What is prompt engineering?
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What is prompt engineering?

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) systems are designed to generate specific outputs based on the quality of provided prompts. Prompt engineering helps generative AI models better comprehend and respond to a wide range of queries, from the simple to the highly technical.

The basic rule is that good prompts equal good results. Generative AI relies on the iterative refinement of different prompt engineering techniques to effectively learn from diverse input data and adapt to minimize biases, confusion and produce more accurate responses.

Prompt engineers play a pivotal role in crafting queries that help generative AI models understand not just the language but also the nuance and intent behind the query. A high-quality, thorough and knowledgeable prompt, in turn, influences the quality of AI-generated content, whether it’s images, code, data summaries or text.

A thoughtful approach to creating prompts is necessary to bridge the gap between raw queries and meaningful AI-generated responses. By fine-tuning effective prompts, engineers can significantly optimize the quality and relevance of outputs to solve for both the specific and the general. This process reduces the need for manual review and post-generation editing, ultimately saving time and effort in achieving the desired outcomes.

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How does prompt engineering work?

Generative AI models are built on transformer architectures, which enable them to grasp the intricacies of language and process vast amounts of data through neural networks. AI prompt engineering helps mold the model’s output, ensuring the artificial intelligence responds meaningfully and coherently. Several prompting techniques ensure AI models generate helpful responses, including tokenization, model parameter tuning and top-k sampling.

Prompt engineering is proving vital for unleashing the full potential of the foundation models that power generative AI. Foundation models are large language models (LLMs) built on transformer architecture and packed with all the information the generative AI system needs.

Generative AI models operate based on natural language processing (NLP) and use natural language inputs to produce complex results. The underlying data science preparations, transformer architectures and machine learning algorithms enable these models to understand language and then use massive datasets to create text or image outputs.

Text-to-image generative AI like DALL-E and Midjourney uses an LLM in concert with stable diffusion, a model that excels at generating images from text descriptions. Effective prompt engineering combines technical knowledge with a deep understanding of natural language, vocabulary and context to produce optimal outputs with few revisions.

Develop system and instruction prompts with Llama 2

Best practices for prompt engineering using Llama 2.

What are the benefits of prompt engineering?

The primary benefit of prompt engineering is the ability to achieve optimized outputs with minimal post-generation effort. Generative AI outputs can be mixed in quality, often requiring skilled practitioners to review and revise. By crafting precise prompts, prompt engineers ensure that AI-generated output aligns with the desired goals and criteria, reducing the need for extensive post-processing.

It is also the purview of the prompt engineer to understand how to get the best results out of the variety of generative AI models on the market. For example, writing prompts for Open AI’s GPT-3 or GPT-4 differs from writing prompts for Google Bard. Bard can access information through Google Search, so it can be instructed to integrate more up-to-date information into its results. However, ChatGPT is the better tool for ingesting and summarizing text, as that was its primary design function. Well-crafted prompts guide AI models to create more relevant, accurate and personalized responses. Because AI systems evolve with use, highly engineered prompts make long-term interactions with AI more efficient and satisfying.

Clever prompt engineers working in open-source environments are pushing generative AI to do incredible things not necessarily a part of their initial design scope and are producing some surprising real-world results. For example, researchers developed a new AI system that can translate language without being trained on a parallel text; engineers are embedding generative AI in games to engage human players in truly responsive storytelling and even to gain accurate new insights into the astronomical phenomena of black holes. Prompt engineering will become even more critical as generative AI systems grow in scope and complexity.


What skills does a prompt engineer need?

Large technology organizations are hiring prompt engineers to develop new creative content, answer complex questions and improve machine translation and NLP tasks. Skills prompt engineers should have include familiarity with large language models, strong communication skills, the ability to explain technical concepts, programming expertise (particularly in Python) and a firm grasp of data structures and algorithms. Creativity and a realistic assessment of the benefits and risks of new technologies are also valuable in this role.

While models are trained in multiple languages, English is often the primary language used to train generative AI. Prompt engineers will need a deep understanding of vocabulary, nuance, phrasing, context and linguistics because every word in a prompt can influence the outcome.

Prompt engineers should also know how to effectively convey the necessary context, instructions, content or data to the AI model.

If the goal is to generate code, a prompt engineer must understand coding principles and programming languages. Those working with image generators should know art history, photography, and film terms. Those generating language context may need to know various narrative styles or literary theories.

In addition to a breadth of communication skills, prompt engineers need to understand generative AI tools and the deep learning frameworks that guide their decision-making. Prompt engineers can employ the following advanced techniques to improve the model’s understanding and output quality.

  • Zero-shot prompting provides the machine learning model with a task it hasn’t explicitly been trained on. Zero-shot prompting tests the model’s ability to produce relevant outputs without relying on prior examples.
  • Few-shot prompting or in-context learning gives the model a few sample outputs (shots) to help it learn what the requestor wants it to do. The learning model can better understand the desired output if it has context to draw on.
  • Chain-of-thought prompting (CoT) is an advanced technique that provides step-by-step reasoning for the model to follow. Breaking down a complex task into intermediate steps, or “chains of reasoning,” helps the model achieve better language understanding and create more accurate outputs.
Prompt engineering use cases

As generative AI becomes more accessible, organizations are discovering new and innovative ways to use prompt engineering to solve real-world problems.


Prompt engineering is a powerful tool to help AI chatbots generate contextually relevant and coherent responses in real-time conversations. Chatbot developers can ensure the AI understands user queries and provides meaningful answers by crafting effective prompts.


In healthcare, prompt engineers instruct AI systems to summarize medical data and develop treatment recommendations. Effective prompts help AI models process patient data and provide accurate insights and recommendations.


Software development

Prompt engineering plays a role in software development by using AI models to generate code snippets or provide solutions to programming challenges. Using prompt engineering in software development can save time and assist developers in coding tasks.

Software engineering

Because generative AI systems are trained in various programming languages, prompt engineers can streamline the generation of code snippets and simplify complex tasks. By crafting specific prompts, developers can automate coding, debug errors, design API integrations to reduce manual labor and create API-based workflows to manage data pipelines and optimize resource allocation.


Cybersecurity and computer science

Prompt engineering is used to develop and test security mechanisms. Researchers and practitioners leverage generative AI to simulate cyberattacks and design better defense strategies. Additionally, crafting prompts for AI models can aid in discovering vulnerabilities in software.


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Best practices for prompt engineering using Llama 2.

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