How To Write Technical Papers and Journal Articles Pillars of the

of the
How To Write Technical Papers
and Journal Articles
Ron Dusterhoft, Halliburton, and Jim Giddens, Valley Forge Technical Information Services
Members of SPE and other energy industry professionals rely
heavily on technical papers and technical journal articles for
exposure to and communication with customers, other industry
professionals, governments, and investors worldwide. Some
would-be authors view writing a paper or article as a daunting,
and perhaps mysterious, task and don’t know how to begin (or
end) the process. This article is offered as a primer to show the
methods of getting started and completing a piece of work. Other
authors, though prolific contributors, may benefit from some
insights offered here as well.
Why Publish?
Many reasons may be cited as motivation for publishing an article or presenting a paper. Some important ones are listed below.
• Enhance company prestige. Widely published companies
enjoy name recognition that can lead to substantial business
gains and public investment in company securities.
• Enhance author prestige. Professionals with a great body of
work may attract business to their companies.
• Professional organizations often require members to demonstrate continued technical leadership and practice within the
industry. A body of technical publications is a valuable
means of demonstrating continued industry practice.
• Marketplace exposure is enhanced by attributed publications.
Selecting a Subject
Accounts of successful case histories are widely read and appreciated by readers who can identify with and relate to the author’s
concerns, problems, and accomplishment in overcoming adversity. The single thread that runs through most, if not all, case-history articles/papers is: “How did it improve the profit picture for
the user?” The reader will be most interested if the author shows
a technique or product that can be applied to a real-world situa-
“If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.”—Aristotle
If the pillars of industry such as wisdom, truth, commitment, and character could talk to the generation of young professionals about to inherit the oil and gas industry, the world’s energy
future would definitely be a bright one. The oil and gas industry contains some of the brightest, most innovative, and most dedicated people who practice in any profession, but the time is
coming when they will have to open the door for the next generation. The great crew change is coming, and the benefit from the exchange of knowledge and advice between the two generations is invaluable.
The Pillars of Industry section of The Way Ahead will focus on individuals who have established or distinguished themselves as pillars in the oil and gas industry. They will present their
field of experience from a mentorship perspective. The authors will introduce their career and field of expertise, with emphasis on career advice for success in the industry. They will advise
on how they would begin, develop, and plan a career if given the opportunity to go back and start over again. Finally, they will predict what the future holds for the professionals who are or
who will be involved in the showcased technology.
This section of the magazine will be aimed at educating and offering advice to the broad young professionals’ audience, irrespective of background, previous knowledge, and
experience. We understand that there is an extremely diverse professional audience in our industry, and an attempt will be made to try to include as much of the oil and gas industry as
possible. The lessons learned will transcend technologies and careers and will hold application for many scenarios. Each article will have something for every reader. I am excited at the
potential of this section and what it can offer my fellow young professionals in the oil and gas industry.
Tim L. Morrison
tion in a profitable way. Many other subjects make for interesting
and readable publication; Table 1 lists several.
Selecting a Venue
So you have decided that you have a subject that is worthy of
exposure and you want to publish an article or present a technical paper. Well, which is it? Do you choose to present a technical paper or write an article for a trade journal? Table 2 lists the
primary characteristics of papers and articles; contrasts between
the venues are stark in some instances. Keep in mind that some
of the “characteristics” are actually perceptions in the minds of
industry authors.
Major features of the two venues are compared and contrasted
1. A paper is typically presented to an audience of about 200
people. An article may reach many thousands on all continents
within a few weeks or months of its writing. Many times an article will be written from a paper, but months or even years may
pass before the article is published.
2. Many within the industry view the technical paper as a more
important and permanent part of the literature than the journal
article and a more prestigious document.
3. The paper usually is solicited by an annual call for papers
and is selected (or rejected) by a committee of experts. An article can be submitted to a journal at any time during the year and
is selected or rejected by an editor or by that journal’s editorial
committee, which usually consists of industry experts.
4. Space provisions allow the technical paper to present more
background, theory, laboratory, and case-history results, as well
as general detail. A journal article is often 1,500 to 3,000 words,
with several illustrations.
The Writing Process
Within the energy industry, there is a strong push to write
papers/articles about new materials or processes to provide
marketing aids or to help boost sales. This is good business, but
in the rush to get these new processes documented, published,
and presented as rapidly as possible, the quality and quantity
of information contained in the experimental work and
case histories may not be sufficient to support the conclusions
made in the paper. Under these conditions, it is likely that
the paper will come across more as a sales document than a
technical publication.
Sometimes authors try to extend themselves beyond their
areas of expertise. It may seem necessary for the experimentalist
to include field case histories in the publication or for the field
operations person to include technical content. When an author
steps outside his comfort zone, he must ensure that the data and
documentation are presented clearly and are sufficient to support
conclusions made.
