Archive for June, 2011

The Tilde vs. +/-

June 30, 2011

There are a whole lot of approximations made in the oil and
gas business, and expressing them correctly is important.

Sometimes the tilde ( ~ ) is used to indicate an approximation.
Example:  ~25 means “approximately 25”
Note that there is no space between the tilde and the number following it.

There are two ways to make a tilde on the computer.
On my keyboard there is a key to the left of the numeral 1 (above the Tab key) that has the tilde as the Shift character. The other way is to Insert a Symbol in Word, with ~ being the Unicode 007E symbol.

There are two ways to make a tilde by hand. You can go up before you go down when making the wave (this is the correct way), or you can go down before you go up. The Nike Swoosh logo goes down and then up, but it doesn’t come back down again.
(My personal favorite use of the tilde is over the n in jalapeño.)

I have seen engineers use +/- (pronounced “plus or minus”) instead of the tilde when expressing an approximation.
Bad Example:
We plan to drill +/-34 wells in the field by 2019.

This is not correct for two reasons:
1)  Rather than using a plus sign, a slash, and a hyphen, one should Insert the Symbol ±, which is Unicode 0081.
2)  The ± symbol is used to indicate the precision of an approximation, the confidence interval, the standard deviation, or the error in a measurement.

Good Examples:
We plan to drill 34 ±2 wells in the field by 2019.
That gauge goes up to 15,000 psig with an accuracy of ±0.1% full scale.
Note that there is no space between ± and the number following it.

Now, revisiting our Bad Example, that sentence would mean that there is a difference of 68 wells between the lowest number of wells you plan to drill and the highest number of wells you plan to drill in that field by 2019. I don’t think the bosses would go for that kind of uncertainty.

Fun Fact of the Day:
The tilde is used in mathematics to denote equivalence.
x ~ y means that “x is equivalent to y”
Sometimes the math tilde is called a “twiddle.”
So x ~ y is read aloud as “x twiddles y.”
Another Fun Fact of the Day:
The symbols ± and ∓ are used in chess notation to denote an advantage for white and black, respectively.


Aggregate Subjects

June 29, 2011

Today I ran across another sentence where I did not know whether to use a singular or plural verb.

Confounding Sentence:

A total of 37 wells [is / are] required to reach this level of production.

The word “total” is singular, but the expression “37 wells” would require a plural verb. Flummoxed again, I had to go look it up.

Enter Professor Jan Johnson Yopp, instructor of the grammar session at the 2005 Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors, hosted by the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The good professor says to use a singular verb with quantity, bunch, pack, and group.


A large quantity of tools was stolen from the Bandersnatch #5 rig.

A bunch of employees is gathered around the coffee pot waiting for it to finish brewing.

A pack of cigarettes costs more than a gallon of gasoline in every state.

A group of AADE members is writing The Drilling Encyclopedia.

Other aggregate words such as number, majority, and total are singular if preceded by “the,” but plural if preceded by “a.”


A number of people believe that oil prices will go up. (plural, preceded by a)

The number of people who believe that oil prices will rise has grown. (singular, the)

A majority of Virginia residents support offshore drilling. (plural, preceded by a)

The majority of Virginia residents is supportive of offshore drilling. (singular, the)

A total of 15 reservoir engineers were transferred overseas. (plural, preceded by a)

The total of 15 reservoir engineers was far less than the number needed. (singular, the)

So let’s return to our Confounding Sentence and see which verb we should use. Because the word “total” is preceded by “a,” it should be plural, therefore:

A total of 37 wells are required to reach this level of production.

Prepositional phrases after the subject generally do not affect the verb tense, according to Professor Yopp, except in the case of “percent,” as we saw yesterday.


The contracts committee of six engineers and three lawyers meets every Tuesday.

One in four summer interns has been offered a full-time job after graduation.

These singular subjects take a singular verb even though a prepositional phrase containing a plural comes between them.

