Archive for March, 2011

Citing References in the Text

March 29, 2011

I had the privilege this past weekend of judging the Technical Writing Contest held in conjunction with the Science Engineering Fair of Houston. Although I was judging the junior level (middle school pre-teens), some of these students wrote better papers than some degreed professionals I know.

One of the failings that sprang up in quite a few of those papers, however, was failing to cite referenced material in the text itself. There was a nice list of references – formatted properly – at the end of the paper, but there was no way to tell which parts of the paper came from which references. Those papers without citations in the text did not make the top five considered for prizes.

To cite references in the text, according to the SPE Style Guide, use the first author’s last name followed by the year of publication in parentheses, then provide a list of references (alphabetized by last name) at the end of the paper. SPE used to require that references be numbered in the order mentioned in the paper using superscript numerals, but ever since SPE papers began to be stored online for searching and purchasing purposes, superscripts didn’t always translate properly to electronic format, particularly when scanned.

Example of citation in the text:

In his OTC presentation, Economides (2007) stated that the imbalance in the location of energy producers and consumers would cause geopolitical upheavals in the future.

Example of corresponding listing in the references:

Economides, M.J. 2007. Energy Security: A Geopolitical Perspective. Paper OTC 19046 presented at the Offshore Technology Conference, Houston, Texas, 30 April–3 May.

Q: What if there is more than one paper by the author(s) that same year?

A: Cite it in the text using an “a” and “b” after the year inside the parentheses.


Hawking and Bousso (1996a, 1996b) theorized about the evolution of black holes during inflation.

Finally, multiple consecutive references included in the same pair of parentheses should be separated by semicolons.


Several studies have been done modeling asphaltene deposition and the resulting damage to the formation and to production equipment (Leontaritis and Mansoori 1987; Leontaritis 1989; Leontaritis et al. 1994).

Reference Citations – Titles

March 28, 2011

I recently saw a reference citation that was formatted and punctuated thusly:
“The Long Title of the Petroleum Engineering Textbook.”
If you told me that was a bit of overkill, I would tell you that was an understatement.

You see, using all three methods of setting off a title in a citation, i.e., “quotation marks,” italics and underlining, is a bit much. One method will suffice. But which one?

The Engineer’s Standard Answer: That depends.

For the titles of short works (white papers) or for the titles of short pieces of longer works (chapters in a book or presentations in a conference proceedings volume), quotation marks are used. The preferred method for titles of long works is italics, but if that method is not practical or available (software does not support italics), then underlining should be used.

For example, if the toolpusher gets inspired to write a poem, “Ode to the Rathole,” he would put the title in double quotes. Then let’s say this poem is so moving that it inspires the roustabout, the mud logger, the driller, and the company man to write poems of their own. They may want to publish them all together in a book – an anthology – titled Ratholes, Doghouses, and Christmas Trees. However, they all typed their poems on a manual Remington typewriter (remember those?), which doesn’t have italics. So when the company man composes the cover letter to be sent to his buddy, the Gulf Publishing editor, who will decide whether or not to publish the book, he will suggest that the title be Ratholes, Doghouses, and Christmas Trees.

References are arguably the most difficult aspect of technical writing because they are done at the very end, usually when the deadline has already passed. So for the next few Tips of the Day we will be covering how to do references properly, working our way to Tip #200, which will be a special treat!

Conversating, Observating, and Donator

March 23, 2011

There I was, sitting in my pew during the church meeting, listening intently to the sermon, when the man speaking at the podium used a word that made me cringe:

Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to cringe during a sermon, because those who see it may start talking about you after the service. They may whisper:
“There I was, observating during the sermon, and what did I see? Sister Perdue actually cringed during the talk! I wonder what she must have done recently to wince like that!”

That, of course, would make me cringe a second time – not because of a guilty conscience, but because there is no such word as “observating.” The correct word is “observing.” And my reason for cringing in the first place was that “conversating” is not a word, either. The correct word is “conversing.”

The next day I was reading the newspaper and saw a headline with the word “Donator” in it, and being on a cringing binge, I cringed again because the word should have been “donor.” Now, it turns out that “donator” is actually in the dictionary, with a single word definition of “donor,” but the dictionary entry for “donor” has a far more extensive definition, which means it is the preferred term for that concept.

It seems to be a word fad to generate new words by adding different suffixes to a recognizable root, much like the “nounage” tip I shared a month or so ago. Apparently the ending “-ating” can be added to this growing list of suffix sins I must suffer­­­.