Table 1—What To Write About
1. Successful application of product, technique, process, etc.
a. Save money.
b. Make money.
c. Make job safer.
d. Other benefits.
2. Findings of experimentation/research.
3. Technology review.
4. New uses or adaptations of old technology.
5. Even projects that did not have a happy ending.
6. Overview version of more detailed technical paper.
7. Latest in series of papers on a subject—reporting newest
findings in ongoing research work.
8. Adaptation of college thesis work.
9. Adaptation of in-house reports.
Table 2—Trade Journal/Technical Society Paper
Technical Paper
11. Includes attending a conference.
12. Contains more detailed data, figures, and discussion.
13. Many view this as more important and permanent literature.
14. More easily found by future researchers.
15. Solicited by calls for papers.
16. Selected by committee, based on abstract of the paper.
17. If technical society has a journal, may also be published
18. Lead time to publication may be long.
19. Audience reached may be very small.
10. Reader probably understands terminology.
Trade Journal
1. Wide audience coverage.
2. Short lead time.
3. Often unsolicited.
4. May have lower level of technical content.
5. Inexpensive to accomplish.
6. In scientific community, may not carry great prestige.
7. More readable by laymen.
8. Selected by magazine editor or editorial committee.
9. Reader may not know all terminology.
Table 3—Typical Publication Outline
11. Title.
12. Abstract.
13. Introduction/background.
14. Experimental work.
15. Laboratory results.
16. Field results.
17. Conclusions.
18. Nomenclature.
19. References.
10. Conversion of units.
11. Tables.
12. Figures.
11. Headline.
12. Byline.
13. Lead paragraph/major
14. Background.
15. Procedures.
16. Case histories.
17. References.
18. Author biographies.
19. Art files.
10. Figure captions.
The following guidelines may enhance your ability to write a
better paper/article:
• Research all relevant subject matter including other technical papers, trade journal articles, and/or textbook publications.
• Collect, analyze, and interpret the data and information
from case histories.
• Select coauthors who have the expertise to support your
areas of weakness so you can use their knowledge and help
to assemble the document.
• Seek editing and/or peer review of your draft to help ensure
that the information presented is supported and correct.
• Take the time to get good data and validate the data and case
histories sufficiently.
• Perform the analysis and interpretation of the data before
starting to write the paper. Generate graphs and figures in
advance so you can refer to them more easily in the
• Keep your figures and information in a clear and concise format that is easy to see and understand.
• Pick a time when you can work undisturbed on the paper for
several hours in one stretch.
• After writing your draft, set it aside for a day or two before
editing it.
• Use the tools that are available from the SPE website to help
you with formatting, symbols, and units, including the SPE
Publications Style Guide, Author Instructions, Metric Standard,
and SPE Letter and Symbols Standard.
Constructing the Piece
At some point in the writing process, craft a brief title for your
work. Avoid the temptation to be clever or humorous, and don’t
attempt to tell the whole story in the title. Some authors begin
work by writing a title, while some write the title as late in the
process as possible.
Technical papers are submitted in the specified format, edited
according to published style guides, and are ready to print.
Journal articles are often submitted in “kit” form; that is, the
package will include printed and electronic versions of a manuscript, illustrations, figure captions, author biographies, and
author photographs. There is no utility in applying techniques
such as page layout or use of bold headlines because the journal
editor will arrange the article to fit into the journal style. Table
3 lists the general components of both papers and articles.
In general, a paper will begin at the beginning and progress
logically and chronologically to the end, where conclusions are
given. An article will begin with a “lead” paragraph that states
the five “W’s and H,” (who, what, when, where, why, and how).
The major conclusions are included in the lead paragraph or in
the paragraphs immediately following. The abstract of a paper
should also contain the five W’s and H and state the major conclusions. If the conclusion section of the paper is quite large or
detailed, there is no need to include all of it in the abstract.
Lead paragraphs and abstracts are essentially “contracts” that
the author makes to the readers; the author is obligated to
explain, defend, and prove all claims made in the lead or
abstract. The lead and abstract also serve to let the reader know
what is offered in the piece. Be sure to offer enough information
to enable the reader to grasp the essential elements of information to be gained from a full reading. A good lead or abstract is
especially valuable to future authors conducting research.
Avoid commercialism or promotional language in your
paper/article. Technical venues are not the place to write in
superlatives about the features and benefits of a product or
process. Use of terms such as “new,” “innovative,” or “novel” is
inappropriate. If your presentation of the facts and the merits of
the product or process cause the reader to conclude that it is
innovative or otherwise superior, that is all right. But you should
not try to publish a promotional piece under the guise of technical work. Use of product, process, service, or company name
should be avoided.
