Prompt Literacy in Academics

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to gain popularity, it is essential for members of our campus community to develop skills in prompt literacy. To effectively utilize AI models, you should understand the capabilities and limitations of these models, and be able to write specific and detailed prompts. By building and refining these skills, you can effectively integrate AI into your work and education while mitigating many problems and frustrations that may arise.

Prompting for Education Purposes

In addition to the resources below, more in-depth training is available in the Generative AI Prompt Literacy Canvas course. The prompt literacy information below is also available as a one-page poster, provided by U-M Flint. 

  • Understand the Capabilities and Limitations of AI    
    AI models, such as GPT-3.5 and 4, are powerful, but they have limitations. At this time, no GenAI technology actually ‘understands’ the thing it’s writing about in the way a human does. Natural language processing chatbots do not know what a cup of coffee is, they just use probability to select the correct words to write extensively about it. Additionally, they can't provide opinions or make value judgments, and they can't access real-time or personal data unless it's included in the prompt.
  • Learn About the Domain You’ll be Prompting
    As you write your prompts you’ll need an understanding of the topic or domain you're pointing the AI toward. This will help you with many of the following recommendations, but also account for things like hallucinations (outputs that sound plausible, but are incorrect or unrelated) and misinformation. You’ll also be able to give the AI more context and precision in your query. Finally, the more you know about the domain you’re writing for the more likely you’ll know if the output is accurate and of high quality.
  • Be Specific and Detailed
    By default, AI will give broad and general responses. The more specific and detailed your prompt is, the more useful the AI's response is likely to be. If you're asking the AI to generate text, provide as much context as possible. If you're asking a question, make sure it's clear and unambiguous. Be sure to indicate:
    • The desired goal of your content.
    • The desired language and tone that is appropriate for your audience.
    • The specific format you want for the output.
    • The focus of your theme for the content, e.g. nutrition, history, analytics, engineering.
  • Minimize Logic ‘Work’
    Going hand-in-hand with the ‘be specific’ advice above, you want to minimize the number of assumptions and logical reasoning the GenAI will need to make on its own to create your content. The tool will have a limited amount of processing resources available. A more detailed prompt that makes each of the AI tasks more bite sized will yield better performance and higher quality output.
  • Be Creative with your Prompt
    Prompting a GenAI requires a collaborative approach to problem-solving with that AI. To achieve your best results, you should think creatively and use a variety of conversational approaches when developing your prompt. The output you have formulated in your mind likely won’t match what the AI algorithm will produce. Sometimes you’ll need to think/write like an expert negotiator, debater, or sales person to get the output you have in mind.
  • Use Iterative Refinement
    It is unlikely that you will get a “perfect” response on your first try. Don't be afraid to refine your prompt and try again. You can also use a technique called "iterative refinement," where you provide feedback on the AI's responses and ask it to improve them. Many prompt sessions evolve into lengthy dialogues.
  • Tailoring to your Audience
    As you evaluate and refine your prompt, make sure the output is appropriate for your audience and adjust as needed. Not only do you need to make sure the content is accurate and makes sense for the topic, but also appropriate for the reader's knowledge level. Don’t be afraid to tell your GenAI who the target audience is, specifically.
  • Consider Ethical Implications
    Be mindful of the ethical implications of using AI in education. This includes issues like privacy, fairness, and transparency. Always make sure stakeholders understand when and how AI is being used.
  • Stay Up-to-Date
    AI is a rapidly evolving field. Stay up-to-date with the latest research and developments to understand how to best use AI in your work.

Best Practices

Below you will find a recommended list of best practices that will accelerate your learning and understanding of prompt writing for improved output when working with generative artificial intelligence. This is not an exhaustive list.


  • Tone
  • Length
  • Temperature
  • Voice (e.g. enthusiastic, empathetic, optimistic, authoritative...)
  • Avoid confusing words that can have multiple meanings, if possible.
  • Request alternative or varied output if what’s produced does not meet expectations.

Be Specific

  • Instruct GenAI to ask follow-up questions to improve the output or clarify confusion. It's okay to ask the AI if it understands what you're asking.
  • When developing for the web/Canvas, instruct it to structure the results in a table/markdown/HTML.
  • Provide more details if the output is ambiguous.
  • Give examples of what you're looking for.
  • To reduce the likelihood of hallucinations (outputs that sound plausible, but are incorrect or unrelated), tell it that it's an expert in the topic you're prompting. For example, "You are an expert in men's fashion design." Other expert role examples include:
    • Copywriter
    • Public Speaker
    • Marketing Strategist
    • UX Designer
    • SEO Expert
    • Programming Tutor
    • Web Development Expert

Setting Boundaries

  • Point out any mistakes it makes.
  • Tell it what you do and don't like for output.
  • Instruct the GenAI to stay on topic.
  • Repeat important instructions as necessary.
  • Describe what it should and should not write about.

Prompting Tasks

  • Use sequential prompting: Break up your prompts by informing it that you'll provide additional input later.
  • Have GenAI inform you when it's ready for that input.
  • Stop the output and rephrase your query if the output is not what you expect. A common example is "Make it shorter and less formal."
  • Request justification as needed. Ask "Why did you write that?"

