I’ve been experimenting with all of that available chatbots including Google’s Bard, OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Microsoft Bing Chat, and Anthropic’s Claude. A few days ago I was playing with Claude when I decided I’d try to learn more about multi-step prompting.
A recent video with Ethan Mollick emphasized that we tend to overemphasize initial prompts – looking for the “perfect prompt” – when what really adds value to a chatbot result isn’t the perfect initial prompt but rather the interaction you have with the chatbot. In other words, just like with an real intern, the conversational back and forth is what really adds to the learning and understanding from a session. I’ve begun applying this approach more regularly as I continue exploring these amazing new tools.
Below is the result of my back and forth conversation with Claude as I tried to learn more about the best practices for multistep prompting.
Introduction: The Power of Multistep Prompting
When conversing with Claude, you can get much more natural, detailed responses by using multistep prompts. This technique involves breaking down complex requests into multiple simpler follow-up prompts, rather than asking lengthy, dense questions all at once.
For example, instead of saying:
“Claude, can you tell me about the major battles of World War 2 fought by American troops in the European theater, with a focus on key events like the Normandy invasion?”
You would ask:
“Claude, what were the major battles American troops fought in during World War 2 in Europe?”
Then based on Claude’s initial response mentioning D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge you could ask focused follow-ups like:
“Can you provide more details on the D-Day invasion?”
“What happened at the Battle of the Bulge and why was it significant?”
This prompts Claude to provide more detailed, robust responses on a specific aspect of your original broad question. Chaining these bite-sized prompts together allows for a natural dialogue where you guide the conversation based on Claude’s replies.
The rest of this post will provide tips to help you get the most out of using multistep prompts to have engaging, productive conversations with Claude. Let’s get started!
Tip 1: Start with a Focused Initial Prompt
When first engaging Claude, begin with a clear, concise prompt setting the context. For example:
“Claude, can you recommend a good sci-fi movie from the last few years that has cool visual effects?”
Starting the conversation with a specific question about the type of movie you want gets better results than a vague prompt like “Let’s talk about movies.” It provides Claude with clear criteria to focus its initial response on recent sci-fi films with great special effects.
Tip 2: Ask One Question at a Time
Deconstruct big requests into individual follow-up prompts. Asking “What were the major events of WW2 and how did technology impact them?” overloads Claude. Instead try:
“What were the major events of WW2?”
“How did technology like radar and rockets impact these events?”
Simpler prompts allow more detailed, thoughtful responses from Claude.
Tip 3: Build on Previous Responses
Review Claude’s last response before asking your next prompt. For example:
You: “Who were Apple’s founders?”
Claude: “Apple was founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne.”
You: “What specific contributions did Steve Wozniak make to Apple?”
This builds a logical flow and conversation.
Tip 4: Clarify When Confused
If Claude’s response doesn’t make sense, politely ask for clarification before moving on:
You: “What was the impact of Midway on WW2?”
Claude: “The Battle of Midway enabled the Allies to gain the upper hand in the Pacific theater.”
You: “I don’t understand how Midway gave the Allies an advantage. Can you explain that more clearly?”
Don’t just accept unclear responses. Ask follow ups to get back on track.
Tip 5: Change Direction Based on Responses
Let Claude’s replies guide where you take the conversation next…
Tip 6: Periodically Summarize Key Facts
Restating important details helps ensure Claude stays on topic. For example:
You: “Can you tell me about the first airplane flight?”
Claude provides response.
You: “So the Wright brothers flew for the first time in 1903 in Kitty Hawk. What happened next in early aviation?”
Summarizing facts focuses the dialogue and confirms Claude’s understanding.
Tip 7: Keep Conversations 3-5 Prompts Long
Try to complete conversations within 3-5 focused prompts. For example:
Prompt 1: Ask for book recommendations
Prompt 2: Clarify if you want fiction or non-fiction books
Prompt 3: Ask for more details on a specific recommended book
Prompt 4: Thank Claude and end the conversation
While more than 5 exchanges often indicates a disjointed or unclear goal, I often end with a final prompt to the effect of “Is there anything else I should know or try to understand?” In other words, remember perhaps there’s “one more thing!”
Tip 8: Wrap Up with a Summary
End conversations by asking Claude to summarize its overall response:
You: “Can you please summarize the key points you mentioned about World War 2?”
This provides a clean conclusion to the dialogue.
Tip 9: Provide Feedback if Responses Seem Off
If Claude seems confused or makes incorrect statements, politely clarify to improve its training:
You: “I asked about D-Day, but your response seems to be about a different battle. Can you please double check your information about D-Day?”
This constructive input helps Claude improve.
Tip 10: Practice Makes Perfect
Have fun practicing multistep conversations on topics like movies, recipes, sports, current events, trivia, and product recommendations. The more you use prompts and follow-ups, the more natural conversations will become.
Taking It to the Next Level: Advanced Multistep Prompting
While effective for everyday conversations, multistep prompts can also enable advanced, niche uses of Claude you may not have considered:
Foreign Language Translation – Claude has some ability to translate between languages when you provide context. Try prompts like:
“Claude, can you translate this Spanish phrase into English: ‘¿Cómo estás?'”
Poetry – Claude can generate original poetry if you guide it. Prompt it to start a poem, suggest a topic, and refine the wording.
Research Assistance – Ask Claude to find and summarize information on obscure topics:
“Claude, can you research the ancient Sumerian civilization and summarize their key achievements?”
Creative Writing – Claude can craft short stories if you provide plot points and characters. Slowly build up a narrative through prompts.
Joke Telling – Give Claude a topic and have it come up with witty, original jokes through multistep exchanges.
Troubleshooting – Walk through a technical problem by describing symptoms and responding to Claude’s follow-up questions.
The possibilities are endless when you get creative with prompts! The key is providing context and steering the conversation to get Claude’s best work.
Conclusion: The Key is Conversation
The core takeaway is that multistep prompting allows for genuine back-and-forth conversation with Claude. Start applying these tips to your prompts and soon you’ll be chatting with Claude like an old friend! I’d love to hear of any other multistep best practices you discover. Now go have some fun conversations with Claude or your other favorite chatbot!