The Art and Science Art of Prompt Design

Techniques for Optimizing AI Interactions

In the realm of artificial intelligence, particularly in the world of natural language processing (NLP), the quality of interaction hinges significantly on the prompt provided to the AI. Crafting the perfect prompt isn’t just about asking a question; it’s about choreographing an interaction, guiding the AI, and tailoring its responses to fit the desired outcome. From using a handful of examples to none at all, from setting boundaries on creativity to refining queries for precision, prompt design techniques play a pivotal role in determining AI’s behavior. My aim is to provide a concise, high-level reference guide to key prompt design techniques used in natural language processing. Designed for quick reference, it contains brief descriptions of each technique. Whether you’re fine-tuning your AI’s responses, exploring new interaction strategies, or simply looking to understand the terminology, this guide can serve as a go-to resource.

Few-Shot Learning

In the context of language models, few-shot learning refers to providing a model with a limited number of examples (or “shots”) of a task within the prompt itself to guide the model’s response. By showing the model a few instances of the desired behavior, the intention is to make the model generalize from these examples and produce a similar output for the new input. It contrasts with zero-shot (no examples) and many-shot (numerous examples) approaches. This technique leverages the model’s vast training data and its ability to generalize from a few inputs.

Prompt Example

Given the following examples of questions and answers about historical events, continue the pattern with the provided new question:

1. Question: Who was the first President of the United States?
Answer: The first President of the United States was George Washington.

2. Question: What was the main cause of World War I?
Answer: The main cause of World War I was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which set off a chain of diplomatic conflicts.

3. Question: What event marked the beginning of the American Civil War?
Answer: The attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861 marked the beginning of the American Civil War.

New Question: What was the significance of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War?

Using the structure provided in the examples, generate a response to the new question that is consistent with the format and level of detail of the previous answers.

This Few-Shot Learning prompt provides the LLM with specific examples to learn from, demonstrating how to answer a particular type of question. It then asks the LLM to apply this learned pattern to a new but related question, demonstrating understanding and adaptation.

Additional Resources

Master Prompting Concepts: Zero-Shot and Few-Shot Prompting (via

Role Prompting

Role prompting involves instructing the language model to assume a specific role, persona, or character while generating a response. By framing the prompt in the context of a certain role (e.g., “Act as a historian,” “Pretend you’re a detective,” or “Speak like Shakespeare”), the output is tailored to fit the characteristics, knowledge, or style associated with that role. This technique can guide the model to produce answers that match a particular tone, expertise, or perspective, enabling more controlled and contextually relevant responses.

Prompt Example

Imagine you are a **nutritionist**. In this role, advise on a balanced diet for a moderately active adult, focusing on the necessary food groups and recommended daily intake of calories.

This prompt sets up the role of a nutritionist, which influences the language model to generate a response that aligns with the knowledge and tone you would expect from a professional in that field.

Additional Resources

Assigning Roles (via

Chain-of-Thought Prompting

Chain-of-thought prompting involves breaking down a complex task or query into a series of simpler, interconnected prompts. Each subsequent prompt builds upon the previous response, allowing for a more guided and step-by-step exploration of a topic. By iteratively feeding the model’s own output back as input in a chained manner, users can steer the model through a logical sequence, refine the direction of the conversation, or delve deeper into specific subtopics. This technique is especially useful for tasks that benefit from iterative refinement or require a multi-step approach.

Prompt Example

How might one determine the most environmentally friendly form of transportation for their daily commute?

- First, consider the common options available: personal car, public transportation, biking, or walking.
- Next, evaluate each option based on carbon footprint, energy efficiency, and sustainability. Personal cars generally have higher emissions compared to public transport. Biking and walking have minimal environmental impact but might not be feasible for longer distances. 

Therefore, the most environmentally friendly choice would be the one that balances practicality with the lowest environmental impact, likely public transportation or biking, depending on the distance of the commute.

In this prompt, the chain of thought is used to break down the problem-solving process into step-by-step reasoning, leading to the final answer.

