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OpenAI’s New Guide on Prompt Engineering: Six Strategies for Better Results

OpenAI's new Prompt Engineering guide outlines six strategies to improve large language model results, from writing clear instructions to testing changes systematically.

OpenAI has released a comprehensive guide on prompt engineering, offering six key strategies to enhance the performance and accuracy of large language models (LLMs) like GPT-4. These strategies aim to help users generate more relevant and reliable outputs by optimizing how they interact with the models. Here’s a detailed look at these six strategies, complete with examples and practical tips.

1. Write Clear Instructions

One of the fundamental aspects of prompt engineering is crafting clear and specific instructions. Ambiguity can lead to irrelevant or incorrect outputs, so it’s crucial to be precise about what you want the model to do.

Key Points:

  • Be Specific: Specify the output length, format, and complexity.
  • Define Desired Output: Indicate the structure and type of response you expect.
  • Minimize Ambiguity: Clear instructions reduce the room for misinterpretation, improving accuracy.


Instead of asking, “Summarize the meeting notes,” you can ask, “Summarize the meeting notes in a single paragraph, then list the key points discussed by each speaker.”

2. Provide Reference Text

LLMs can sometimes fabricate information, especially when dealing with complex or obscure topics. Providing reference texts can guide the model to more accurate and reliable answers.

Key Points:

  • Use Reference Materials: Provide texts that the model can use to inform its answers.
  • Cite References: Ask the model to cite specific parts of the reference text to support its answers.


Provide a document containing factual information and ask the model to use it to answer a question.

3. Split Complex Tasks into Simpler Subtasks

Complex tasks can be error-prone and difficult for models to handle efficiently. Breaking them down into simpler, manageable subtasks can improve accuracy and manageability.

Key Points:

  • Decompose Tasks: Divide complex tasks into smaller, sequential steps.
  • Interconnected Steps: Ensure that the output of one step serves as the input for the next.


Instead of asking for a full document summary, break it into sections.

4. Give the Model Time to “Think”

Allowing the model to process information and reason through a problem can lead to more accurate and thoughtful responses. This “chain of thought” approach encourages the model to step through its reasoning process.

Key Points:

  • Encourage Reasoning: Ask the model to explain its thought process before giving a final answer.
  • Sequential Queries: Use multiple, related prompts to guide the model through a problem.


Ask the model to work through a math problem step-by-step.

5. Use External Tools

Leveraging external tools can enhance the model’s capabilities. For example, text retrieval systems can provide relevant documents, while code execution engines can handle complex calculations.

Key Points:

  • Supplement with Tools: Use external systems to provide data or perform tasks beyond the model’s scope.
  • Integrate Results: Feed the results from these tools back into the model for final processing.


Use a text retrieval system to find relevant documents.

6. Test Changes Systematically

To ensure that modifications improve overall performance, systematic testing is essential. This involves evaluating changes against a comprehensive set of examples to measure their impact accurately.

Key Points:

  • Comprehensive Testing: Use a wide range of test cases to evaluate performance changes.
  • Measure Improvements: Track the impact of changes to ensure they lead to overall enhancements.


Evaluate the impact of a new prompt format.

Run both prompts through a series of tests to compare their effectiveness.


OpenAI’s prompt engineering guide provides valuable strategies for optimizing interactions with large language models. By writing clear instructions, providing reference texts, breaking down complex tasks, giving the model time to think, using external tools, and testing changes systematically, users can achieve more accurate and reliable results. These techniques are essential for leveraging the full potential of LLMs in various applications.

For more detailed information and examples, visit OpenAI’s Prompt Engineering Guide.

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