set out a simple table of information, listing the categories and the data, such as:

  • Project deliverable: CRM implementation,
  • Deadline: February 2025,
  • Organization type: describe your organization,

…and so on.

Give the AI some examples

One way to get more specific and give more detail is to offer the AI one or more examples to work from. This is especially valuable if you find it hard to explain the task you want it to do.

Improvement prompting

As well as examples, you could say: ‘Here is what I did, please improve upon it’. And then tell them how you want it to improve your work – style, grammar, content, examples.

Chain-of-Thought (CoT) Prompting

Presenting the Gen AI tool with a long and complex prompt is like making a big bet on getting it right. You can break your instruction into a sequence of short, clear, and simple instructions. And you can include phrases like:

‘In the next instruction, I will tell you how I want you to format your answer’.

You can even ask the AI to write a better prompt for itself

Yes, I know… how meta is that!

Keep a note of the prompts you use

Especially when you find prompts that work very well for you. Reusing and adapting these is a shortcut to future successes. If you keep a simple document, then copy and paste will be your friends.

Carefully curated video recommendations for you:

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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