Navigating the Challenges of Hallucinations in LLM Applications: Strategies and Techniques for Enhanced Accuracy

Ali Arsanjani
12 min readNov 20, 2023


The phenomenon of hallucinations in Large Language Models (LLMs) presents a unique challenge in the realm of artificial intelligence and machine learning. As researchers and developers seek to refine these models for more accurate and reliable outputs, understanding and addressing the issue of hallucinations becomes paramount. This blog post delves into the various strategies and techniques that can mitigate hallucinations in LLMs, enhancing their effectiveness and dependability. Understanding the nature of these hallucinations is crucial, as they can range from minor inaccuracies to significant misinterpretations, impacting the model’s usefulness in practical applications. By examining and applying various methods, we can navigate and address these challenges, paving the way for more advanced and reliable LLMs.

Hallucinations in LLMs

Hallucinations in LLMs refer to the phenomenon of generating outputs that are factually incorrect or contextually inappropriate. These errors can occur due to various factors, such as:

  • Vague or overly broad prompts. When prompts lack specificity, LLMs may struggle to understand the intended context and generate irrelevant or inaccurate responses.
  • Limited domain knowledge. LLMs trained on general-purpose datasets may lack the expertise to accurately generate text in specific domains, leading to hallucinations.
  • Insufficient training data. Without adequate exposure to high-quality training data, LLMs may not develop a robust understanding of language patterns and relationships, increasing the likelihood of hallucinations.
  • Uncertainty in language. Language is inherently ambiguous, and LLMs may sometimes struggle to interpret subtle nuances and generate outputs that align with the intended meaning.
“Hallucinations: What exists out there, what is in the beholder’s mind, what the other person hears and what they communicate”: Image generated by author

Reducing hallucinations in large language models (LLMs) is an ongoing area of research, and there is no single solution that will eliminate them entirely. However, there are a number of techniques that can be used to mitigate the problem, including:

  • Provide richer context. LLMs are more likely to hallucinate when they are given prompts that are too open-ended or ambiguous. Providing more context in the form of additional information or constraints can help the LLM to focus on the task at hand and generate more accurate and relevant output.
  • Apply domain adaptation. LLMs that are trained on large amounts of domain-specific data are less likely to hallucinate when generating text in that domain. This is because they have a better understanding of the patterns and relationships that are relevant to the domain.
  • Fine-tune or Parameter-efficient fine tune for the atsk or domain. Fine-tuning is a technique that involves training an LLM on a smaller dataset of data that is specifically tailored to the task at hand or the specific industry domain. This can drastically improve the model’s accuracy and reduce its tendency to hallucinate.
  • RAG it. RAG is a technique that augments the prompt with additional information that is passed to the LLM, often by accessing a vector database of text or code. This allows the context window tobe augmented by near real time data so the model tends to hallucinate less. Additionally, Extensions allow the model to access and retrieve relevant information from a database or API then apssing the additional context, in addition to the prompt, to the model.
  • Use reasoning and iterative querying. Reasoning and iterative querying are techniques that can be used to help LLMs to reason about their responses and identify potential hallucinations. This can be done by asking the LLM to provide evidence for its claims or by asking it to generate alternative explanations for its observations.
  • Increase the specificity and clarity of your prompts. Specificity will help provide richer and more specific instructions, allowing the model to be guided with less ambiguity of the intended outcome or downstream task(s).
  • Use examples; few-shot , in-context learning. If you can, provide the LLM with examples of the type of output you want it to generate. This will help it to understand your expectations and reduce the likelihood of hallucinations.
  • Break down complex tasks into simpler steps. If you are asking the LLM to perform a complex task, break it down into smaller, simpler steps. This will make it easier for the LLM to understand the task and reduce the likelihood of hallucinations.
  • Chain-of-thought: CoT It. Ask the model to explain the steps it took to arrive at the answer, this will allow you to evaluate the micro steps it took to arrive at the completion.
  • Diversify the information sources used for factual grounding. When evaluating the output of an LLM, it is important to use a variety of sources, such as human experts, other LLMs, and external data. This will help you to identify potential hallucinations and increase the likelihood that you are getting the most accurate information possible.

Below, we will be further refining these bullet points. Using the patterns and techniques below, we can help reduce the hallucinations in LLMs and build more more reliable LLM Applications.

