Archive for January, 2012

Hoity-Toity Verbiage

January 31, 2012

One of the most grievous sins a paid service provider can commit when writing reports is to adopt a hoity-toity tone, or “a marked air of assumed importance,” as Webster defines it. Such highfalutin, pompous, or bombastic language is not received well by the folks who pay the bills, as they generally do not like to be looked down upon. This is especially critical for in-house support teams who perform analytical services for the field engineers. Avoiding “ivory tower speak” will go a long way to ensure that next year’s support budget grows rather than shrinks.

Here are a few examples of how to tone down the hoity-toity flavor of the writing.

Bad Example:

After analysis of the physical measurements presented in the report, it is clear that the findings necessarily should be included in any reservoir simulation study.

Better Example:

After reviewing the physical measurement data, we found them suitable for use in the reservoir simulation study.

Bad Example:

For the purposes of this analysis, due deference was given to previous studies ….

Better Example:

We referred to previous studies ….

Bad Example:

It is envisaged that field development should include ….

Better Example:

The field development should include ….

Shorter is always better. Here are some ways to shorten a long-winded wind-up:

At this time, it is worth noting that …. => Note that ….

As previously described, a total of seven (7) wells …. => These seven wells ….

As can be seen in Figure 23 above, => As shown in Figure 23,

The simple reason is …. => Because ….

It is worthy of note at this time that …. => Note that ….

And sometimes you don’t need any wind-up at all, just the pitch:

It can quickly be realized that ….

Just say it.
—————————————– Profound Quote of the Day
“People who do not know how to laugh are always pompous and self-conceited.” – William Makepeace Thackeray, English novelist, 1811-1863

Source vs. Resource

January 27, 2012

A source is defined as a point of origin. A flow of water, a flow of information, and a flow of procured goods all emanate from a source. A source can be a person, place, or document.

Source can be used as a verb, too. To source something means to specify the origin of something. For example, you can source a certain kind of filter for a certain brand of equipment.

A resource is defined as a source of supply or support, or a source of information or expertise. When talking about wealth, the term is usually plural, such as natural resources.


She is a valuable resource for information about Houston, as she has lived here 30 years.

He clearly doesn’t have the resources to support a wife and family yet.

Resource is not used as a verb. The adjective “resourceful” means “capable of devising ways and means to meet various situations.”

Funny Typo of the Day:

… as shown in the flowing figure.

(should be “following”)


Profound Quote of the Day
“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”

– Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, 1955-2011


January 27, 2012

In the Sunday paper there was a nice article about the AVID program (Achievement Via Individual Determination) at Klein Independent School District. One of the photos accompanying the story had a quote written on the board in the classroom, which said:

“The Past is our heritage, the future is our legacy, and the Present is our Responsability.”

I had a major conniption and nearly choked on my morning coffee. Not only was the capitalization inconsistent, but the word “responsibility” was misspelled! The teacher didn’t catch it. The Advanced Placement students didn’t catch it. The editor of the newspaper didn’t even catch it. And this program was being touted as a model for getting Latino students into college!  Yikes!

So today’s Tip of the Day will focus on words that rhyme with “ability” but end in “‑ibility.” That’s with an I, not an A.

Accessibility Admissibility Audibility Combustibility Compatibility Comprehensibility Compressibility Conductibility Corrosibility Corruptibility Credibility Deductibility Destructibility Diffusibility Divisibility Fallibility Feasibility Flexibility Incompatibility Invisibility Legibility Miscibility Plausibility Possibility Producibility Reducibility Resistibility Responsibility Reversibility Sensibility Submersibility Susceptibility Visibility … about 100 more

Words that end in –ibility generally represent a measurable parameter, although not always. This is one of those things you just have to know. The best way to learn it is to see the word often enough to know if it looks right or not.

Apparently the AVID students are not as familiar with “responsibility” as one would like. I hope they become avid readers so they will recognize such errors in the future.

Profound Quotes of the Day

“The price of greatness is responsibility.”

– Winston Churchill, British statesman, 1874-1965
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.“

– Abraham Lincoln, US President, 1809-1865

Almost Always vs. Usually

January 24, 2012

Have you ever noticed that whenever you type the phrase “almost always” into Word, it has a little green line under it?

When you let the Grammar Checker fix it, it automatically changes to “usually.”
I disagree with this. I estimate that “almost always” means 90–95% of the time, whereas “usually” means 75–90% of the time.

