Skip to content

What is ‘grounding’ in Copilot?

Microsoft talks about ‘grounding a prompt’ in their Copilot AI system. What do they mean by ‘grounding’ and how it can help anyone get more from AI magic.

Grounding simply means telling Copilot to use a specific document or file to answer a question … as opposed to using general knowledge from the Internet or inside an organization.

‘Grounding a prompt’ in Copilot is the choice to providing the AI with specific, relevant information that is not part of its pre-trained knowledge. This helps to ensure the quality and accuracy of the AI’s output by incorporating or limiting context that is tailored to the user’s particular use-case. Grounding can significantly enhance the AI’s performance, making it more useful and effective for a wide range of tasks.

This applies mostly to paid Copilot plans which gives AI integration into the Office apps but it’s also an option in some free Copilot panes, see Use free Copilot to summarize Word documents

Opening Copilot in Word, Excel or PowerPoint the questions are automatically grounded in the current document for prompts like “Summarize this document” or asking a question about the document.

You can also ground a Copilot question or prompt in another document for example

“Using information in the document ‘Operation Hamburger planning.docx’  write a bullet-point summary no more than one page “

This will make a summary based only on the information in that document.

If you don’t choose a file or files, Copilot will use the information available. For organizations, that can be files saved in Microsoft Graph, shared OneDrive or SharePoint locations. In addition, Copilot might use publicly available information from the Internet.

OneDrive / SharePoint

For the moment, grounded documents have to be saved on OneDrive or SharePoint so Copilot can access them.

Locally saved documents too

Promised for May 2024 will be the ability to point to (ground) a Copilot prompt in a locally saved file (strictly speaking, a file not saved on Microsoft’s servers).

Using a file saved on your computer will be slower because the file has to be uploaded to Microsoft’s ‘cloud’ to be processed.

Free Copilot has grounding too

Prompt grounding isn’t limited to paid Copilot plans.

Copilot in a browser can summarize any web page, which is grounding though it’s not called that.

A recent change in the Copilot pane makes that clear with a menu prompt to choose between ‘Relevant Sources” meaning general information or “This page” using just the current web page.

Use grounding not just for summarising a page, also asking questions based on the information on that page. Here’s an example, getting a detail from our Office 2021 info page.

Write Excel formulas fast with free Copilot
Copilot in Office mobile apps for some
Copilot’s Legal Trap or what you’re giving to Microsoft
What’s the deal with Microsoft’s Copilot Copyright Commitment
Try Copilot AI two ways for less money or none
Two ways to pay for Office with Copilot

About this author

Office Watch is the independent source of Microsoft Office news, tips and help since 1996. Don't miss our famous free newsletter.