What is Prompt Engineering? Definition and Examples

what is prompt engineering


In the evolving landscape of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), prompt engineering has emerged as a pivotal discipline, especially in the realm of natural language processing (NLP). As AI models, such as GPT-3 and GPT-4, gain prominence for their ability to generate human-like text, the role of prompt engineering becomes increasingly crucial. This article delves into the concept of prompt engineering, its significance, techniques, and real-world examples, providing a comprehensive understanding of this vital aspect of AI development.

Read more: 10 Remarkable Artificial Intelligence Applications in 2024

What is Prompt Engineering?

Prompt engineering is the process of refining and optimizing the prompts that users input into generative AI services to produce text or images. This can be done by anyone using natural language in AI tools like ChatGPT or DALL-E. Additionally, it’s a technique employed by AI engineers to enhance the performance of large language models (LLMs) with specific or recommended prompts.


Let’s consider a scenario where someone wants to generate a creative story using a text generator like ChatGPT. The initial prompt could be:

Prompt: “Write a story about a magical forest.”

After receiving the initial output, the user might find it lacking in detail or coherence. To refine the prompt and guide the AI model towards a more specific outcome, they could provide additional instructions:

Refined Prompt: “Write a story about a young adventurer who discovers a hidden portal in the magical forest, leading to a realm of mythical creatures. Describe the adventurer’s journey, encounters with fantastical beings, and the challenges they overcome to save the forest.”

By refining the prompt with more specific details and instructions, the user can influence the AI model to generate a story that aligns more closely with their vision. This process exemplifies prompt engineering in action, demonstrating how adjusting prompts can shape the output of generative AI systems to better meet user expectations.

Read more: Top 10 AI and Machine Learning Trends for 2024

Why is Prompt Engineering Important in Generative AI?

Prompt engineering is crucial for both users and AI engineers for several reasons:

  1. Enhancing AI Services: AI engineers use prompt engineering to create more efficient and accurate AI services, such as chatbots capable of handling complex tasks like customer service inquiries or generating legal contracts.
  2. Efficiency in Data Handling: In our data-driven world, training AI models through effective prompt engineering can streamline the process of delivering solutions, eliminating the need to manually sift through vast amounts of data.
  3. Consistency and Accuracy: Well-designed prompts ensure that generative AI services like ChatGPT consistently deliver high-quality outputs. This involves building robust code and training the AI on comprehensive and precise datasets.
  4. Security: Proper prompt engineering helps identify and mitigate prompt injection attacks, which are malicious attempts to manipulate the AI’s responses. This ensures that companies can provide reliable and secure services.

How to Craft Generative AI Prompts: A Step-by-Step Guide

Crafting Effective AI Prompts - Prompt Engineering

1. Clarify Your Query

To effectively communicate with generative AI, express your query clearly and succinctly. Since the AI model relies on the data it’s been trained on, it’s crucial to input specific, direct language without unnecessary fillers. For instance, instead of saying, “Write an outline that includes a title and next steps,” opt for a more precise query like, “Draft an outline for an academic research proposal, comprising sections for title, summary, and next steps.”

2. Experiment with Variations

For different types of outputs, such as outlines, research proposals, or resume bullet points, experiment with various iterations of your request. This helps identify the need for specific guidance, such as indicating the desired tone. For instance, should you specify “in a professional tone” or “in a formal tone”? Also, explore different input strategies, like providing sample outlines or examples to guide the generator.

3. Provide Follow-up Instructions

Once you’ve refined the output’s format and tone, consider any additional instructions or constraints you’d like to apply. This could involve limiting the word count or character limit, or creating multiple versions of the output for different purposes. Utilize the generator’s previous outputs to guide further iterations. Continuously refine the prompt until you achieve the desired results.

4. Experiment with Different Prompting Techniques

Generative AI is a rapidly evolving technology, and researchers have already developed several strategies for designing effective prompts. As you explore generative AI, try using some of these prompting techniques to achieve the results you’re looking for:

  1. Zero-shot Prompting: This is the most straightforward method of prompt engineering, where the generative AI is given a direct instruction or asked a question without additional information. It works best for relatively simple tasks.
  2. Few-shot Prompting: This technique involves providing the generative AI with a few examples to guide its output. It is more suitable for complex tasks compared to zero-shot prompting.
  3. Chain-of-Thought (CoT) Prompting: This method enhances an LLM’s output by breaking down complex reasoning into intermediate steps, helping the model produce more accurate results.
  4. Prompt Chaining: This technique involves splitting a complex task into smaller, more manageable subtasks, then using the generative AI’s outputs to accomplish the overarching task. It can improve reliability and consistency for some of the most complicated tasks.