Ron Dusterhoft is Manager of the Halliburton Sand Control Group in
Houston, where he is responsible for innovation and marketing. Dusterhoft
holds a BS degree in mechanical engineering from the U. of Alberta and
has 20 years of experience in the petroleum industry, serving in locations
around the world. He has authored and coauthored several technical
papers on petroleum subjects.
Jim Giddens is a senior writer for the Energy Practice of Valley Forge
Technical Information Services, a technical communications company that
provides technical, business, and communications solutions for Fortune
100 companies. Giddens earned a BS degree in journalism from Oklahoma
State U. in 1960, served 20 years as a U.S. Army officer, and joined
Halliburton in 1980. He retired from Halliburton in 1995. Giddens has
written manuscripts for more than 150 published energy industry journal
articles and has edited more than 1,000 technical society papers.
of the
A Changing Role for
the Petro p h y s i c i s t ?
Patrick Corbett, Heriot-Watt U.
I joined the petroleum industry in 1978, at the start of a boom in hiring that led to a peak in staff numbers in 1987. Staff numbers have
now dropped back to about 75% of 1987 levels. In the last 10 years,
the peak age of staff has shifted from 39 to 49 years. The peak staff
age correlates to the boom in hiring that took place in the early
1980s. Essentially, I came into the industry at the early part of that
boom and represent that peak. What insight can I give to the classes of students joining, or young engineers working in, the industry
in 2005, when everything is so different?
The U.K. started importing oil again in July of last year. This may
be a temporary production dip, but it could presage the start of a
decline that is expected to be quite sharp. However, there are still
new discoveries being made in that region, and it is projected by
some that the decline in oil re s e rves will stimulate an increase in
exploration activity, thereby extending the resource base. The
encouraging response to recent U.K. licensing rounds suggests that
activity is increasing in line with that sort of prediction. The potential for increased re c o v e ry in the existing fields is significant as long
as the infrastructure remains in place. These are the underlying drivers to North Sea activity. The industry’s pulse is one of dips and
peaks, and I suspect it will stay like that for the next 20 years.
What skills set should the young engineer pick up? If the future
looks uncertain, then make sure there is some flexibility. People talk
about a demographic bubble as the peak plays out through retirement, so that employees who are currently under the age of 35 will,
in 10 years, find themselves in an industry in which they will represent knowledge and experience and be very valuable. They will be
Patrick Corbett chose to be a geologist a long time ago.
experienced at the peak of their careers and very much in demand.
Where will I be in 10 years? Most probably sitting it out on the
fringes, having made way for new blood! Some say that the demographics problem is a “western industry” problem and that in the
main oil-producing areas, local staff will be plentiful.
Energy appears to be re-emerging as a major public concern. Years
of sustained low oil prices have given way to more realistic pricing
levels, and society has begun worrying about long-term energy supplies. Petroleum companies will be staffed by people who are much
more aware of what the true cost of energy is. Either increased global warming will result in more-extreme climate events or we will
have learned how to manage CO2 emissions (or both). In many projections, a fossil fuel future, with carbon capture and storage, seems
to present the most stable solution over the next 20 years while we
nurture the transition to a hydrogen economy. I trust there will be
stability enough in world energy supplies to allow one to carry on a
career in such a technologically advanced industry.
Future Scenarios
One scenario for the future might be a high-tech petroleum-producing operation in which engineers update their skills regularly on
simulators in virtual 3D space. Robotic-controlled drilling and production operations will allow remote real-time management and
optimization of the resource stock. Fields will be instrumented for
pressure, gravity, and resistivity, providing calibration data for the
real-time, history-consistent, reservoir-simulation models. Seismic
techniques, data transmission, and processing of super-large,
time-lapse data sets will create the proactive tool for re s e rvoir management, imaging pressure compartments, and tracking water
and/or gas fronts. Recovery factors will be driven upward, and the
technical team in the companies will be driven by stakeholders to
squeeze out every last drop.
Now, you might ask, what role does the re s e rvoir engineer have if
the data are so rich and the detail of the subsurface is so clear that
drill bits can be targeted precisely to wherever the remaining oil is
left and the residual pools can be swept up? Is there even a role for
traditional petrophysicists (who take measurements on rock samples and interpret borehole logs)? Clearly, with increased imaging of
the subsurface, the industry’s ambitions for improved re c o v e ry factors will increase. With more conditioning data, models will become
more realistic and we will become increasingly confident to identify
smaller targets. Cheaper well technologies would help greatly. Smart 3D-seismic age, when the last paradigm shift occurred in the way we
fluids may reduce the residual saturations even more in controlled work. The economic reality of the present time will never see a
sweeps provided by a clear image of the re s e rvoir units. Smart com- return to the “golden” 1980s, when someone wanting to run a new
pletions can respond to changes in fluid interfaces to maximize log or try out a new survey in your well was welcomed and if some
sweep between wells.
new insight was gained along the way then this was seen as a bonus.