Percent Savings

June 28, 2011

I ran across a sentence today, and I did not know whether to use a singular or plural verb.

Confounding Sentence:

About 50% of the total savings [is / are] due to the smaller facilities required with Plan B.

OK, so 50% is an amount or a mass, not really a countable item sort of thing – or is it? Savings looks like a plural, but who ever heard of a singular saving? I was flummoxed.

Well, folks, sometimes even the Grammar Geek has to look things up. Here’s what I found:

Percent takes a singular verb when standing alone or when a singular word follows a “percent of” construction. Percent takes a plural verb when a plural word follows a “percent of” construction. So says the AP Style Guide.


The consultant said 50% is not a good recovery rate for this kind of oilfield. (stand alone)

The consultant said that 50% of the field is not getting any steam. (of + singular noun)

The consultant said that 50% of the wells need to be acidized. (of + plural noun)

To back that up, Rule #9 on Subject and Verb Agreement on says:

“With words that indicate portions—percent, fraction, part, majority, some, all, none, remainder, and so forth—look at the noun in your “of” phrase (object of the preposition) to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the preposition is plural, use a plural verb.”

OK, so in our confounding sentence, we have “50% of the savings.” If savings is singular, then we would use a singular verb, and if it is plural, we would use a plural verb. So, which is it?

I found the answer in a Communications for Computer Scientists worksheet online about subject and verb agreement. It said: “Some nouns are always considered plural, even though they refer to a single thing. Use plural verbs with these nouns: assets, credentials, dues, earnings, goods, odds, premises, proceeds, riches, savings, thanks, winnings.”

Therefore, savings is plural, so our confounding sentence should read:

About 50% of the total savings are due to the smaller facilities required with Plan B. We learn something new every day.


Funny Typo of the Day:

Make sure you use foil and Saran wrap to protest the cores.

(should be “protect”)

Another one that Spell Checker just won’t catch.

Paraphrasing Rules

June 25, 2011

Yesterday we talked about how to attribute direct quotes to somebody. Many times, especially if you are trying to write down what somebody says and that person talks too fast or digresses in the middle of a thought, you cannot use a verbatim quote. For example, anybody who ever covered Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander Strayhorn needed to either know shorthand or take a tape recorder, because she talked so fast it was impossible to keep up with her!

Old-school journalists are sticklers for making sure that quotes are exactly correct, word for word, using [explanatory stuff in brackets] to fill in details omitted in the direct quote.

“The story about the jackalope being spotted at our wellsite was even in the Rochester [Minnesota] Post-Bulletin,” the toolpusher said. (not to be confused with Rochester, NY)

Sometimes if you are interviewing a subject matter expert, and that person has a PhD and starts getting WAAAAY too technical for the audience that will eventually read what you write, you need to paraphrase what they say, attributing the content to the
source properly.

Dr. Know-It-All, professor emeritus at Ivory Tower College, conducted an in-depth study of the various methods of thermocombobulator simulation. He said each simulator makes different assumptions, so you can never really compare apples to apples.

Now you know the distinguished scholar spent a full 45 minutes going into detail about each assumption of each simulator, but your audience doesn’t have the time or
inclination to read all that. So you boil it down to its essence and report it as fact, making sure to stay true to the content, the intent, and the tone, because you want to report the truth, although perhaps not the whole, entire truth.

Other situations where paraphrasing is preferable to a direct quote:
–  When the exact quote is neither original nor memorable.
–  When words or phrases need to be changed or omitted (bad grammar, cussing).
–  When jargon needs to be eliminated or explained.
–  When the length needs to be shortened.
–  When you don’t capture the exact quotation word for word (tape recorder stops).

In any case, it is important to let the reader know that the source of the material is someone else besides the writer, even though by paraphrasing it, you are putting it into your own words.

