Understanding Chain-Of-Thought Prompting in AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made significant strides in recent years, and one of the fascinating developments is the concept of Chain-Of-Thought (CoT) prompting. This technique is a step forward in making AI interactions more intuitive and human-like, particularly in problem-solving scenarios. Large Language Models (LLMs) are impressive, but sometimes their outputs lack transparency. Chain-of-Thought (CoT) prompting is an innovative technique that aims to bridge this gap by encouraging LLMs to reveal the reasoning steps behind their answers. This blog post will delve into the world of CoT prompting, exploring its mechanics, applications, and how you can leverage it for your own AI interactions.

What is Chain-Of-Thought Prompting?

Chain-Of-Thought prompting is a method used in AI to simulate a step-by-step reasoning process, similar to how a human might think through a problem. Instead of providing a direct answer to a query, CoT prompting guides the AI to elaborate on its thought process, breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts. This approach not only makes the AI’s decision-making process more transparent but also helps in understanding the logic behind its conclusions.

Unlike traditional prompting, which focuses solely on the desired answer, CoT prompts guide the LLM to explicitly showcase its thought process. This is achieved by providing the LLM with examples that demonstrate the breakdown of reasoning steps leading to a solution. By incorporating these examples into the prompt, the LLM learns to mimic this structure and include its own reasoning chain when responding to new prompts.

Example of Chain-Of-Thought Prompting

Let’s consider an example to illustrate CoT prompting:

Problem: If a farmer has 15 apples and gives away 8, how many apples does the farmer have left?

CoT Prompted AI Response:

  1. The farmer starts with 15 apples.
  2. The farmer gives away 8 apples.
  3. To find out how many apples are left, subtract the number of apples given away from the starting number: 15 – 8.
  4. The farmer has 7 apples left.

In this example, the AI breaks down the arithmetic problem into a series of logical steps, providing a clear and understandable solution pathway.

Generating a CoT Prompt

To generate a CoT prompt, you should structure the query in a way that encourages the AI to break down the problem into smaller, logical steps. This involves asking the AI not just for the answer, but for the reasoning behind it.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how you might create a CoT prompt:

  1. Identify the Problem: Clearly state the problem or question that needs solving.
  2. Ask for Steps: Request the AI to provide the steps it would take to solve the problem.
  3. Craft Examples: Provide a few solved examples that showcase these reasoning steps. Ensure the examples are relevant to the task at hand.
  4. Formulate the Question: Ask the new question you want the LLM to solve, but embed it within the context of your provided examples.
  5. Encourage Detail: Encourage the AI to be as detailed as possible in its explanation.

User Prompting Example

User Prompt: I’m trying to understand how to calculate the area of a circle. Can you explain the steps involved in calculating the area of a circle with a radius of 5 units?

AI Response:

  1. To calculate the area of a circle, you need to use the formula: Area = π * radius^2.
  2. First, identify the radius of the circle. In this case, the radius is given as 5 units.
  3. Next, square the radius: 5 units * 5 units = 25 square units.
  4. Now, multiply the squared radius by π (approximately 3.14159): 25 * π = 78.54 square units.
  5. Therefore, the area of the circle is 78.54 square units.

In this example, you have not only asked for the final answer but have prompted the AI to explain the thought process behind arriving at that answer. Here is another example using Prime Number solution examples as a solution to a problem to the final question:


Example 1: Is 10 a prime number? (No, because 10 = 2 x 5)
Example 2: Is 13 a prime number? (Yes, because it has only two factors: 1 and 13)

Question: Is 19 a prime number?

AI Response:

Yes, 19 is a prime number. Similar to example 2, 19 only has two factors: 1 and 19.

Current Applications of CoT Prompting:

CoT prompting is still under development, but it holds immense promise for various AI applications:

  • Explainable AI (XAI): By revealing the reasoning chain, CoT prompts can enhance the transparency of AI decisions, allowing users to understand the rationale behind the answer.
  • Educational AI Tutors: Imagine AI tutors using CoT prompts to not just give answers but also walk students through the thought process for solving problems.
  • Improved Reasoning Tasks: CoT prompts can improve the accuracy of reasoning-intensive tasks for LLMs, leading to more reliable AI systems.


Chain-Of-Thought prompting is a powerful tool for eliciting detailed and logical responses from AI. By guiding the AI to articulate its reasoning, users can gain deeper insights into problem-solving methods, making CoT an invaluable technique for both learning and practical applications in AI tools today.


Go and try some CoT prompting against Copilot, ChatGPT, Gemini, and other LLMs to see how the LLMs work with the same prompts. Remember the steps and get better at crafting your prompts to become a better Prompt Engineer or AI!


To look at some resources to get you started on CoT prompting, here are a few keywords you can explore:

  • “Chain-of-Thought Prompting” – General search term
  • “Reasoning with Chain-of-Thought Prompts” by Dan Hendrycks et al. (2020) – A research paper on the concept
  • “CoT Prompting for Improved Reasoning” – Search for articles or blog posts using this term

About Lance Lingerfelt

Lance Lingerfelt Profile Photo

Lance Lingerfelt is an M365 Specialist and Evangelist with over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field. Having worked in enterprise environments to small businesses, he is able to adapt and provide the best IT Training and Consultation possible. With a focus on AI, the M365 Stack, and Healthcare, he continues to give back to the community with training, public speaking events, and this blog.

Get E-Mail Updates
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Want to know when I post new content? Sign up here to get an email when I do post!
I despise spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.