Archive for September, 2010

Hidden Formatting Problems

September 30, 2010

Today one of my colleagues came to me with a problem:

Section 1 and Section 2 of his report were on the first page, and there was plenty of room to start Section 3 on that same page, but Section 3 wanted to start on the next page, no matter what he tried. Section 3 seemed to have a mind of its own. So he handed the document over to me on a USB drive and asked for my help.

“HERE I come to save the DAY!”

(Remember the old Mighty Mouse cartoons on TV?)

The first thing I did was look for a hidden page break.

In Word, click on Format, then slide down to Reveal Formatting.

This will bring up a window on the right. Look at the very bottom and check the box that says “Show all formatting marks.” If you see a page break, then you can delete it.

The trouble was: there was no page break. Hmmmm…. The plot thickens.

I began to suspect a “Keep with next” code, but there wasn’t one visible.

It turns out that some of the paragraphs in Section 3 were formatted as Header 2 instead of Body Text, and lurking deep in that Header 2 format was – you guessed it! – a “Keep with next” code. I highlighted the offending paragraphs individually and clicked on Body Text format for each one, and voilà ! Section 3 marched back onto Page 1 where it belonged.

One of the keys to avoiding such formatting problems is to have your formats all lined up on the right. To do this, click Format and slide down to Styles and Formatting. Then you can highlight your first major heading and click on Heading 1 on the right. Highlight your paragraph text and click on Body Text on the right. Highlight your bullet list and click List Bullet on the right. Then you won’t need Mighty Mouse to come and save the day.


Orphans and Widows

September 29, 2010

Orphans and widows are single lines of text that are separated from the rest of the paragraph to which they belong by a page break, thereby stranding them all alone at the bottom of a page or the top of the next page. This happens even more frequently when there are multiple columns of text on a page.

Orphan = first line of a paragraph that gets cut off and stranded at the bottom of a page.

Widow = last line of a paragraph that gets cut off and stranded at the top of the next page.

How shall we remember which is which?

Well, think of an orphan as being abandoned early in the child’s life or near the “birth” of a paragraph, whereas a widow is abandoned late in life after the elderly paragraph “husband” dies on the previous page, leaving the widow to carry on all by herself.

How can we slay orphans and widows if they invade our page?

Some of the tricks I used when I was an oilfield technology magazine editor include:

  • Add an extra line space just before the orphan to force it over to the next page or column to be with its “family.” Sometimes I also used a column break or page break to do this.
  • Turn the hyphenation on or off or adjust the “kerning” or spacing between words to tighten or loosen the paragraph text.
  • Change the page margins slightly or change the font size by one point;
  • Add or subtract a few words in that paragraph or the one above it.
  • Change the size of the figure on the page.
  • And the favorite of magazine editors: add a pull-quote as “eye candy.”

Or, if you remember yesterday’s tip on keeping your bullets together in a bandolier, you can use the Format > Paragraph > Line and Page Breaks feature in Word to check the Widow/Orphan Control box, and let the software slay those pesky orphans and widows for you. That way, your conscience won’t bother you a bit.

Keeping It All Together

September 28, 2010

Have you ever been writing a multipage document and had a bullet list split up by a page break? Don’t you just hate that, especially when the warm-up with the colon is on one page and the bullets are on the next? Or when most of the bullets are on the first page and only one or two are on the next? Don’t you wish there was some kind of electronic holster to help you keep all your bullets together?

Well, here’s some good news, buckaroos. (Hey, that rhymes!) Microsoft Word has this cool feature called “Keep With Next” that will keep all the lines together that you specify and place them directly on top of the next page above the “next” paragraph or line.

Here’s how to do it: First select or highlight the lines you would like to keep together. Then click on Format at the top of the screen and drop down to Paragraph, and click that.

Then click on the second tab at the top where it says Line and Page Breaks.

Then check the boxes that say “Keep lines together” and “Keep with next.”

Hit OK, and POOF!

Your bullets are all lined up together in a row like a Mexican bandolier. Yee-Ha!

Units of Time

September 27, 2010

Sometimes units of time measurement are abbreviated, and sometimes they are not. As you may remember from Tip #57, “Units of Measure,” time units are abbreviated differently in the English and Metric systems:

Units of Time English Metric
Second sec s
Minute min min
Hour hr h
Day D d
Year / Annum yr a

When a unit of measure contains an element or factor of time along with another unit of measure, abbreviate the time unit of measure.


ft/hr,  m/h;  ft/sec, m/s;  ft3/D, m3/d;  tons/yr, tonnes/a

However, when a unit of time measure stands all by itself after a numeral, spell it out.


