These notes were first presented at The Developing Group, 4 September 2010
and a shortened version was presented to the NLP Conference, Nov 2010.
Modelling the Written Word
Penny Tompkins and James Lawley
2. Cleaning up a questionnaire: 'Yale University Learning & Development Inventory'
3. Modelling a first-person description: 'The Shy Person'
4. Modelling a research interview: 'Work-Life Balance'
5. Modelling a meeting: 'Food & Drug Advisory Committee'
Our interest in this topic goes back to our early work with David Grove where he taught us to “parse” and “muse” on sentences. The verb ‘to parse’ is defined as “to analyse (a sentence) into its parts and describe their syntactic roles”.
David would have a client write a sentence on a flip chart and the training group under his guidance would aim, as he put it, to discern the "intelligence between the lines" i.e. to make explicit what is implicit in the logic of the client's words (and later, the way they had written those words, which he called Hieroglyphics). As we saw it, his parsing and musing was a way of deconstructing the sentence and constructing a model of the organization of the client's model of the world.
We described how we parsed, mused on and constructed a model of single sentences in our articles 'The Emergence of Background Knowledge
' (1998) and ‘A Model of Musing: The Message in a Metaphor
’ (2002). From single sentences we worked our way up to complete client-therapist transcripts.
Since then we have extended the modelling process to advise on company change announcements (Did the announcement send the intended message to the employees?); an Food and Drug Administration meeting (Was the Chair equitable and careful his questions were answered?); an analysis of clinical drug-trial directors (How could best-practice be assessed?); a questionnaire for the Yale University Child Development Study; and academic research on work-life balance to name but a few. Purpose
Our aim in this paper is to document the value of modelling the written word with a clean and metaphor perspective. To do this we:
Kinds of written word we have modelled
- Summerise the kinds of texts that we have modelled
- Provide examples of how we modelled these texts
- Some general guidelines for others to use.
It is important to note that the written word can be modelled for either the organisation of content, or the process of author producing the content, or both. In a recent academic research project James modelled the transcripts of interviewees for:
Information about work-life balance
How the interviewees were answering the questions
How the interviewer was asking the questions
Below is a summary of some of the types of texts we have modelled. In particular we highlight examples which give insights into the process of our modelling.Single Statement/questions
The articles mentioned above show how we modelled the following client statements:Questionnaires
Letter to staff
Dr. Michael Ben-Avie, research affiliate of the Yale University Child Study Center, and Trudy Steinfield, education
researcher, invited us to review their Learning and
Development Inventory (LDI), a questionnaire containing 125
items which was to be administered to thousands of high school students in the
USA. We offered suggestions for improvement from a 'clean' perspective. Afterwards we
reviewed our comments and defined the criteria we had used to make our
See later in this paper for sample questions from the LDI and our suggested improvements
We were asked to comment on an important 'position statement' from senior management to their staff. We were asked, if from staff viewpoint the letter was congruence with previous pronouncements and the companies espoused values – it wasn't.Transcripts of 1:1 therapy/coaching
We have modelled and annotated over a hundred transcripts of client sessions – often as part of therapist and coach supervision.
Examples of our modelling of our own client sessions can be seen at:
An annotated transcript of a full session about Acceptance
The session on our DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation,
is accompanied by a 36-page booklet with a full transcript and unique three-perspective explanatory annotation is available online
See later in this paper for a step-by-step guide to our modelling of 'The Shy Person
' from The Guardian
Lawley J, Meyer M, Meese R, Sullivan W and Tosey P.
More than a Balancing Act?: 'Clean Language' as an innovative method for exploring work-life balance, October 2010. Report of the University of Surrey and Clean Change Company's research:
To explore how Clean Language could generate insights into the experience
of individual participants, and into understandings of the nature of work-life balance
generally, through its capacity for eliciting participant-generated
To test the application of Clean Language as a research methodology.
Process/Technique Modelling Shared Reality
A two-day Food and Drug Administration (FDA) meeting in which 59 people participated and the transcript ran to 737 pages was modelled for patterns in meeting protocol. The full report can be downloaded
at the end of this paper.
A project is in progress to document the work of the late Stefan Ouboter into modelling groups perceptions. A key element in the process is the use of transcripts of interviews with a diverse range of 'representative people'. An early project involved using minewater for community heating
in Holland and Scotland.
For a number of articles on modelling, including
How to do a Modelling Project
Modelling Robert Dilts Modelling
Introducing Modelling to Organisations
Symbolic Modelling: an overview
What is Therapeutic Modelling?