Attribution of Quotes

June 24, 2011

Every now and then a technical writer needs to quote people in an article, attributing each quote to the respective speaker so that the reader knows exactly who is talking. There are right ways and wrong ways to do this.

First, don’t be afraid to use the simple word “said.” Don’t use “says” unless the person says that same thing often.


“We plan to complete the project by December 2011,” he said.

“Drill, baby, drill,” the Senator says when asked how to boost the economy.

Second, only use one attribution per paragraph; more attributions merely get in the way.

Bad Example:

“We plan to reach TD tomorrow in our casing-while-drilling pilot,” Bob said. “At that point, we will need to have the cement trucks lined up,” he continued, “so that we can cement the casing in place immediately.”

I like to either identify the speaker in the paragraph preceding the quote and follow the quote with a simple “he said,” or put an attribution after the first sentence or long phrase of the quote. That way the reader doesn’t have to wait until the end of a long paragraph to figure out who is doing the talking.


Joe Schmoe, toolpusher on the Bandersnatch #4 rig, had never seen such a thing before. “I couldn’t believe my eyes!” he said.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Joe Schmoe, toolpusher on the Bandersnatch #4 rig. “I have never seen anything like that before.”

Don’t use descriptive language in the attribution – that’s a sure sign of a novice writer.

Bad Example:

“I had heard stories about a jackalope,” the gray-bearded toolpusher said with amazement, “but I never expected to see one bounding across my wellsite.”

Whenever you change speakers, give the readers a heads-up by identifying the change as close as possible to the place where the switch takes place. If you have two he’s or two she’s doing the talking, then clear up which one is speaking by using their last names.

Participial Adjectives Part II: The Thrilling Kind

June 23, 2011

Yesterday we dealt with participial adjectives that ended in –ed.

Today we will address the kind that ends in –ing, such as “thrilling” and “exacting.”
These words can also be verbs, and you can tell if they are adjectives if you can use “very” in front of it and have it make sense.

He was a very exacting boss, setting deadlines that required overtime. (adjective)
The troll was exacting an edible toll from everyone crossing his bridge. (verb)

(Side note: They love trolls in Norway. You should see the huge stone one built where the gas pipeline from the offshore Troll field comes ashore!)

Ah, but I digress….

Some other nifty things you can do with the –ing form of participial adjectives are:

1)  Make comparatives and superlatives using “more” and “most.”
Examples: more thrilling, most thrilling

2)  Use them in both attributive and predicative forms.
That is a thrilling roller coaster! (Attributive)
That roller coaster is thrilling! (Predicative)

3) Combine them with a noun to make a hyphenated adjective.
Examples:  energy-saving light bulbs, flag-waving patriots

Not only are –ing words used as adjectives and verbs, they can also be used as nouns.
Those are called “gerunds,” and there is a previous Tip of the Day on “Nouning a Verb” that deals with gerunds. Look it up if you’d like to learn my personal motto.

Participial Adjectives: Mature vs. Matured

June 22, 2011

Some describing words (adjectives) look like a past participle of a verb.
Examples:  annoyed, excited, thrilled
These are called participial adjectives.

Q: How do you know whether the word is being used as an adjective or as a verb?
A: If you can use the word “very” in front of it, it is an adjective.

She was (very) annoyed. (Adjective)
He had annoyed her constantly for weeks. (Verb)

Which brings us to today’s sentence in question:
We may have to wait until these technologies are matured.

Mature can be either an adjective or a verb:

She is very mature for her age.
These trees will reach 30 ft when they mature.

Matured is not a participial adjective.
You wouldn’t say: “She is very matured for her age.”
Mature is the correct adjective.

Q:   So how would we correct the sentence in question?
A1: We may have to wait until these technologies are mature. (Adjective)
A2: We may have to wait until these technologies have matured. (Past Participle Verb)

Judgement vs. Judgment

June 21, 2011

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary gives you the option of spelling judgment with or without an “e” after the “g.” The entry reads: “judgment or judgement,” which means the two variants are equal, both standard, and either one may be used according to personal inclination.