3 seconds, 4 minutes, 5 hours, 6 days, 7 years

If you are using a word rather than a numeral, spell out the unit of measure, even if it has more elements than just time in it


several feet per second, a few meters per day

Exception: when the unit of measure is a really long phrase like “several standard cubic feet per day.” For that, you may use “several scf/D,” according to the SPE Style Guide.

Buzzwords and Business Jargon

September 22, 2010

Some words are used so often in business that they become cliché. How many times have you heard or read these words just today?

mission critical

offline (after the meeting)



resource (verb)



out of the box

touch base

new initiative


core competency



fast-track (ever hear of slow-track?)


brainstorming / blamestorming

scalable / sustainable

skill set

change management



Oy, veh! Reading too many of these in one sitting just makes you want to barf. 

Try to use them sparingly, both in your writing and in meetings and conference calls.

And if you have certain colleagues or managers who regularly engage in buzzword overuse, try playing Business Buzzword Bingo at your next meeting.

The following website has a Bingo card functionality (oops!) that will generate unique playing cards to help you play Buzzword Bingo.

The BINGO square in the middle is a free space or wildcard. Just put an X in the box when each word is used, and the first person to get five in a row (either up, down, or diagonally) yells “BINGO!” and wins the game.

Side Benefit: Everyone will be hanging onto every word during the meeting, rather than texting or answering emails on their BlackBerrys. (Yes, that is the accepted plural for the smart phone, not BlackBerries, as it is a trademarked name.)

Affect vs. Effect

September 21, 2010

Because “affect” and “effect” sound almost the same, they are easily confused.

Affect is usually a verb meaning “to influence” or have an effect on something.

Example: Pressure affects the solubility of gas in oil.

Effect is usually a noun meaning “a result.”

Example: Pressure has a direct effect on gas solubility.

Fun Fact: These two examples illustrate Henry’s Law. Who was Henry?

William Henry (1774-1836) was an English chemist who discovered that the amount of gas that dissolves in a liquid is proportional to the partial pressure of the gas over the liquid (provided no chemical reaction takes place).

Now, back to our discussion of affect vs. effect.

Just because affect is usually a verb and effect is usually a noun, that doesn’t mean that affect can’t be a noun and effect can’t be a verb. It’s just a rare occasion.

Affect as a noun is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable: AFF-ect. It is usually used in psychology to mean “an emotion” or “feeling.” Think: affection.

Example: The change in her affect must have been caused by falling in love.

Effect as a verb means “to bring about” or “to accomplish.”

Example: I ran for the school board in 1992 because I honestly thought I could effect some positive changes in our school district, but I was only one of seven board members.

Now let’s venture into the realm of adjectives.

Affective, the adjective, means “relating to or arousing an emotional reaction” or “acting with a certain feeling.”

Example: His winter melancholy was diagnosed as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Effective, the adjective, means “has the right effect,” or “goes into effect.”


Crosswell tomography is an effective way to monitor steam front movement.

The new social media policy is effective immediately.

Geography and Geology Capitalization

September 20, 2010

The SPE Style Guide has several rules for capitalizing names of locations, both regional and geological.

Titles of major bodies of land and water are capitalized:

Gulf of Mexico, North Sea, Indian Ocean, Death Valley, South Padre Island, Middle East

Real properties and legal entities are also capitalized:

Platform C, South Swan Hills Unit

However, general directions and general locations are not capitalized:

east Texas, western Alberta, offshore Africa, midcontinent region

Capitalize geologic ages, including leading adjectives:

Mesozoic, Lower Permian, Upper Jurassic

But do not capitalize geologic formations, such as:

basin – Campos basin

belt – Orinoco belt

delta – Nile delta

field – Woolybutt field in Australia, the funniest field name ever!

formation – Kareem formation

play – Bakken play

pool – Keg River F pool

reservoir – Gharif reservoir

sand – Milk River sand

shale – Marcellus shale

trend – Spraberry trend

zone – Lower Ratawi zone

There are two exceptions to the above rule: Permian Basin and Overthrust Belt.

Font Color in Email

September 17, 2010

Question from the Peanut Gallery today:

“What color font needs to be used when you are writing emails to a person in a higher position? Some say it doesn’t matter, and others say it is better to use black. To my knowledge, it is always best to use only black or blue. Kindly advise us as to what is right.”

