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Seven suggestions for making better use of ChatGPT

Hi there, fellow enablers of change! In an earlier episode we discussed how enablers of change might use ChatGPT. In this episode, we’re going deeper, and we’re sharing our top seven suggestions for making better use of it to improve our efficiency and impact. We’ll dive into some effective tips on how to use prompts with ChatGPT, and discuss how it can be a valuable asset in our agricultural extension efforts.

John recently had the pleasure of being interviewed for an Extended Horizons webinar, hosted by the delightful Pru Cook. In that session they discussed ChatGPT and what it might mean for agricultural extension. They covered a lot of territory and the audience asked many insightful questions. So in the spirit of recycling, we’re capturing the essence of that conversation and providing some helpful tips.  

  1. Don’t believe everything ChatGPT tells us. It’s important to understand that ChatGPT isn’t an encyclopedia. While it can provide interesting ideas and inspiration, it shouldn’t be our sole source for factual information. Its knowledge is limited to its training data, which might be outdated or incorrect. The bulk of the material it was trained on was uploaded in September 2021, and it currently can’t access information on the internet. So, it knows a lot, but not everything! It’s like an eager intern with an overactive imagination—it’s very clever but also very naïve. It can be so eager to please us, that it’ll make up the answers it thinks we’ll want to hear. Unfortunately, these electronic hallucinations, as they’re politely called, are often stated in a very convincing matter-of-fact way.
  2. Craft well-worded prompts. Effective prompt engineering is an art that takes practice. If we’re not getting the desired results, don’t give up too soon! Reword the prompts, simplify the language, or provide more context to guide ChatGPT in generating content that aligns with our needs. For instance, instead of a generic prompt like “Tell me about sustainable farming practices,” use a more specific approach: “Provide examples of regenerative agriculture techniques that can be implemented on farms in Australia”.
    Carrying on from that, as part of the prompting activity, we need to make sure we specify the desired tone and style. ChatGPT often has a default tone that might not align with our desired style. The good news is that you can guide ChatGPT to adopt different tones and emulate specific actual or fictional characters or even ourselves. Describe the tone we want, by using adjectives such as ‘friendly’, ‘informal’, or ‘technical’ and provide examples to help set the right tone. We can also ask it to imitate celebrities like David Attenborough, or literary styles such as rapping. We can request a friendly tone, by saying “use an informal, conversational style”. We can also upload examples of previous work we’ve written and ask ChatGPT to analyse the style and then name the writing style with your initials. To check if it has done this correctly, ask it to summarise your writing style in a few bullet points, focusing on sentence structure, tone and voice.
    John has been trying this feature out and is pleased to report that ChatGPT said his writing style is “confident and authoritative, showcasing a strong understanding of the topics discussed, and that the writing is authentic, making readers feel like they are interacting with an expert source”. We suspect that was the AI trying to butter him up! John then instructed it to label the writing style as ‘JJ’, so now it’s easy for him to get his over-eager intern to write just like he does! 
  3. Develop a point of view. To make ChatGPT’s output more insightful, it’s crucial to start with a clear point of view. Begin by outlining the main points we want to convey in our content. Then, engage ChatGPT in a conversation to brainstorm ideas and explore perspectives that we may not have considered. Evaluate the suggestions and incorporate the most compelling ones into our outline. Remember that developing a point of view is a process that requires critical thinking, self-reflection, and a willingness to engage with new ideas. It’s okay to refine and adjust our perspective as we gain more knowledge and insight into the topic. 
  4. Provide sufficient context. When interacting with ChatGPT, the more context we provide, the better the response will be. Take the time to think through our requirements and offer relevant background information, specific examples, or stylistic preferences. For instance, instead of a brief prompt like “Tips for improving soil health,” provide additional details such as the geographic location, the type of soil, climatic conditions, and the time of year. Don’t forget to be very specific with place names, as Margate could be here in Tasmania, Queensland or even the UK. This will enable ChatGPT to provide tailored and practical recommendations.
  5. Focus on one topic at a time. It can be tempting to address multiple tasks or topics within a single conversation with ChatGPT. However, mixing too many topics in one session can lead to lower-quality results. To maintain focus and obtain accurate responses, we should separate our sessions by topic or task. For example, if we’re looking to draft an email to invite local farmers to a soil health workshop, keep that conversation separate from seeking ideas for improving irrigation systems. This way, ChatGPT can better understand and address each topic with clarity and coherence. 
  6. Try, try and try again. Don’t settle for the first output you receive from ChatGPT. Remember that the AI model has a random element, and the initial response may not fully meet our expectations. Take advantage of the iterative process by regenerating the response or asking ChatGPT to refine its output based on our specific requirements. For instance, if we asked it for advice on reducing post-harvest losses and the initial response doesn’t address our specific circumstances, ask it to generate a different response or provide insights on minimising losses in our region or specific crops.
  7. Be direct and clear in our requests. While interacting with ChatGPT, it’s important to be direct and clear about what we want it to do. Avoid beating around the bush or using polite language that may confuse the AI. Remember that ChatGPT is a tool, not a person, and it thrives on explicit instructions. 

As enablers of change, we’re constantly seeking innovative ways to improve our work and better serve our communities. ChatGPT offers a powerful tool for brainstorming ideas, gaining inspiration, and exploring new perspectives. By following these seven suggestions for making better use of ChatGPT, we can enhance our productivity and creativity in addressing various agricultural challenges.

There are a few other resources out there that might be of interest as you explore ChatGPT and other AI tools. One we’d recommend is from Tom Barrett, who spent ten years as a primary school teacher and now is an education consultant and coach. He has an email newsletter that provides ideas and mental models in the context of education but that we’ve found useful for extension. Just recently he published the CREATE framework to help people get better with prompts in ChatGPTwhich overlaps with some of the suggestions we’ve just outlined. And he’s started another newsletter called Promptcraft which explores AI in education which we think is worthwhile subscribing to. Remember, ChatGPT is not a substitute for domain expertise and traditional research methods. It excels in generating ideas, refining concepts, and providing alternative viewpoints. So, let’s embrace this exciting technology and leverage its capabilities to amplify our agricultural extension efforts.

Well, we’ve shared our insights, and now we’re eager to hear yours! Drop a comment below and share your experiences with using ChatGPT. Feel free to share tips and additional ideas too. We want this to be an interactive conversation, not just a one-way exchange—so join in and let’s discuss!

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Happy chatting with your new intern, and may your conversations with ChatGPT be fruitful!

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Jeff Coutts
6 months ago

Hi John and Denise – really good to see this extra level advice. I have been surprised at how many people I come across who are using Chat GPT and learning by doing. The more we can share our experiences, tips and hacks, the better value we can get out of it, avoid the pitfalls, and give value to people who read what we pull together.

Paula Doyle
Paula Doyle
6 months ago

Hi John and Denise, Thanks for a great video – good information! A great way to test the capabilities – and why you should not trust everything ChatGPT say is to ask it to write an article on yourself. I recently took on a new role at my work and was asked to write my own article for the newsletter – so I had a go and then asked ChatGPT to re-gig my efforts – and it was great! ChatGPT gave me a national award from my last job and managed to make me sound FABULOUS promising all sorts of… Read more »

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