Prompt Examples

Reference the examples developed by Flint ODE that produced desired output for additional guidance in your work with GenAI.

Act as a digital literacy tutor and draw your inspiration from educational technology experts like Sal Kahn and Monica Burns. I am a university professor who teaches history, and my goal is to learn about tools that can enhance teaching and learning through the use of technology. I teach online and face-to-face so I will need different strategies for those two domains. I’m already comfortable with common tools like Canvas and Zoom. What are some popular and useful tools I can explore to help deliver content and assess my students more creatively?

I'm taking a mid-level computer science course on object oriented programming leveraging C++. I need some help understanding some concepts, could you help me?
My instructor gave us the following example in class. Can you help me understand what's happening in this code?

#include <iostream>
#include <stack>
using namespace std;
int main() {
   stack<int> stack;
   stack.push(21);// The values pushed in the stack should be of the same data which is written during declaration of stack
   int num=0;
   while (!stack.empty()) {
       cout << <<" ";

I need help writing a diplomatic and collaborative response to an email sent to me by the head of a department at a public university. The email I need help responding to is below: <Insert Email Text>

I am interested in improving my general physical health as a 40 year old man. Develop a workout plan where I go to the gym three days a week. It should include a mix of running and weight lifting. Include healthy dinner ideas that do not have red meat as an ingredient. To get started, ask me a list of at least 15-20 questions about everything you need to know about me in order to create a tailor-made fitness and nutrition plan for me. Make sure you include questions about my goals, limitations, and preferences.

You are an expert clothing stylist. I am a 40 year old man with an athletic build looking for help improving my clothing style. I work at a public university so I'm looking for a cool academic style. I like layering interesting pieces together. Create a few outfit ideas for me that includes a Dall-e prompt so that I can see what it looks like. Ask me any clarification questions as needed.

I am writing a short bio for myself that will be published on a university website. Take on the role of a copywriter who is going to help me brainstorm ways in which to improve it by giving me suggestions to add polish and make it more dynamic. Here is what I have so far: <Insert Existing Text>

Natural language processing chatbots are incredibly good at explaining things, Like legal Jargon:

Prompt: Explain the following using common language:

Before: “In the event that any payment or benefit by the Company would be subject to excise tax, then the cash severance payments shall be reduced. All payments and benefits by the Company shall hereinafter be referred to as the ‘Total Payments.’ This includes the payments and benefits under Section 3(a) hereof.”

After: If the company has to pay a tax or provide any benefits, including the ones mentioned in Section 3(a), and that tax is imposed on those payments and benefits. We call them "Total Payments."

So it can be really useful to get the thinking behind the answer along with the answer itself. You can see if the logic works and get some help explaining it to students.

Using the Canvas LMS API write a Python script that does the following:

1. Take input of course ID 
2. Take input of student login ID 
3. Take input of end date 
4. Create a new section called "Extended Access" within the course provided. The section should have a start date of current day and an end date of the date provided in step 3 and restrict student participation to those dates. 
5. Enroll the student from step 2 in the newly created section. 
6. Enroll the instructor of the course in the newly created section.

You are a highly experienced teacher with the ability to create simple step-by-step guides on any task. I want you to give me a step-by-step guide on how to [TASK (such as sew a suture)]. Start by telling me everything I'll need before I start, including any tools, ingredients or supplies. Then give me the instructions for each step as a numbered list. If the instructions go on longer than 400 words ask me if I want to see the rest of the steps.

You are an expert in [TOPIC]. Please list as many different perspectives as there are on the topic. Think about it from the point of view of lots of different audiences who have an interest in the topic. Write your response as a bullet-pointed list.

(This could be useful in assigning roles in a case study or role play.)

(Developing content from a course outline provided by ChatGPT.a chatbot.)

For the Week 2 content, expand on the first topic and generate visually appealing HTML and inline CSS that I can use in the Canvas Rich Content Editor. Be sure that color contrast adheres to WCAG AAA guidelines.

I am trying to understand a php subroutine and having a difficult time comprehending a particular grep command. Can you please parse this statement into individual commands with a summary of the workflow that is taking place: preg_match('/(?:(?:St\.\s)?[A-Z\x{00C0}-\x{017F}][a-zA-Z\x{00C0}-\x{017F}\'’-]*(?:\s+[A-Z\x{00C0}-\x{017F}][a-zA-Z\x{00C0}-\x{017F}\'’-]*)*)/u' )

I'm a professor of a ___-level course on _______________________. I'm redesigning an assignment and would like to include an improved rubric to students. It is a 5-point activity, and each criteria should be evaluated on a Yes or No basis. Can you write 15 sample criteria for me that I might narrow down from to create a rubric? Here is the assignment prompt in its current form:

I'm a professor of a 100-level college composition class and my students are learning about subject verb agreement. Can you generate 20 worksheet questions that require students to identify the correct verb form in a sentence?