Template for Pattern Writing


A pattern name should be a short, evocative word or phrase. Usually 1-3 words, occasionally longer. Succinctly titles the pattern for common reference and at the same time conveys (or at least hints at) the heart of the design instruction. Note:  For consistency, we use Canadian spellings for the patterns, such as "centre" and "honour." Do the best you can. Thanks.


What is the essential core of this pattern? Why is it important: what calling, purpose, or higher values are expressed through it? What possibilities does it open up? What needs does it satisfy? Two to four sentences in length; an abstract.

Guidance for writing good pattern "Hearts" (as established at Bowen fall 2010 session)

  1. Go to the core of the pattern
  2. Encompass the whole of it, rather than a subset or one example
  3. Address the questions "why" and "what" (at least partially), rather than when, where, who, how
  4. Be clear and coherent: direct, understandable language that even someone without much background in this field might be able to grasp
  5. Compose language that "sings" . . . feels alive or is evocative.

The limit for the Heart is 50 words, so it will fit onto a card and the concept will be easy to grasp given a quick read.

 A few other notes:

  • Form may vary.  Can include questions, statements, perhaps even a haiku if sufficiently well done. 
  • No quotations, bulleted lists, or definitions (these can be in the Description).
  • Avoid relying on another pattern title to convey the meaning of this pattern.   
  • Beware jargon or complex expression.


We've noticed that the images that most appeal to us are photographs (rather than diagrams or sketches, though those can still be useful in a pattern's description field), and include at least one person in the picture. We also like images that have a range of colours.  Some patterns lend themselves to more literal representations (e.g. Breaking Bread Together), while others may call for use of metaphor (e.g. Naming).

  • Image size should be at least 900 pixels wide and 600 pixels tall (3" x 2" at 300dpi) for use on the cards.
  • Horizontal images ("landscape orientation") work far better than vertical ones ("portrait") when it comes to the cards.  Vertically-oriented images may have to be cropped, or might not be able to get used at all.
  • Since we are publishing a card deck, images must allow for commercial useOne good way to fulfill that is to go to Creative Commons and tick the check box for "I want something I can use commercially."  If you are using a photo from another source, make sure there is clear permission from the creator of the image to use it for our project and publication. That said, in the U.S., it is not necessary to get permission of people to photograph them or publish their image, except in certain cases (e.g. flagrant invasion of privacy, a specific request that photos not be taken, showing them in a way that misrepresents them or impugns their character). For more details see:   http://www.andrewkantor.com/legalrights/Legal%20Rights%20of%20Photograph...

 Criteria to apply to each image:

  1. Beauty:  Evoke "the quality that has no name."
  2. Fit, Relevance:  Clearly pertain to the particular pattern they link with (specifically, they don't confuse the reader to the point they are distracting).
  3. Looks good printed at small card size. 

Criteria to apply to the set as a whole:

  1. Diversity of demographics (gender, age, ethnicity, group culture, etc.) and setting.
  2. More pictures of people in deliberative-type groups, fit our domain.
  3. Overall set of images works well together as a coherent whole.
  4. Significant proportion of images overall should portray groups of people.
  5. Significant proportion of images overall should be beautiful.
  6. Significant proportion of images overall should be a good fit.


Context: What is outside of this pattern that is relevant to it? Under what recurring circumstances might we apply it — the “if” for which this pattern is the “then.” What forces and constraints are worked in this pattern to produce the desired outcome?

Instructions: How does one use this pattern? Guidance designing or practicing this element in a group conversation. What users should know about it.

Variations (optional): Different ways the pattern might be implemented. May include specific, named techniques or formats that embody or apply this pattern.

Cautions & Caveats (optional): Potential misinterpretations, misuses, exceptions, over-applications and/or limitations of the pattern.


Patterns that are closely linked to this one, for example because they mutually support each other, or because one of them depends on the other or is a subset of it.


What best illustrates this pattern at work in group process? Offer one to three examples that bring the pattern to life, providing a sense of the range of possible solutions using the pattern. Could include songs, poems, videos, and other forms as well as written stories.