1. Contextual Clarity: A Key to Precision

Hallucinations in LLMs often stem from vague or overly broad prompts. This reduces the signal of instruction and increases the information entropy of the input data.

Providing clear, specific and detailed context is a strong step in guiding models towards generating more contextually relevant and accurate responses. By incorporating not only specific information but constraints, we can significantly sharpen the focus of LLMs and thus diminish the production of irrelevant or erroneous outputs. This approach not only guides the LLM in understanding the prompt better but also anchors its responses to the given context, reducing the likelihood of deviating into unrelated territories through equal likelihood. In addition, providing context helps in aligning the model’s responses with the user’s expectations, ensuring that the output is not only accurate but also relevant and useful for the intended purpose.

2. Domain Adaptation: Tailoring for Relevance

Training LLMs with substantial domain-specific data greatly minimizes hallucinations in text generation within that particular domain. This specialized training equips the models with a deeper understanding of relevant patterns and relationships, thus enhancing their domain-specific accuracy. The key here is the deep immersion of the model in the specific nuances, terminologies, ontologies and patterns of the domain, which enables it to generate outputs that are not only more likely to be factually correct but also, importantly, contextually appropriate. Domain adaptation helps in filtering out irrelevant information — denoising — from the vast general knowledge base, focusing the model’s attention and resources on the specific area of interest, thereby reducing the scope for hallucinative errors.

3. Fine-Tuning: The Path to Enhanced Accuracy

Fine-tuning (full fine tuning or parameter -efficient fine tuning) involves training an LLM on a curated, smaller dataset, specifically designed for a targeted domain, industry or task. This process refines the model’s ability to produce more precise responses and reduces its tendency to generate baseless information.

Fine-tuning allows for a more focused learning experience, where the model is exposed to high-quality, relevant data that directly pertains to the specific tasks it will perform. This targeted approach not only improves the accuracy of the model but also enhances its recall : its efficiency, as the model becomes more adept at recognizing and processing information relevant to the task. Additionally, fine-tuning can be continuously adjusted and optimized as new data becomes available, allowing the model to stay up-to-date and relevant in rapidly evolving fields.

4. Retrieval-Augmented Generation (RAG)

Enhancing the prompt with External Data. RAG is an approach that leverages external sources in real time often stored as embeddings in a vector database . This integration allows the LLM to receive pertinent information prior to text generation, thereby reducing hallucinations by focusing its responses on relevant existing data.

RAG essentially provides a safety net for the LLM, ensuring that its outputs are not solely reliant on its training but also on additional data that is even more current, relevant or was just out of the domain of the data used in training the model.

This method is particularly effective in situations where accuracy and factual correctness are paramount, such as in scientific research or news reporting. The ability of RAG to pull in external data adds a layer of depth and richness to the LLM’s responses, making them more informative and comprehensive.

This retrieval augmentation, functions by maintaining a vector database that stores representations of text and code segments. When generating text, the LLM can query this database to retrieve relevant information based on the context of the prompt. This retrieved information then serves as additional input for the LLM, guiding it towards generating more accurate and consistent outputs.

By incorporating this external knowledge, the LLM can overcome limitations in its own training data, reducing the likelihood of generating hallucinations. Additionally, RAG’s ability to access and process external information in real-time allows it to adapt its responses to the specific context of the query, enhancing its versatility and applicability.

The benefits of RAG extend beyond reducing hallucinations.

By incorporating external knowledge, RAG can also enhance the creativity and informativeness of LLM outputs. For instance, when generating creative text formats, RAG can provide the model with examples of similar works, inspiring it to produce more original and engaging content. Similarly, when answering factual questions, RAG can be used to access relevant data from multiple external sources, further ensuring that the model’s responses are comprehensive and accurate.

Methods for Improving RAG

Retrieval-Augmented Generation combines neural generative models with a retrieval component, have shown promising results in a variety of natural language processing tasks. There are cases where standard nearest neighbor search methods may not yield optimal results. To address these challenges, various research studies and approaches have been proposed.

Note that the way in which data is stored in the Vector DB, and the embeddings themselves all contribute to the collective quality of the Retrieval.

