Provide detailed context and instructions

To ensure Claude understands your task, provide as much context and detail as possible. Include any specific rules or requirements for completing the task correctly. Consider the following example where we ask Claude to remove personally identifiable information (PII) from a given text:

UserPlease remove all personally identifiable information from this text: {{TEXT}}

While this prompt may work for simple cases, it lacks the necessary details for Claude to consistently deliver the desired output. Here is a more detailed and clearly written version.

UserWe want to anonymize some text by removing all personally identifiable information (PII).

Please follow these steps:
1. Replace all instances of names, phone numbers, and home and email addresses with ‘XXX’.
2. If the text contains no PII, copy it word-for-word without replacing anything.
3. Output only the processed text, without any additional commentary.

Here is the text to process:{{TEXT}}

In this improved prompt, we:

  1. Provide context upfront about the nature of the task
  2. Define what constitutes PII (names, phone numbers, addresses)
  3. Give specific, enumerated step-by-step instructions on how Claude should carry out its task
  4. Give guidelines to Claude for how it should format its output

You can also use this technique to control other aspects of Claude’s output. For example, by default, Claude often includes a friendly preamble before providing the requested output. If you prefer to receive only the essential information, you can instruct Claude to skip the preamble and get straight to the point.

Here is an example where Claude outputs a preamble:

UserWrite a haiku about robots.
Assistant (Claude’s response)Here is a haiku about robots:

Metal bodies move
Circuits calculate tasks
Machines mimic life

Here is an example where the prompt asks for Claude to skip the preamble:

UserWrite a haiku about robots. Skip the preamble and provide only the poem.
Assistant (Claude’s response)Metal bodies move
Circuits calculate tasks
Machines mimic life

By explicitly asking Claude to skip the preamble, you can receive a more concise response that focuses solely on the requested output.

Use numbered lists or bullet points

When providing instructions for complex tasks, consider breaking them down into numbered steps or bullet points. This format makes it easier for Claude to follow the instructions and ensures that all requirements are met.

Here is an example prompt without this technique:

UserTurn this textbook chapter into a lesson plan:

Here is the same prompt with numbered steps:

UserYour task is turn the given textbook chapter into a comprehensive lesson plan. To do this task, you should:1. Extract and summarize key concepts by section2. Convert each extracted concept into a 30 minute lesson plan, including a list of questions to check comprehension.3. Design an accompanying homework assignment that reinforces learnings from this chapter.Here is the chapter:<chapter>{{CHAPTER}}</chapter>

By presenting the instructions as numbered steps, you will both naturally write with more detail and better ensure that Claude executes its task to your standards.

Be specific about what you want

If you want Claude to provide a definitive answer or take a specific stance on a topic, make that clear in your prompt. When instructions are vague or open-ended, Claude may provide a more general response.

Here is an example of an open-ended question that causes Claude to equivocate:

UserWho is the best basketball player of all time?
Assistant (Claude’s response)There is no definitive answer to who is the best basketball player of all time. Reasonable basketball fans and analysts can disagree on this topic. Some of the players most frequently cited as possibilities for the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) include Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Magic Johnson. It’s a debate that will likely continue, as different eras, stats, accomplishments, and playing styles can be compared and interpreted in different ways.

Here is the same request, but with a more detailed and nuanced ask that successfully pushes Claude to have an opinion:

UserWho is the best basketball player of all time? Yes, there are differing opinions, but if you absolutely had to pick one player, who would it be?
Assistant (Claude’s response)There is no definitive answer to who is the best basketball player of all time, as reasonable people can disagree on this. However, if forced to choose just one player, I would say Michael Jordan is most commonly considered the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) based on his exceptional talent, championships, awards, and cultural impact on the game of basketball. But others like LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell are also frequently mentioned in the debate. It’s a subjective call without a clear consensus.

The golden rule of clear prompting

When crafting your prompts, follow the golden rule of clear prompting: show your prompt to a friend or colleague and ask them to follow the instructions themselves to see if they can produce the exact result you want. If your friend is confused, Claude will likely be confused as well.

Remember, Claude is a powerful tool, but it relies on your guidance to deliver the best results. By providing clear, direct, and well-structured prompts, you can unlock Claude’s full potential and achieve your desired outcomes more consistently.

Additional resources

  • Prompt engineering techniques: Explore other strategies for optimizing your prompts and enhancing Claude’s performance.
  • Anthropic cookbook: Browse a collection of Jupyter notebooks featuring copy-able code snippets that demonstrate highly effective and advanced techniques, integrations, and implementations using Claude.
  • Prompt library: Get inspired by a curated selection of prompts for various tasks and use cases.