But that was just my gut feel. So I looked it up.

It turns out my gut was pretty accurate. I found a nice list of adverbs that express frequency, listed from most frequent to least frequent.


This website also tells where to use these words in various kinds of sentences.
Most frequent   always


nearly always

almost always










now and then

once in a while




hardly ever

scarcely ever

almost never

never          Least frequent
(I rather like the way this list looks like some kind of NASA rocket when centered.)
I thought this list might come in handy for engineers who want to express frequency of occurrence with a P10, P50, P90 sort of mindset.
Based on my gut again, I would put “intermittently” in between “periodically” and “occasionally.”  I would place “continually” under “constantly.”

Personal Anecdote:

One of my favorite answers to the question “How are you?” is: “Way good, the usual.”

I would estimate that the frequency with which I use that answer is: Usually.

The rest of the time – occasionally – my answer is: “Just dandy, thanks.”

Profound Quotes of the Day
“Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.”

– Benjamin Franklin, American statesman, publisher and scientist, 1706-1790

“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”

– Henry David Thoreau, American author, 1817-1862

Alphabet Soup

January 20, 2012

I ran across a sentence with so many initialisms in it that I couldn’t understand it at all:
The NW RMT geologist joined the meeting with Drilling in the field with DSMs, DDs and WSGs.

I think NW means northwest, and I think DDs might mean directional drillers, but the rest are subject to my vivid imagination.

Maybe the author and his boss know them all, but if the report is going overseas to people not in the group, you might want to spell out most of these things.

Otherwise somebody might think it means:
The NorthWest Really Mean Teacher geologist joined the meeting with Drilling in the field with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals, Directional Drillers, and Web Services Groups.

When I worked at Hart’s E&P magazine, ROP had two meanings: “rate of penetration” and “run of press,” which meant the advertisement could be placed anywhere in the magazine that the publisher desired. And EOD may mean “end of day” to one person and “explosive ordnance disposal” to another.

Rule of Thumb: If there could be doubt, spell it out.

Here’s another goofy thing that happens when you use initialisms and acronyms. Whenever I’m typing IHS Energy, the autocorrect feature “fixes” this to HIS, which is not what I want at all. And just last week I ran into a couple of Psia units that had been autocorrected to Pisa, as in the location of the famous Leaning Tower.

If you see this happening as you type, you can fix the automatic fixer so it doesn’t fix it any more. Here’s how to do that in Word 2007: Click the round bubble Microsoft logo button in the upper left corner, in the box that pops up, go to the very bottom and click Word Options. When that dialog box opens, click Proofing in the left column, and then click the AutoCorrect Options button. Go down the list of errors and delete the ones that change ihs to his and psia to pisa.

I enjoyed alphabet soup as a kid, but not so much today when I’m reading and editing.

Profound Quote of the Day

“Action, looks, words, and steps form the alphabet by which you may spell character.”

– Johann Kaspar Lavater, German theologian, 1741-1801

None: Singular or Plural?

January 18, 2012

I got a question from the Peanut Gallery concerning whether the word “none” takes a singular or plural verb.
As with all technical questions, the answer is: “That depends.”
It depends on whether “none” refers to the whole group of things or whether it means “not one.”
Singular Example:

We wanted to buy an X-Stream pump for that well, but none was available.

Here you can substitute “not one” for none, and it obviously refers to a single pump.

Plural Example:

None of the scenarios modeled in the simulator have a positive cash flow after 5 years.

Here you can substitute “not any,” and the word “scenarios” is obviously plural.

For those of you in the Houston area, you might want to consider attending an excellent 3-day technical writing workshop put on by Shea Writing and Training Solutions. It’s Feb. 15-17 at the Westlake Club and taught by folks who are experts at oil and gas writing. Register at


Quote of the Day:
“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”

– Henry David Thoreau, American author 1817-1862

Several Itty Bitty Things

January 15, 2012

Today I printed out all the reports I had edited for my team during 2011. They filled two huge binders, and my boss, Supervisor X, was impressed with how voluminous the tomes were. He was searching for the noun to express that, thinking of coining the term “voluminimity” to describe the concept. It turns out that “voluminousness” is the corresponding noun for the adjective “voluminous,” according to Merriam-Webster – but I kind of like his version better, as it has a certain musicality to it.