However, both the AP Style Guide and the Society of Petroleum Engineers Style Guide are very definitive in their preference for judgment – without the extra “e.” Also, there is a red, squiggly line beneath “judgement” in Microsoft Word, so its spell checker considers “judgment” the correct spelling.

Three against one, majority rules: Nix on the “e.”

Next, let us look at “acknowledgment” vs. “acknowledgement.” In this entry, Webster has the word “also” rather than “or” in between the two variants, which means that both are standard and may be used as you please, but the first one, acknowledgment without the “e”, is used more often.

Both AP and SPE Style Guides say to use “acknowledgment,” and Word’s spell checker recognizes both (no red, squiggly lines under either one).

Again, three against one, majority rules: Nix on the “e.”

There are some places on this planet where “judgement” is preferred:

– Australia

– South Africa

– In the United Kingdom when used in a non-legal sense (i.e., no judge involved).

Example: “Always trust the driller’s judgement,” said the Prime Minister.


Profound Quote of the Day:

A computer does not substitute for judgment

any more than a pencil substitutes for literacy.

– Robert McNamara, 1916–2009

President of Ford Motor Company,

US Secretary of Defense,

President of World Bank Group

PO’d about QC’d and TD’d

June 18, 2011

I get to edit several weekly and biweekly status reports, and while these documents are not as formal as field development plans or petrophysics reports, they still have to maintain some kind of dignity, as they reflect – positively or negatively – on the person who did the work.

There is a lot of lingo in status reports, much of it in the form of abbreviations. Yes, I understand that diligent workers want to spend as little time crafting these pesky reports as possible, preferring (rightly) to devote more time to accomplishing things to report next time. Consequently, status reports are abuzz with shorthand and incomplete sentences.

Bad Examples:
QC’d the data before uploading to Petrel.
Well expected to be TD’d over the weekend.

QC is not a verb. Heck, it’s not even a word, so it really can’t be conjugated like a verb, much less contracted with an apostrophe. Same thing with TD’d. Nobody would say: Well expected to be total depthed over the weekend.

And don’t even get me started on wells that are “expecting.” (Insert pregnant pause here.) (See yesterday’s tip on Plans Don’t Contemplate.)

Better Examples:
Checked the data before uploading to Petrel.
(Other options: Edited the data, Fixed the data, Corrected the data)

Well is expected to reach TD over the weekend. (That’s passive voice, but I’ll let it slide.)

As for using sentence fragments, you can generally get away with it if you are using bullet points rather than paragraph form for your status report items.

Rule of Thumb for Status Reports:
The shorter the better; however, don’t turn your abbreviations into verbs.

Plans Don’t Contemplate

June 16, 2011

Some of the biggest documents I have the privilege of “fixing” are oilfield development plans. Every now and then I run across some sentences that have these plans doing things that only humans can do.

Bad Examples:
This five-year plan contemplates drilling 73 wells and installing four separators.
The design anticipates that produced fluids will increase by 342,000 b/d.
This proposal utilizes a new pipeline to transport produced fluids to shore.

If you have a hardcopy plan, and it’s contemplating, I want to see it! And if your design is sitting there trembling with anticipation, I’d pay good money to see that, too. Then you can show me exactly how a 24-page proposal utilizes a pipeline.

People contemplate, which means to ponder or meditate. A plan cannot do that.
People anticipate, or give advance thought to a matter. A design cannot do that.
People utilize things, or make practical use of something. A proposal cannot do that.

So how would we word these sentences correctly?

Good Examples:
This five-year plan includes drilling 73 wells and installing four separators.
The design was based on an anticipated 342,000 b/d increase in produced
This proposal describes a new pipeline to transport produced fluids to shore.

Here’s the Rule of Thumb:
Make sure that your subject is physically capable of doing what the verb says it can do.