Additional Resources

Master Prompting Concepts: Chain of Thought Prompting (via

Self-Consistency Prompting

Self-consistency prompting is a technique where the language model is asked to evaluate, validate, or ensure consistency in its own responses. By framing the prompt to make the model reflect on its previous outputs or by directly asking it to provide answers that are consistent with prior information, the goal is to achieve more reliable and coherent outputs. This can be especially useful in scenarios where maintaining a consistent line of reasoning or ensuring accurate information across multiple interactions is crucial. It encourages the model to cross-check and align its responses with earlier provided information.

Prompt Example

Imagine you are explaining the importance of regular exercise to a group of students who are not very active. To ensure your advice is consistent, start by highlighting the universally acknowledged benefits of exercise, such as improved health and mood. Then, address common excuses for not exercising by offering practical, manageable ways to incorporate physical activity into a daily routine. End by reiterating the key points to reinforce the message and ensure that your advice is coherent and remains consistent throughout the discussion.

This prompt aims to maintain a self-consistent line of reasoning, reinforcing the message by starting with established facts, addressing counterpoints, and summarizing the main ideas.

Additional Resources

Prompt Engineering Series Decoding Self-Consistency Prompting with ChatGPT (via LinkedIn)

Step-Back Prompting

Step-back prompting involves reframing or rephrasing a task by taking a “step back” to view it from a broader perspective or context. Instead of directly asking the model for a specific output, the user might start by asking about the general principles, concepts, or methods related to the task. Once this foundational information is established, subsequent prompts can narrow down to the specific query. This technique helps in building a more robust context for the model, ensuring that the eventual answer is both comprehensive and rooted in foundational knowledge or reasoning.

Prompt Example

Consider the topic of space exploration's impact on technological advancement. First, take a step back to examine the broader historical context of space exploration, such as the space race's contributions to computing technology. Then, reflect on how these technologies have been integrated into everyday life, like satellite communication. Finally, project how current space exploration efforts might influence future technologies. This approach ensures a comprehensive understanding by examining past, present, and potential future implications.

This prompt encourages a broader perspective by stepping back to look at the historical context, current state, and future possibilities before forming a comprehensive conclusion.

Additional Resources

Engineering Analogical & Step-Back Prompting: A Dive into Recent Advancements by Google DeepMind (via

Chain of Verification

Chain of Verification is a technique where the validity or accuracy of a statement or answer is cross-checked through a series of subsequent prompts. After the model provides an answer, it’s further probed with related questions or asked to verify or elaborate on specific points. The idea is to build a “chain” of evidence or reasoning that supports the initial answer. This can help identify inconsistencies, ensure thoroughness, and increase confidence in the model’s responses. It’s especially useful in scenarios where accuracy is paramount and where there’s a need for deeper validation of information.

Prompt Example

When assessing the credibility of an online news article, start by identifying the source of the article. Check if the source is known for reliable reporting. Next, verify the facts presented by cross-referencing with reputable outlets. Look for author credentials and the presence of supporting evidence like citations and references. Lastly, consider if the article presents multiple viewpoints or if it has a bias. This step-by-step verification ensures that the information is trustworthy and not based on misinformation.

This prompt guides through a systematic verification process to evaluate the reliability of information, which can be particularly useful in teaching critical thinking and media literacy skills.

Additional Resources

Chain-Of-Verification Reduces Hallucination in LLMs (via Medium)


In ReAct prompting, the model mixes thoughts and actions to solve complex tasks. Thoughts are plans and reason steps that resemble human reasoning. Actions gather information externally through APIs or environments. Observations return relevant information. ReAct also increases model interpretability by exposing thought processes to assess reasoning correctness. Humans can also edit thoughts to control model behavior.

Prompt Example

Imagine reading a comment on a social media post that says, 'Climate change is not real; it's all a big hoax.' As an environmental scientist, respond first by acknowledging the sentiment behind the skepticism. Then, counter with factual information, such as data from climate studies and consensus among scientists. Follow up by offering resources for further reading, and invite a dialogue by asking questions about the commenter’s concerns. This approach aims to engage constructively without dismissing the other person’s viewpoint.