Here are some strategies for optimizing RAG, especially in scenarios where normal nearest neighbor search has been seem to underperform.

  • Improved Embedding Techniques: One approach is to enhance the quality of embeddings used for retrieval. This can be achieved by using more sophisticated embedding methods, such as contextualized embeddings from transformer models. Improved embeddings can capture more nuanced relationships between query and documents, enhancing the retrieval accuracy.
  • Re-ranking Strategies: After retrieving a set of candidate documents, re-ranking them based on more fine-grained criteria can improve results. This involves using additional features or models to assess the relevance of each retrieved document to the query more accurately. Context-Aware Reranking dynamically adjust the relevance of retrieved information based on the specific context of the query. This technique prioritizes the most relevant and informative data for each task, further enhancing the accuracy and consistency of LLM outputs.
  • Cross-Encoder Fine-Tuning: Using a cross-encoder model, which considers the query and document jointly for embedding, can improve retrieval quality. This method allows for more context-aware representations. However; it can be more computationally expensive.
  • Hybrid Retrieval Approaches: Combining traditional keyword-based retrieval with semantic search can offer a more robust solution. This hybrid approach can capture both explicit and implicit aspects of the query.
  • Interactive Retrieval Models: Implementing interactive models where the system refines its understanding of the user’s intent based on feedback can enhance retrieval results. This approach can be particularly effective in complex or ambiguous query scenarios.
  • Domain-Specific Tuning: Tailoring the retrieval model to specific domains or types of data can significantly improve performance. This involves training or fine-tuning the model on domain-specific datasets to better understand the nuances of that particular field.
  • Multi-Stage Retrieval Processes: Employing a multi-stage retrieval process, where an initial coarse retrieval is followed by more refined searches, can balance efficiency and accuracy.
  • Using External Knowledge Bases: Integrating additional external knowledge bases into the retrieval process can provide additional context and information, improving the relevance of the retrieved documents.
  • Machine Learning Optimization Techniques. Techniques like reinforcement learning with human feedback or evolutionary algorithms can be used to optimize the retrieval component of RAG models, especially in dynamically changing environments or datasets.
  • Advanced Indexing and Search Algorithms. Employing sophisticated indexing and search algorithms enables RAG to efficiently retrieve relevant information from the vast knowledge base. These algorithms ensure that the LLM has access to the most up-to-date and accurate information for each query.
  • Continuous Learning and Improvement. Continuously monitoring and evaluating RAG model performance identifies areas for improvement and enables the implementation of refinements accordingly. This iterative approach ensures that RAG models remain at the forefront of performance and effectiveness.

These approaches blend algorithmic innovation, model fine-tuning, and leveraging external resources of knowledge. Your choice of these methods will often depend on the specific use-case, desired business outcomes, dataset characteristics, and computational constraints.

5. Reasoning and Iterative Querying

In a way this is a method of Refining Thought Processes, or commonly designated as “as-a-thought” set of research paradigms [1].

Employing reasoning and iterative querying can assist LLMs in critically evaluating their responses and identifying potential inaccuracies. Techniques like requesting evidence for claims or generating alternate explanations can be instrumental in this process. This method encourages the LLM to engage in a more thorough analysis of its outputs, prompting it to consider multiple perspectives and validate its conclusions.

The iterative aspect of this approach is particularly beneficial, as it allows the LLM to refine its responses through a series of checks and balances, gradually eliminating errors and inconsistencies. Additionally, this technique fosters a deeper level of understanding and reasoning within the model, enhancing its ability to handle complex queries and provide well-rounded, logical responses.

6. Precision in Prompts

Specificity in prompts drastically reduces the chances of hallucinations. By crafting prompts that are clear and direct, users can guide the LLM towards the intended topic or task, reducing the likelihood of irrelevant or off-topic responses. This approach is particularly useful in applications where the accuracy of information is critical, such as in educational or professional settings.

7. Utilizing Examples

Providing examples of desired outputs can guide LLMs in understanding expectations and minimizing errors. Examples serve as concrete references that the model can emulate, helping it to grasp the tone, style, and substance of the expected response. This technique is especially effective in creative tasks, where the desired outcome may be more subjective and less defined.