As always, the answer is: “That depends.”

There are three things you should consider when making the judgment about what color font to use in any document, whether it be email, PowerPoint slides or printed in hardcopy form.

1)      Readability – You want enough contrast between the background and the text so that the reader’s eyes don’t have to work too hard to figure out what the letters and numbers are. If the background is white, then black or dark blue offer the most contrast for type clarity. However, if the background is blue, don’t use red, which is incredibly hard to read. I’ve seen this combination in several PowerPoint slideshows, and it drives my eyes buggy. Use white or yellow instead.

2)      Reproducibility – If your document is ever going to be faxed, scanned, or photocopied, then black is the font color of choice on a white background.

3)      Flavor – If you want to establish your personal image as an out-of-the-box thinker and unique individual, you might choose to use a violet or purple font color. If you’re a florist with a green thumb, perhaps a dark green font would convey that subtly to the reader. If a serious business image is your aim, then choose black or navy blue.

Let me tell you a little personal story about red font color in an email. When I was telecommuting at one magazine job, I did most of my communication with the office-based management via email. One subscriptions report prepared by the Vice President and circulated to the whole staff had some numbers that didn’t seem to add up. I did a “Reply to All” and highlighted the numbers in question in a red font in the email to make them stand out from the other numbers. Well, the VP took offense and got really miffed, and our working relationship was never the same after that.

Moral of the story: red ink is bad; black ink is good – especially in business!

The Ellipsis

September 15, 2010

What is an ellipsis? Ellipses (plural) are formed by three periods in a row, and they are mainly used to indicate that some verbiage has been omitted from a quotation.


“O, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou . . . and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”

Traditionally, the ellipsis is formed with a period-space-period-space-period, with a full space on either side of it. However, in the digital world, you can run into problems with this form because the three periods might become split up during line wrapping. Therefore, I would advise using the Autocorrect option in Word to substitute an ellipsis symbol (…), which is Unicode 2026, for the dot-space-dot-space-dot. This will help keep all your ducks, I mean dots, in a row.

Sometimes your omitted verbiage falls at the beginning or end of a sentence, near a comma, or between two sentences, rather than in the middle of a sentence.

If the omission is at the end of the sentence, use an ellipsis and period (four dots, no spaces):

“Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or if thou wilt not….”

If the omission is before a comma in midsentence, use an ellipsis and comma (no space before the ellipsis):

“Deny thy father…, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”

If the omission is after a comma, keep a space on either side of the ellipsis:

“O Romeo, … art thou Romeo?”

If the omitted verbiage is at the end of a question, use an ellipsis and ? (no spaces):

“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore…?”

If the omission is one or more sentences between two full sentences, use a period at the end of the first sentence, then a space followed by the ellipsis, then another space before the second sentence.

An ellipsis is sometimes used to indicate a pause in a quoted speech. It can also be used instead of an em-dash to indicate an unfinished thought in dialogue, or a trailing off in mid-sentence into silence.

Here’s an example I find myself saying more often the older I get:

“I came into this room to….”

One more rule: Never use an ellipsis to indicate “etc.”

Idiomatic Expressions

September 14, 2010

An idiom is a phrase that conveys a different meaning than the individual words would imply, given their official definition in a dictionary.

One such idiomatic expression is:

It’s raining cats and dogs outside.

Obviously, there are not multiple domestic animals falling out of the sky, but it’s raining so hard that it commands your attention as if cats and dogs were raining down upon you.

Idiomatic expressions can certainly make your writing more colorful, but you have to be careful, because some people from other countries, cultures, or native languages may not be familiar with that phrase and may mistake its meaning.

This is particularly true in the oil industry, where virtual teams from different lands and languages often work together on a project.

Here is a valuable resource for those who may run across an unfamiliar idiomatic expression:

This website lists 3,416 idioms used in the English language, along with their meanings.

Here are a few examples that could be misinterpreted:

Make a mint = make a lot of money, not manufacture an after-dinner confection

Save face = protect one’s reputation, not wear a protective face shield

Fire away = you are free to ask questions, not shoot a gun at me or place a flame at a distance

If you are thinking about using an idiom in your writing, first consider your audience and whether they are likely to understand it.

If they share the same culture and language as you, then go ahead and give it a whirl (= try it).

If your audience is more international in composition, consider rewording the sentence — without using idioms — to make your meaning clear.