This prompt uses the ReAct technique by acknowledging the other person’s statement, countering with facts, and then offering an avenue for further discussion, aiming to create a respectful and informative exchange.

Additional Resources

ReAct Prompting (via

Retrieval Augmented Generation (RAG)

RAG refers to a technique that combines the strengths of large-scale retrieval systems with sequence-to-sequence generative models. In the context of language models, this involves first retrieving relevant content or passages from a massive corpus and then using a generative model to produce a coherent and contextually appropriate response based on the retrieved content. The retrieval step helps in sourcing specific information, while the generation step ensures fluent and cohesive output. RAG is especially useful for tasks that require referencing external knowledge or when the desired response needs to be grounded in specific data or facts.

Prompt Example

To compile a comprehensive report on the impact of diet on health, begin by querying a database of nutritional studies to retrieve relevant information. Use the data to augment your generation of the report, ensuring that the information provided is up-to-date and based on the latest research. Cross-reference findings with health outcomes to draw connections between dietary patterns and wellness. Conclude with a synthesis of the retrieved data, offering a nuanced analysis of how dietary choices influence overall health.

This prompt guides the generation process by incorporating external data retrieval to enrich the content, ensuring that the response is well-informed and accurate, which is characteristic of the RAG technique.

Additional Resources

Retrieval Augmented Generation (RAG) (via

Contextual Priming

Contextual priming refers to a method wherein the prompt is designed to set a particular context or mindset for the model before the main question or task is presented. By establishing a specific frame of reference through initial statements, the subsequent response can be subtly influenced or guided. This is based on the idea that prior exposure to certain information can enhance or bias the processing of subsequent information. In the case of language models, it can be used to steer the direction or tone of the answer or to trigger specific knowledge.

Prompt Example

Imagine you’re writing an article about the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Before you begin, think about the common stressors that people face in their daily lives, such as work pressure and social media overload. Use this context to prime your discussion on how mindfulness can be particularly beneficial in addressing these modern-day challenges. Provide examples of simple mindfulness exercises and how they can be integrated into a busy lifestyle. This way, your article is primed to address directly the readers’ daily experiences with stress.

In this prompt, the context of daily stressors primes the content generation, ensuring that the subsequent information is directly relevant and tailored to the reader’s potential needs and situations.

Additional Resources

Unlocking AI with Priming: Enhancing Context and Conversation in LLMs like ChatGPT (via

Confidence Calibration

Confidence calibration is a technique designed to gauge and adjust the certainty of a model’s response. When utilizing this approach, the model doesn’t just produce an answer but also provides a measure of how confident it is in that answer. This can be especially valuable in applications where understanding the model’s certainty can guide decision-making processes. For large language models, confidence calibration might involve generating probabilities or confidence scores alongside responses, indicating the perceived accuracy or reliability of the generated content.

Prompt Example

When presenting the likelihood of rain tomorrow, instead of giving a definitive 'yes' or 'no,' analyze the weather patterns and historical data. State your prediction with a calibrated level of confidence, such as 'Based on the current weather models and the moisture content in the atmosphere, there is a 70% chance of rain tomorrow.' This expresses a more nuanced understanding and communicates the prediction's uncertainty level, allowing others to make informed decisions based on the degree of likelihood rather than a binary answer.

This prompt teaches the technique of Confidence Calibration by showing how to express uncertainty in a structured way that conveys the probabilistic nature of predictions.

Additional Resources

Strategies for Eliciting Calibrated Confidence Scores from Language Models Fine-Tuned with Human Feedback (via

Question Decomposition

Question decomposition is the process of breaking down a complex or multifaceted question into smaller, simpler sub-questions or components. This technique can help in more systematically addressing each part of a larger problem, ensuring thoroughness in the answer. For language models, it can involve identifying the different aspects or elements of a question and then answering each of them step by step. This not only aids in producing comprehensive responses but also can help in navigating questions that might be ambiguous or have multiple layers.

