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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

1. Background
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.

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:
  • Summerise the kinds of texts that we have modelled
  • Provide examples of how we modelled these texts
  • Some general guidelines for others to use.

Kinds of written word we have modelled

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:


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 recommendations.

See later in this paper for sample questions from the LDI and our suggested improvements.

Letter to staff

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:

A two-session annotated transcript, Jewel of Choice.

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.

We have used embodied schema in a client transcript as a way of modelling.

See also the three annotated transcripts at the back of Metaphors in Mind.

[See also James' short blog, Analysing Transcripts – the 3-paned window method]

Exemplar Modelling

We have provided an extensive report of our Modelling of Robert Dilts Modelling which includes our modelling of the transcript of the interview.

First-person accounts

See later in this paper for a step-by-step guide to our modelling of 'The Shy Person' from The Guardian.

Academic Research

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 (autogenic) metaphors.
  • To test the application of Clean Language as a research methodology.
Download report from: Clean_Language_WLB_final_report_October_2010.pdf

Download the paper Paul Tosey presented at the 12th International Conference on HRD Research and Practice across Europe, University of Gloucestershire, 25th–27th May 2011:


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.


See our models of David Grove’s use of Clean Language, and the evolution of the model.

Modelling Shared Reality

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?


Penny Tompkins & James Lawley
Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – first registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy in 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. James has also written (with Marian Way) the first book dedicated to Clean Space: Insights in Space. Between them Penny and James have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:
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