Waking Up at 0600 Hours

March 16, 2011

Several tips ago we discussed time formats and expressions of time ranges. These were in 12-hour formats.
Sometimes 24-hour time formats are used, particularly in the travel and military industries.
For example, the Society of Petroleum Engineers uses 24-hour time expressions for all of its international events. The SPE Style Guide says that there should be four digits with no punctuation when using this format.
Use the word “hours” after the number when using a sentence, but not in a list of times.

BTW, 0600 hours is pronounced “oh-six-hundred” hours.

On work days, I set my alarm for 0600 hours. On weekends I turn the alarm off and let the daylight wake me.

Registration:  0700 to 0800     Breakfast:  0800 to 0830        Speaker:  0830 to 0900

The airport restaurants are closed 1100–0600. (Note the en-dash.)

No need to wonder if 12:00 means noon or midnight with this notation!
Trivia question: Is midnight in military time 0000 or 2400?
Answer: Both are used.

Interesting Facts:
When carrying out operations in multiple time zones, the US military uses Zulu Time, with a Z after the 24-hour notation, to represent Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

The tanks will enter the city at 1400Z (or 2:00 p.m. in Greenwich, England.)

Why do they call it “Zulu Time?”
The world is divided into 24 time zones, and each is given a letter of the alphabet. The time zone for Greenwich, England, was assigned the letter “Z,”
which is “Zed” in many parts of the world, but in the military alphabet, Z is “Zulu.”

Military Alphabet
A: Alpha
B: Bravo
C: Charlie
D: Delta
E: Echo
F: Foxtrot
G: Golf
H: Hotel
I: India
J: Juliet
K: Kilo
L: Lima
M: Mike
N: November
O: Oscar
P: Papa
Q: Quebec
R: Romeo
S: Sierra
T: Tango
U: Uniform
V: Victor
W: Whiskey
X: X-Ray
Y: Yankee
Z: Zulu

Seismic is Not a Noun

March 15, 2011

I’ve been seeing and hearing the word “seismic” being used as a noun quite a bit lately.

Bad Example:
Once we get the seismic, then we’ll be able to update our reservoir simulation model.

According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, seismic is an adjective that means: of or relating to an earth vibration caused by something else.

An adjective needs something to modify or describe, such as a noun.
Take the adjective “important,” for example. You wouldn’t say “Once we get the important, then we can do the statistics,” would you? Of course not. You would say: “Once we get the important data, then we can do the statistics.”
Likewise, the adjective “seismic” should have a noun after it because it needs something to modify.

Good Examples:
Once we get the seismic data, then we’ll be able to update our model.
We need to do a 3D seismic survey before we fully understand the fault network.
The seismic event offshore Japan registered a 9.0 on the Richter Scale.

Our thoughts and prayers go out for those along the Japanese coast who are suffering from such a severe earthquake, tsunami, and resulting nuclear reactor meltdowns.

Whatever vs. What Ever

March 3, 2011

The noun “whatever” can mean “no matter what” or “anything” or “everything.”

Order whatever you want from the menu; price is no obstacle.
Whatever you do, don’t order the raw oysters; I got sick the last time I had them.

As an adjective, “whatever” means “of any kind.”

This new submersible pump can be used at whatever temperature may be required.

As an adverb, “whatever” means “in any case.”

There is no evidence whatever that this well tapped any hydrocarbons.

One of the modern adverbial uses of “whatever” is the one accompanied by your teen rolling his or her eyes when you make a request.

“I asked you to clean your room, son.”

Now, the phrase “what ever” is used to express a question about a period of time.

What ever became of that old drilling rig Exxon bought for training purposes?

If the sentence still makes sense without the word “ever,” you can usually use the two separate words “what ever.”

Diffused vs. Defused

March 1, 2011

The verbs “diffuse” and “defuse” are often confused with each other.

Diffuse means to spread out or scatter freely or randomly. Think of pouring cream in your coffee or tea and not stirring it. The “clouds in your coffee” will undergo the process of diffusion as natural molecular motions put the second law of thermodynamics into effect to maximize entropy or disorder.

After the rodeo’s opening performance was over, the record crowd diffused throughout Houston.

Defuse means to make less harmful or tense, or to calm. Think of removing a fuse from a stick of dynamite. This is what my hubby did in the Air Force as part of his explosive ordnance disposal duties. His job was to locate unexploded bombs and “render them safe,” which is military parlance for “blow them up.” Apparently he was successful at doing so, because he still has all his fingers – but his hearing is not so great. Those bombs were definitely safer, less harmful, “defused” when he was finished.

Leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya gave in to some of the protesters’ demands in the hopes of defusing the angry crowds.

Hopefully I have infused you with enough knowledge that you won’t be confused about diffused and defused any longer.