Prompt Example

Let's analyze the question 'What factors led to the fall of the Roman Empire?' by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable questions. First, ask 'What were the economic conditions in the Roman Empire before its fall?' Next, explore 'How did military challenges and wars contribute to Rome's decline?' Then, investigate 'What political issues and leadership problems did Rome face?' Finally, examine 'How did social and cultural shifts affect the stability of the empire?' By answering each sub-question, you piece together a comprehensive picture of the complex causes behind the fall of the Roman Empire.

This prompt employs Question Decomposition to dissect a complex question into smaller parts, making it easier to address each aspect thoroughly and systematically.

Additional Resources

New Prompt Engineering Technique Pumps-Up Chain-Of-Thought With Factored Decomposition And Spurs Exciting Uplift When Using Generative AI (via


Meta-prompting is a strategy wherein the prompt itself involves instructions or guidelines on how the model should approach or think about the primary task. It essentially provides “instructions about the instructions.” This method can be used to gain more control over the model’s output by explicitly stating the desired format, tone, or constraints for the answer. For example, asking a model to “explain a concept in the style of a children’s book” is a meta-prompt because it specifies not just the content (explaining the concept) but also the manner of the response (like a children’s book).

Prompt Example

When generating a response about the effective use of search engines for research, first recall the different functions and features of search engines that I can access. Then, reflect on the types of search queries that typically lead to the most accurate and comprehensive results based on my training data. Next, consider how my understanding of search algorithms — as far as it's represented in the data I've been trained on — can be used to explain search optimization strategies. Lastly, assess the methods I've been trained on for verifying the credibility of online sources to guide users in critical evaluation of information.

This prompt tells the LLM to explain how it uses its trained knowledge to answer questions about search engine optimization and research techniques. It’s an illustrative way to make the model ‘articulate’ its internal processes, which can be insightful for users who want to understand how the LLM comes up with its responses.

Additional Resources

Meta-Prompt: A Simple Self-Improving Language Agent (via Noah Goodman)

Metacognitive Prompting

Metacognition refers to “thinking about one’s thinking” or the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognitive prompts are designed to encourage the respondent (in this case, the language model) to introspect and articulate the cognitive processes and considerations they employ while addressing a question or problem. By asking the model to expose its thought process, you’re essentially invoking its metacognitive abilities, even if it’s just an emulation of such a process

Prompt Example

Reflect on how you generate answers to complex questions. Consider the steps you take in processing the input, accessing your trained data, and ensuring the response is relevant and accurate. For instance, when asked about a historical event, how do you determine which details are most pertinent? Think about how you assess the reliability of the information you provide and how you might explain your level of confidence in your answers.

This kind of prompt encourages the LLM to “think” about its own thought process, even though LLMs don’t have consciousness or self-awareness. It’s a way to simulate the model considering its own operations, which can be useful for understanding and illustrating how an LLM processes information.

Additional Resources

Metacognitive prompts = Metacognitive Awareness = Improved Student Goal Setting (via Kristina Hollis)

Contrastive Prompting

Contrastive prompting is a technique wherein the model is asked to compare or contrast two or more concepts, items, or ideas. This method leverages the model’s ability to differentiate and highlight key differences or similarities. By setting up a contrastive scenario in the prompt, the model is driven to produce responses that emphasize distinctions or commonalities. For instance, asking a model to “compare and contrast photosynthesis and cellular respiration” is a contrastive prompt. This technique is especially useful for gaining a clearer, nuanced understanding of subjects or for highlighting distinctions that might be overlooked in a straightforward query.

Prompt Example

Explain the difference between photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Begin by describing photosynthesis, detailing the process by which plants convert sunlight into chemical energy. Then contrast this with cellular respiration, outlining how organisms convert the chemical energy stored in organic molecules into ATP. Highlight the main distinctions, such as the fact that photosynthesis occurs in chloroplasts and involves light energy, while cellular respiration occurs in mitochondria and involves breaking down glucose.

This prompt guides the LLM to clearly articulate the differences between two biological processes by first explaining each one separately and then directly contrasting their key characteristics, locations, and functions.