Here’s an error I see fairly often: people spell the South American country as Columbia instead of the correct way, which is Colombia. You see, Christopher Columbus was called Cristoforo Colombo in Italian and his name was Cristobal Colon in Spanish. Thus, it makes sense to have an O instead of a U in Colombia, the name of a Spanish-speaking country named after him.

Some engineers like to capitalize the P in Psi, which stands for pounds per square inch, but the SPE Style Guide says to use psi, e.g., 247 psi. Note the space between the numeral and the unit of measure.

Bad Example:

The equipment is under monitoring.

Corrected Examples:

The equipment is being monitored.

We are monitoring the equipment.

And here’s another typo that Spell Checker will miss: exits and exists

Wrong:  We will log the well to see if additional pay exits to be perforated.

Right:  We will log the well to see if additional pay exists to be perforated.

Almost vs. Nearly

January 11, 2012

“Almost” means practically the same thing as “nearly,” and in most cases they are interchangeable.

Almost means very nearly but not exactly or entirely.

Nearly means almost but not quite, but its primary meaning has more to do with proximity, i.e., in a close manner or relationship.

Many dictionaries define these two words using the other word, which means they are basically synonymous. However, “almost” is used more than twice as often as “nearly,” which implies that nearly is more specialized in its usage. Nearly is also used more often in the news media, according to one university study.

Almost is typically followed by adverbs.

Examples: almost always, almost certainly

Nearly is usually followed by numbers.

Example: Nearly 72,000 people attended the Texans playoff game Sunday

Nearly is often used in the following construction: not nearly as [adjective]

Example: He’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

Here’s a suggestion: If you have used a lot of “almost” words on a single page, you can change things up a bit by using “nearly” a few of those times.

Quote of the Day
“Action speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often.”

– Mark Twain, American author and humorist, 1835-1910

Fast vs. Quickly

January 11, 2012

Fast is an adjective that means swift or able to move rapidly. It is usually used in reference to speed.

Example: The PDC bit was fast in that formation, whereas the tricone drill bit was slow.

Quickly is an adverb that means promptly or taking very little time to happen.

Example: With the PDC bit we were able to drill the well quickly, whereas the tricone bit drilled more slowly.

Adjectives use the suffixes –er and –est to make the comparative and superlative forms, respectively.


Faster – comparative

Slowest – superlative

Adverbs use “more” and “most” before them to make the comparative and superlative forms, respectively.


More quickly – comparative

Most slowly – superlative

However, there are some instances when “fast” can be used as an adverb rather than an adjective.

Merriam-Webster dictionary has noted some common “flat” adverbs that have dropped the –ly commonly found at the end, making them sound more like an adjective, but are still used to modify a verb (something only an adverb can do.)


Drive slow – drive slowly means the same thing.

Eat fast – means the same as eat quickly, but sounds much faster.

Shine bright – means the same as shine brightly.

Go quick – means the same as go quickly.

Work hard – does NOT mean the same as hardly working!

Here are some other examples of “flat” adverbs:

Get clean.

Stay straight.

Go far.

Drill deep.

Keep close.

Sit tight.

Sounds like good advice to me!

Minimal vs. Minimum

January 11, 2012

I received a question from the Peanut Gallery about the use of “minimum” as an adjective. Salim emailed me in response to my tip about replacing “most minimal” with “least” in the following:
Bad Example: As seen in the tornado chart, water saturation has the most minimal effect on the estimated overall recovery.

Salim asked: “What is the intrinsic difference between Minimal (adjective) & Minimum (noun & adjective)? And when should each one be used? The question is: what is the difference between the two adjectives?”

Yes, there are times when both “minimal” and “minimum” are used as adjectives, but they are not used interchangeably.

Good Example: Water saturation has a minimal effect on the estimated recovery, as seen on the tornado chart. Here “minimal” is an adjective modifying the noun “effect.”  Minimal effect means it has a very slight effect or the smallest effect.

In most cases where “minimum” is used as an adjective, it is part of a noun phrase, such as minimum speed, or minimum wage or minimum age. If you left off the noun, then “minimum” would become the noun.

When used as an adjective, “minimum” means “the least possible.”

So in my original tip example, you could use “minimum” to mean least: As seen in the tornado chart, water saturation has the minimum effect on the estimated overall recovery.

Basically the two expressions “a minimal effect” and “the minimum effect” mean the same thing, but “minimal” takes the indefinite article “a” while “minimum” takes the definite article “the.”

Quote of the Day
“The real minimum wage is zero.”

– Thomas Sowell, American economist, b. 1930