8. Simplifying Complex Tasks

Breaking down intricate tasks into simpler components can enhance the LLM’s comprehension and accuracy. This approach makes complex problems more manageable for the model, allowing it to focus on one aspect at a time and build up to the final solution in a structured manner. It also reduces the cognitive load on the model, minimizing the chances of errors due to overwhelming complexity.

9. Diverse Source Verification

Cross-referencing LLM outputs with various sources, including human experts, other models, and external data, is crucial for detecting hallucinations and ensuring reliability. This practice not only provides a check against the model’s accuracy but also introduces different perspectives and insights, enriching the overall quality of the output.

Call to Action

Mitigating hallucinations in LLMs is a multifaceted challenge that requires a combination of specialized techniques and general best practices. By implementing these strategies, we can significantly enhance the reliability and trustworthiness of LLM Application, paving the way for their more effective and accurate application in multiple industry domains.

Note on Hallucination Metrics and Benchmarks.

Designing benchmarks and metrics for measuring and assessing hallucination is much needed endeavor. However, recent work in the commercial domain without extensive peer reviews can lead to misleading results and interpretations. For example, it is important to note the date when the testing was actually conducted, which version of the models was actually used in the benchmark — as models tend to improve periodically in successive versions.

For example, in a recent LLM hallucination benchmark, the focus tends to be solely on the factual consistency of summaries, overlooking the overall quality of the generated content, somewhat akin to the “Helpfulness vs Safety” trade-off, where extreme accuracy can lead to unhelpful outputs. This method seems to employ another LLM as a judge, yet lacks clarity on the judging process and its alignment with human judgement and reasoning, raising questions about the effectiveness of that method.

This approach may unfairly disadvantage more sophisticated models that paraphrase or distill information, as they might be penalized in favor of simpler models that merely replicate text. Such a narrow evaluation framework underscores the need for a more comprehensive understanding of these benchmarks, highlighting the dangers of drawing conclusions without a thorough examination of the underlying protocols, reminiscent of the missteps in a retracted ArXiv paper.

Annotated References

Let’s explore some references for the use of reasoning and iterative querying to refine thought processes in LLMs. These demonstrate the growing interest in using reasoning and iterative querying to refine thought processes in LLMs. They show the potential to make LLMs more accurate, reliable, and versatile.

Wei, Jason, et al. “Chain of Thought Prompting: Guiding Large Language Models to Follow Reasoning Chains.” arXiv preprint arXiv:2201.11903 (2022).

This paper introduces Chain-of-Thought (CoT) prompting, that guides LLMs to follow reasoning chains by explicitly asking for them to provide intermediate steps in the reasoning process. CoT prompting can significantly improve the accuracy of LLMs on a variety of reasoning tasks as shown above.

Jiang, Hao, et al. “Unraveling the Power of Chain-of-Thought Prompting in Large Language Models.” KDNuggets (2023).

This provides an overview of CoT prompting and discusses its potential applications .

Wang, Jinwo, et al. “Towards Understanding Chain-of-Thought Prompting: An Empirical Study of What Matters.” ACL Anthology (2023).

This paper conducts an empirical study that investigates the factors that contribute to the effectiveness of CoT prompting. The authors find that the quality of the intermediate steps provided to the LLM is a key factor, and they propose a number of techniques for generating high-quality intermediate steps.

Zhang, Jing, et al. “Automating Chain-of-Thought Prompting.” arXiv preprint arXiv:2205.12154 (2022).

This paper proposes a method for automatically generating CoT prompts, which can significantly reduce the manual effort required to use CoT prompting. The authors demonstrate that their method can be used to improve the accuracy of LLMs on a variety of reasoning tasks.

Shen, Tao, et al. “Skeleton-of-Thought: A Framework for Guiding Large Language Models to Generate Coherent and Informative Text.” arXiv preprint arXiv:2209.06798 (2022).

This paper introduces Skeleton-of-Thought (SoT) prompting, a technique that guides LLMs to generate coherent and informative text by providing them with a skeleton of the text to generate. The authors show that SoT prompting can significantly improve the fluency and informativeness of LLM-generated text.



Ali Arsanjani

Director Google, AI/ML & GenAI| EX: WW Tech Leader, Chief Principal AI/ML Solution Architect, AWS | IBM Distinguished Engineer and CTO Analytics & ML