Additional Resources

(PDF) Prompting Contrastive Explanations for Commonsense Reasoning Tasks (via

Scaffolded Learning

Scaffolded learning refers to a method in which support is provided to the learner (or in the case of a model, the answering process) to help them reach a deeper understanding or more complex answer. This support is gradually reduced as proficiency increases. For language models, scaffolded learning might involve a series of prompts that build on each other, starting from basic concepts and gradually moving towards more advanced topics. Each subsequent prompt relies on the understanding or output from the previous one, allowing the model to build a more detailed and nuanced response. This technique can be likened to building a structure step-by-step, with each layer of information acting as a scaffold for the next.

Prompt Example

Let's explore how World War II began. Start by explaining the global political climate after World War I. Next, describe the rise of totalitarian regimes during the interwar period, focusing on Germany and Italy. Then, discuss the policy of appeasement adopted by other European countries. Finally, detail the events that directly precipitated the war, such as the invasion of Poland by Germany. Through this scaffolded approach, build a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted causes that led to World War II.

This prompt encourages an LLM to construct knowledge step by step, starting from the aftermath of World War I and gradually adding layers of complexity, leading up to the immediate causes of World War II. It’s an effective educational technique that breaks down information into manageable chunks, making learning more accessible.

Additional Resources

A Universal Roadmap for Prompt Engineering: The Contextual Scaffolds Framework (CSF) (via

Feedback Loop

A feedback loop involves using the output of a system as input for subsequent iterations or processes. It’s a mechanism to refine, correct, or optimize the system’s behavior based on its past performance or outputs. In the context of language models, a feedback loop might involve taking the model’s answer, evaluating or analyzing it, and then using insights from that evaluation to refine the original question or to generate a new prompt. This iterative process can lead to more precise, detailed, or improved responses over time. It’s especially useful in scenarios where the initial output might be suboptimal or when trying to hone in on a specific answer or concept.

Prompt Example

Write a summary of the key causes of the French Revolution. After the summary, critique your own work by identifying potential areas of improvement such as missing information, bias, or lack of clarity. Then, revise the summary based on that critique to provide a more balanced and comprehensive account. Finally, reflect on this revision process to describe how it helped enhance the quality and accuracy of the information presented.

This prompt engages the LLM in a Feedback Loop by having it generate content, self-evaluate, and then improve upon the initial output. This iterative process helps in refining the model’s responses and can be particularly useful for teaching and improving writing skills.

Additional Resources

Prompt Engineering: Automatic Application Idea / Code Generator and Feedback Loop for ChatGPT (via LinkedIn)

RGC Prompting

The RGC Prompting Technique, with respect to prompt design, emphasizes the importance of defining the Role, Goal, Context, and Constraints for effective communication with AI models. The Role specifies the desired behavior or persona of the model, the Goal defines the primary outcome or objective, the Context provides additional information to shape the response, and the Constraints set boundaries or rules for the interaction. By explicitly providing this structure in the prompts, users can guide the AI to produce more relevant, focused, and contextually accurate outputs.

Prompt Example

Consider the question, 'What is the significance of quantum computing?' First, reflect on what quantum computing entails, including the basics of quantum mechanics and its application to computational technology. Then, generate a response that outlines the potential impacts of quantum computing on various fields such as cryptography, drug development, and complex data analysis. Finally, calibrate your response by considering the current limitations of quantum technology and the time frame in which these impacts are likely to be realized.

This RGC prompt guides the LLM to:

  • Reflect on the fundamental concepts related to the prompt (Reflection).
  • Generate an informative response based on those reflections (Generation).
  • Calibrate the response to acknowledge uncertainties and limitations (Calibration).

This technique is useful for creating well-rounded and thoughtful responses that are informed by an understanding of the topic and are mindful of the current state of the field.

Additional Resources

Master the Art of RGC Prompting (via

Further Reading


Chris Collett

I'm a seasoned Digital Strategy professional with a penchant for the ever-evolving world of Generative AI and prompt engineering. When I'm not in front of my computer, I'm usually in the kitchen or playing board games. This blog is where I share insights, experiences, and the occasional culinary masterpiece.

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