How to learn more about this pattern, including: people who have experienced it in use and can say what it is like; organizations, networks or individuals who can provide information or expertise about this pattern; other references – books, websites, articles, videos, bibliographies.


Anything else you want to say about the pattern. Could include:

  • Levels/Fractal: How does this pattern play out at various individual and collective/holonic levels (micro and macro)? In the hierarchy of patterns (from general to specific), what level is this pattern at? What category does it occupy with other patterns at its level?
  • Learning Edges: Reflective commentary at the borders of what is known about a pattern, its application, and its relationship to other patterns. May include instances where the pattern appears to break down, pose questions that arise in application, offer insight into unusual applications, etc.
  • Quote: Short, expressive statement that embodies or articulates this pattern (explicitly or implicitly), from a recognized authority, or an especially astute observer or advocate of the pattern.


See more about stages.


We've held a few events now where we've done pattern-writing in groups.  While some people feel fine writing patterns solo from home, given that we are writing a pattern language of group process it's not surprising that many of our collaborators find it more fun or effective to do the pattern writing live in groups.  Here is some of what we've learned so far about doing that.

We've found there tend to be several steps in the development process for each pattern.  Here is the sequence we naturally fell into during the April 2010 session at Bowen Island:

A. Initial brainstorming: An open-ended conversation of 2-4 people surfacing ideas and possibilities for this pattern (3 people seemed to be a particularly popular number).  Patterns selected based on who was excited to work on what.

  1. One person would volunteer to be notetaker.  Many of our notetakers used a starting document within a word-processing program listing the main categories of our template so that as people spoke their statements could be directly entered into the categories of:

    • Image Ideas
    • Heart & Description
    • Cautions & Caveats
    • Related Patterns
    • Resources
    • Other

    We tended to group Heart & Description together and then later pull out the most essential or resonant statement as the Heart.  While Cautions & Caveats is only an optional part of the description, we found ourselves listing it separately.

  2. In order to deal with the problem of losing content input from the notetaker, some of us started by having a few minutes during which the notetaker would think and write their own initial thoughts, and then we'd start the out-loud conversation by having them tell the others their input. 

  3. Sharing personal stories and experiences (some of which were outside the realm of group dynamics but could then be mined afterward for what would also apply in a group setting) was an important part of this. 
  4. Other patterns this one might relate to would be mentioned in the course of the conversation, often accompanied by an immediate sorting as to whether the relationship was strong and consistent enough to justify inclusion in the Related Patterns category of the template or whether it was a more occasional relationship that might come up in the Description or as an Example.  Sometimes new Potential Patterns were noted to be added to the brainstorm list.  Familiarity with the existing lists of Patterns and Potential Patterns obviously helps enormously in this, and we found that newcomers gained enough currency to do this after one full day of choosing patterns from the list and discussing them.
  5. After a while of open conversation, the notetaker or someone else would ask for the categories of that pattern that had not yet been filled in, and we'd then target the conversation specifically to fill those fields.
  6. This step took about 30-60 minutes per pattern.

B. Writing up the rough notes, if it wasn't done simultaneously with the initial conversation.  The notes need to be arranged into the proper categories of the template, and entered into the wiki.  It's also good to select the Heart at this point while the conversation is still fresh.  This is pretty much a one-person operation.

C. Polishing the notes:  Taking the draft text that was often in the form of incomplete sentences or bullet points and drafting it into complete sentences and paragraphs to express that pattern.  This also often includes tracking down correct links and references, or finding an actual visual to upload instead of just an idea for one.  Completing this step usually moves the pattern from Sprout to Bloom stage.  Probably best done by 1-2 people.

D. Editing the pattern:  Normally includes one or more newcomers to working on that pattern.  Looking the pattern over for language, clarity of expression, substitution of everyday words for process-geek jargon, seeing if the Name and Heart "sing," adding things that were missed, listing additional resources, and so on.  If you are doing group reviews of entered patterns live in-person, it helps to have a projector on hand that can hook up to someone's computer.

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