Most of the failures that people describe in ChatGPT interactions can be solved by better prompting. And while prompting may not always be a thing we need to do, here is a simple acronym to help you shape your inputs for the outputs you desire.
Personality: or Role. If you want more than generic writing, give ChatGPT a personality to use as a model for expression. That choice will also indicate diction, tone, and attitude. It’s also good to give it a roll: You are a writing teacher. You are a loving mother of three adorable cats. You are an irritated customer who has just been overcharged.
Rubric: What does a successful result look like? Writing can be done better and worse, but ChatGPT does not know what you value. Just like a writing teacher, tell it what good writing is and also what bad writing is.
Objective: Every communication act, ever utterance has a goal. What are you trying to achieve with this text?
Models: While LLMs were modeled on lots of language (hence the “large” in their name), they may not have been trained on the type of text you desire. Need it to generate a TP report? Then show it some, especially good ones.
Particulars: These are your inputs. If you don’t want the LLM to make sh*t up — or hallucinate — you’ve got to give it the content you want it to use. Give it facts, quotes, data, et cetera. Most LLMs are not connected to data sets and are unreliable even when they are.
Task: Most people start with the task, and you should, too. But I have put this lower in the list to help you focus on other aspects of writing that you might not be considering.
Setting: or Context. LLMs tend to start from scratch with each session, so you have to create the communication world for them. Who is the audience? What is the situation in which you are writing this prompt?
While there’s lots more to the art of prompting and more tweaking you can do with fine tuning, like entering more training data or changing temperatures, but the PROMPTS method should help you get some better results.
For Teachers only:
Teaching the PROMPTS method is an opportunity to discuss with students what goes into any communication act. So the power in this exercise may not be in the text the LLM produces but instead the conversations it can elicit about the nature of writing or communication.
We created the PROMPTS acronym in my machine-assisted writing course at USC this summer with a little help from ChatGPT itself.
See sample prompts and some more creative uses of ChatGPT in Hallucinate This! an authoritized autobotography of ChatGPT.