My 5 Favorite AI Prompts for Writing
The prompts that I return to the most often after 100s of hours with ChatGPT
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Today, I want to share the AI prompts that I return to the most often.
The secret to a great prompt is to know how large language models (LLMs) work.
So let’s cover:
How humans and LLMs are different
How to prompt AI to:
Learn about any topic
Draft an outline
Write in your voice
Edit for clarity
Critique your writing
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How humans and LLMs are different
Andrej Karpathy is a legendary AI researcher who helped start OpenAI. He recently gave a great talk about how humans and LLMs work differently. Here’s an excerpt:
Let’s take the output: "California’s population is 53x that of Alaska."
A human will look up the numbers on Wikipedia, use a calculator to divide them, and then do a sanity check before writing it out.
A LLM thinks only about producing the next token or word. LLMs don’t have an inner monologue or do any sanity checks. But they do have a vast base of knowledge and a great working memory.
Given this context, here are some overall tips for crafting a great AI prompt:
Help the LLM succeed. An LLM has no notion of success. You have to make it want to succeed with prompts like: “You're an expert in X,” "Do this step by step,"and "Make sure you have the right answer."
Be specific and give examples. Imagine that you had to get someone to complete a task with a single email. You would give them context, make the goal clear, and share examples. LLMs also need detailed instructions.
Load relevant context into its memory. Providing detailed prompts every time is tedious. You can save time by loading relevant context into the prompt each time you want it to perform a task.
Encourage it to ask for more info. It's hard to guess what the LLM needs. Get the LLM to work with you by including: "Ask me questions if you need more info."
Get it to write variations. This makes it easy for you to pick the best answer.
All the prompts below follow one or more of the tips above.
1. Learn about a topic
Here’s my favorite prompt for learning about a new topic (credit to Siqi Chen):
Teach me how (TOPIC) works:
Ask questions about my level of understanding of the core concepts.
With each response, fill in the gaps using simple words.
Recursively ask me more questions to check my understanding.
This prompt will get AI to break a complex topic into simple building blocks. It’ll then test your understanding of each block before proceeding. Here’s an example:
2. Draft an outline
I write interviews and original pieces for this newsletter. AI helps with both.
Clean up interview transcripts
For interviews, I use Otter AI for transcripts before doing a 2nd pass with ChatGPT:
This is an interview transcript that I want to turn into a newsletter post.
Please clean up grammar, paragraph spacing, and repeat words.
Keep the conversation format.
Don’t cut too many words or sentences.
This prompt cleans up transcripts well, but there’s a catch. It only works if you give it a few paragraphs at a time. Give it more and it’ll start cutting too many sentences.
Brainstorm ideas for original pieces
For brainstorming, the more detail you can provide the better:
I want to write about (TOPIC). Give me 10 points that are:
Unique, surprising, out of the box
Easy to understand
Ask questions if you need clarification.
Listing the criteria is key to get AI to come up with good answers like below:
3. Write in your voice
This prompt is a game changer to train AI to write in your voice:
I want you to write using my style and paragraph spacing.
Step 1: I'll share my content so you can learn my style.
Step 2: I'll share an excerpt for you to change to my writing style, 5 variations.
Are you ready?
After AI responds, give it your best writing samples in a list (e.g., I give it my 10 best performing tweets). AI will now recap your style:
Now give it an excerpt and it’ll produce 5 variations that match your style. The output isn’t perfect, but it’s just good enough to help you craft something great yourself.
4. Edit for clarity
Great written communication is simple, short, and specific. Of all the prompts in this post, I probably return to this the most often:
Make more clear and concise, use simple language, 5 variations:
It works great for making everything from headlines to paragraphs to entire sections more clear and concise. You can also include more constraints like:
Use 8 words max
5. Critique your writing
After I complete a piece, I like to get AI to critique it with this prompt:
I’m writing a post about (TOPIC). Please critique it and suggest specific areas of improvement. We can proceed in two steps:
STEP 1: I’ll give you a sample of my best writing for inspiration. Do not critique this post, move to step 2.
STEP 2: I’ll then give you my draft post to critique. Critique specific line items with this format: Existing line, critique, and suggested line.
Are you ready?
Giving it a sample of your writing helps it learn your style and produce a useful critique. Here’s a critique for a draft of this post:
5 ways to craft better AI prompts
Help the AI succeed. "You're an expert in X,” “Explain step by step."
Be specific and give examples. "Here's a list of requirements."
Load relevant context into its memory. "I'll share my best writing first.”
Encourage it to ask for more info. "Ask questions if you need more info."
Get it to write variations. "Give me 3 variations."
I hope that you’ll use the tips above to make AI an amazing writing assistant. Let me know in the replies if it works out for you!
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