Using ChatGPT centers on the act of writing prompts, which are directions you give ChatGPT to guide its responses. The higher the quality of prompts you feed ChatGPT, the better the work it can do for you.
Editors who want to use ChatGPT to speed up and simplify their work may begin by simply asking ChatGPT to “edit this.” This broad prompt will give you a result of edited text, but the result may have more and different changes than you seek. Instead, giving the AI more directions will allow you to fine-tune the response to be more closely aligned with your goal.
Keep in mind that even with a well-phrased prompt, you will likely need to give ChatGPT follow-up prompts to help it dial in on your specific needs. This will become a routine part of your process.
ChatGPT Prompt-Writing Basics
There are four core best practices for writing an effective ChatGPT prompt. It all comes down to being clear and specific.
1. Use Statements
Format instructions as statements instead of questions. This helps ChatGPT determine what you want it to do.
❌ "Can you write a paragraph explaining first-person point of view?"
🟢 "Write a paragraph explaining first-person point of view."
2. Be Specific
Make your requests detailed. Tell ChatGPT its exact next steps.
❌ "Edit this."
🟢 "Edit this corporate report to improve clarity and consistency and to correct errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation."
3. Define Format
Specify format requirements in your prompt.
❌ "Write a blog post about the history of singular they."
🟢 "Write a 1,500–word blog post about the history of singular they. Use subheadings and bullet points. Use The Chicago Manual of Style."
4. Provide Context
Include relevant background and nuance. This helps ChatGPT narrow its response.
❌ "Is this a good title?"
🟢 "Considering this is a thriller novel set in Victorian England, is The Shadow's Grasp a fitting title?"
Refining Initial Responses
Even with a well-crafted prompt, the first output from ChatGPT often won’t meet your exact needs. The skillful user engages ChatGPT in a back-and-forth to tweak the initial response.
Here are examples of how to ask ChatGPT to refine its output:
1. Specify Changes
Clearly explain how you want the initial response to be changed.
"Refine this response to use title case in headings instead of sentence case."
"Change the examples to be relevant to podiatrists."
2. Identify Errors
Being a new technology, ChatGPT requires a bit of patience. It does not respond with accuracy every time. When using it to edit text, this can look like the program not catching every error. When using it to write, this can look like ChatGPT replying with information that is factually incorrect.
Rather than manually correcting errors ChatGPT misses (the whole point is to save you time and wear on your hands), explain the errors and instruct it to fix them.
"Refine this response to ensure all numbers 1 through 9 are written as numerals."
"Revise by placing the commas before closing quotation marks, not after."
3. Adjust Length
If you prompt ChatGPT to write text and the first response is too long or short, ask it to adjust the length.
"Add a section about how about developmental editors can use ChatGPT."
"Condense your response into one paragraph."
Try and Try Again
If your attempt to refine ChatGPT’s response still does not give you what you want, keep trying. Rephrase your prompt and try to make your directions more specific. Or open up a new chat and try the original prompt again. ChatGPT won’t answer in the exact same way twice, and sometimes starting with this clean slate is quicker than refining and refining a response that went off the path.
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Erin Servais is an editor, educator, and community builder. She founded the Editors Tea Club, an online space where editors gather for education and support, and she offers editor coaching through her company, Dot and Dash.
In her fifteen years in publishing, she has helped to bring hundreds of titles to print and has presented about editing and entrepreneurship across the United States and Canada. Erin serves on the board of directors for ACES: The Society for Editing.
She always tells ChatGPT please and thank you, just in case.
Email Erin: Erin@aiforeditors.com