These are just a few of the prompting techniques you can experiment with as you delve into prompt engineering. Often, the most effective strategy is to combine several techniques to achieve the desired output.

Prompt Engineering Examples

To provide a better understanding of prompt engineering, here are some examples for both text and image models. These examples illustrate how to refine and optimize prompts to achieve specific and desired outcomes.

For Text Models (e.g., ChatGPT)

Initial Prompt: “Write a professional summary for a marketing analyst.”

Refined Prompts:

  1. Adding Context: “Write a professional summary for a marketing analyst with 5 years of experience in digital marketing.”
  2. Specifying Tone: “Write a professional summary for a marketing analyst with 5 years of experience in digital marketing, aiming for a creative and engaging tone.”
  3. Word Limit: “Write a professional summary for a marketing analyst with 5 years of experience in digital marketing, aiming for a creative and engaging tone. Keep it under 50 words.”

For Image Models (e.g., DALL-E)

Initial Prompt: “Create an image of a mountain landscape.”

Refined Prompts:

  1. Adding Specifics: “Create an image of a mountain landscape with snow-capped peaks and a serene lake in the foreground.”
  2. Artistic Style: “Create an image of a mountain landscape with snow-capped peaks and a serene lake in the foreground, using a watercolor painting style.”
  3. Color Palette: “Create an image of a mountain landscape with snow-capped peaks and a serene lake in the foreground, using pastel colors.”

Challenges in Prompt Engineering

Despite its potential, prompt engineering presents several challenges:

  1. Complexity of Language Models: As language models become more sophisticated, crafting effective prompts that consistently yield desired outcomes can be challenging. Understanding the nuances of how these models interpret and generate text requires significant expertise.
  2. Bias and Fairness: Ensuring that prompts do not reinforce biases or generate harmful content is a critical concern. Prompt engineers must be vigilant in designing queries that promote fairness and inclusivity.
  3. Context Limitations: While providing context is essential, there are limitations to how much information can be effectively included in a prompt. Balancing context provision without overwhelming the model is a delicate task.
  4. Dynamic Adaptation: Language models evolve over time with updates and new versions. Prompt engineers must continuously adapt their techniques to align with the capabilities and changes in these models.

The Future of Prompt Engineering

Prompt engineering is set to advance significantly as AI and machine learning technologies evolve. Future prompts will likely integrate text, code, and images seamlessly. Researchers are also developing adaptive prompts that adjust according to context, enhancing the AI’s ability to provide relevant and accurate responses. Additionally, as AI ethics continue to develop, prompts will increasingly focus on ensuring fairness and transparency in AI-generated outputs. Key trends and developments to watch include:

  1. Improved Tools and Frameworks: The development of specialized tools and frameworks for prompt engineering will make the process more accessible and efficient. These tools will likely incorporate AI-driven suggestions and automation to enhance prompt design.
  2. Integration with Other AI Technologies: Prompt engineering will increasingly integrate with other AI technologies, such as reinforcement learning and transfer learning, to create more sophisticated and adaptive models.
  3. Enhanced Customization: Advances in AI will enable even greater customization of prompts, allowing for highly personalized interactions with language models. This will be particularly valuable in fields such as education, healthcare, and entertainment.

Prompt Engineer Career Path and Job Outlook

The career prospects for prompt engineers are very promising. Currently, there are over 3,788 prompt engineer job openings on Indeed, with some positions offering salaries up to $335,000, according to TIME.

To excel as a prompt engineer, individuals need a solid foundation in natural language processing (NLP), including proficiency with relevant libraries and frameworks, expertise in Python programming, and familiarity with generative AI models. Contributions to open-source projects are also beneficial.

Typically, prompt engineers hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. However, some successful prompt engineers come from less technical backgrounds, such as writing, and have gained expertise through dedicated study and practical experience with AI technologies.


Prompt engineering is a vital skill in the AI-driven world, enabling users to extract the most accurate, relevant, and effective outputs from language models. By understanding and applying various techniques in prompt engineering, anyone can optimize their interactions with AI, whether for professional tasks or creative endeavors. As AI technology evolves, the importance of mastering prompt engineering will only continue to grow, opening new possibilities for innovation and customization.

I am currently the SEO Specialist at Bestarion, a highly awarded ITO company that provides software development and business processing outsourcing services to clients in the healthcare and financial sectors in the US. I help enhance brand awareness through online visibility, driving organic traffic, tracking the website's performance, and ensuring intuitive and engaging user interfaces.