You Ask, I Answer: How Long Should ChatGPT Prompts Be?

You Ask, I Answer: How Long Should ChatGPT Prompts Be?

In today’s episode, you’ll discover the key to crafting effective ChatGPT prompts and it all comes down to understanding their purpose. You’ll learn six primary use cases for generative AI, each requiring a different approach to prompt length. I’ll equip you with the knowledge to tailor your prompts for optimal results, whether you’re generating creative content or extracting valuable insights from data. Tune in to elevate your AI game and unlock the full potential of ChatGPT!

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Machine-Generated Transcript

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Christopher Penn: In today’s episode, Marie asks, “How long should our prompts be for ChatGPT?”

How long should a piece of string be? It depends. It depends on what you’re doing.

Remember that there are six major use cases for generative AI. You have generation — AKA making stuff — you have extraction — taking data out of other data — you have summarization, which is taking big data into small data, you have rewriting — turning one form of data into another form of data — you have classification — organizing your data — and then you have question answering, which is giving the tool your data and asking questions from it.

Of those six use cases, generation is the one that is hardest for models and therefore needs the longest prompts because you’re asking it to make up new stuff — net new things that it does not necessarily have firm data for.

What’s in a language model is essentially statistics. It’s the probability that one word appears next to another word. Thus, if I say, “God save the—” and if you’re English, you’re either going to say “Queen” or “King” depending on how updated your mental databases are. If I say, “I pledge allegiance to the—” statistically, it’s probably unlikely the next word is “rutabaga.”

But when it comes to generation, language models are still guessing. They guess with probability, and sometimes the probability is pretty certain. “I pledge allegiance to the flag” is the most likely autocomplete for that sentence, but it’s not 100%. Nothing is 100% probability-wise.

So to reduce the likelihood of bad outputs — of wrong guesses, essentially — you need to provide a lot of information. So your prompts for generation could be long. They should be extensive, they should contain information about your writing style or how you want a document written. It should contain maybe some examples of what you want written. It should contain detailed instructions for generation.

I like to say, treat these tools like they’re interns — like they’re the world’s smartest intern you just hired. This intern; they have 255 Ph.Ds, but they still don’t know anything about your company specifically. So you want to bring a lot of very specific data.

For tasks like summarization, classification, rewriting, and extraction, your prompts are going to be relatively short — maybe a couple of paragraphs at most of just specific details you want to extract or summarize or examples of formats. Then you’re going to provide the data itself. “Here’s the transcript, here’s the articles, here’s the database, do those tasks.”

The same with question answering, too. With question answering, you’re providing a lot of the data, and, as a result, the data is part of the prompt. We just don’t think of it that way because we’re not having to write it by hand. If we say, “Summarize this transcript,” and we put in the entire transcript, that is technically part of the prompt. It is just that you’re not typing it by hand; you are copying and pasting from another piece of software.

So, in general, your prompts should be as long as they need to be to provide complete and thorough information, as though you are giving instructions to the intern. If you give less complete instructions, the intern is going to have some trouble doing the task. The intern’s going to maybe wing it, and that doesn’t always go so well.

So make your prompts as long as they need to be to provide comprehensive and complete information, regardless of the task. When in doubt, provide more data. When in doubt — if you’re worried that a model is not going to behave a certain way, or you’re worried about the outcome — today’s language models can handle incredible amounts of information. ChatGPT can handle, what, 90,000 words at a time? Anthropic Claude and Google Gemini can handle 700,000 words at a time.

This book here — this giant book — is 70,000 words. A tool like Google Gemini can have ten of these as in their prompt and be able to process it.

So make your prompts as long as they need to be. Don’t worry about space. Don’t worry about running out of resources for the major public language models; you’ll have a much better time with that.

Thanks for the question! That’s going to do it for this episode. Talk to you on the next one. If you enjoyed this video, please hit the like button. Subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already. If you want to know when new videos are available, hit the bell button to be notified as soon as new content is live.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


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