Electromagnetic radiation at various frequencies may be used to The industry, when I joined, fostered an environment in which
further stimulate the mobilization of hydrocarbons. With less uncer- almost anything was given a trial. I was even fortunate to be part of
tainty as to where the injected fluids go, more expensive cocktails can the team that drilled the first horizontal wells in the North Sea,
be used to recover even more of the precious liquid. Carbon dioxide when there was little hard evidence that they would be either drillcould be just one of the components used to swell and move the oil. able or economically beneficial. In the research community in which
The working environment could be much more flexible—with more I work now, we miss the technology champions within the compaworking from either the home or the beach! These visionary ideas nies who nurtured new ideas until they were mature enough to be
were discussed in a recent SPE Applied Technology Workshop turned into useable and beneficial technology.
(ATW) held in Oman, reflecting a future industry that many would
The evolving role of a petrophysicist over the last 20 years is an
like to see evolve: an industry that takes advantage of developments interesting one to consider. When I was active in wellsite log analyin communications and inforsis, 20 years ago, the role of
the log analyst was to calcumation technology to the benlate net pay, average porosity,
efit of the individual, society,
and water saturation. One did
and the industry. One word of
not want to get these wrong,
solid engineering advice
Training and education
and you felt that everyone was
among all the “petro-dream100% focused on this inforery” from the Oman ATW:
materials will be so easily
mation during the periods of
Design new production wells
active exploration. Terms
with surveillance in mind, and
available through universities
such as upscaling, effective
make sure you cement the
permeability, and kv/kh ratio
wells in order to last. This
and industry societies that
enables the flexibility demandwere pretty much unused by
ed by future reservoir-managepetrophysicists. Net to gross
professionals will find it easy
ment strategies.
was clearly a 1D measurement
Subsurface energy compaheterogeneity and a property
to switch careers, perhaps
nies will have a portfolio of
that was often too difficult to
assets to manage in the future.
map. One did not get too
moving in and out of the
Coalbed methane, in-situ
much demand from the geogasification, CO2 storage, and
physicists for the latest Vp and
industry, but certainly staying
geothermal energy will all
Vs logs in the 1980s. Now,
benefit from many of the
everything has changed.
on top of new developments
same technical advances.
The London Petrophysical
Operations of these diverse
Soc. recently conducted a sesin their own areas.
sion on uncertainties, and
geo-energy supplies could be
only two of 12 speakers mencolocated in favorable parts of
tioned logs, which shows a
the world. Staff will likely
have the flexibility to switch from one primary geo-energy source to broadening of the profession’s interests. At the same meeting, a
the next. Training and education materials will be so easily available paper was presented on the importance of understanding the basics
through universities and industry societies that professionals will of porosity measurement in the laboratory. Understanding the basics
find it easy to switch careers, perhaps moving in and out of the is still so important.
industry, but certainly staying on top of new developments in their
The role of logs—but, more important, the fundamental basis for
own areas. Technical societies with their specialist communities will re s e rvoir property modeling—is being diminished by the role of
all meet together in the common marketplace—the joint SPE outcrop analogs and seismic amplitudes. Petrophysicists try to
Europec and EAGE annual meeting in Madrid in 2005 (and other maintain the importance of ground-truthing the re s e rvoir models
similar parallel meetings) represents a significant shift in the way with real measurements, as the Soc. of Core Analysts emphasizes in
societies cooperate. The breakdown of societal compartmentaliza- specialist meetings (where incredible commitment is shown to pretion will completely resolve the industry’s communication problem s e rving the scarce and often undervalued skills by a few hard-core
practitioners). Core analysts are beginning to think in terms of re pand greatly improve the dissemination of knowledge.
resentivity, stationarity, correlation lengths, and realizations—issues
The Pace of Change
that the re s e rvoir modelers require to be addressed, even at the lab
Now the reader will be thinking all the above is a bit fanciful. Has scale. Where are the future core analysts going to come from?
the author lost the plot? Our industry does not move forward very Underinvestment in core analysis over the last decade and the cloquickly, and we will likely never realize the above visions, or even sure of so many specialist labs will catch up with the industry. Who
come close in 20 years, and petrophysicists and others will be work- will want to invest career time in such a specialty? I hope some
ing the way they always have. People with vision get swamped by young professionals reading this article will pick up the challenge.
In the 1980s, the final logging suite included the full range of re s i sthe here and now and are drowned by their workload. The money
to invest in new technology has dried up since the dawn of the new tivity and porosity tools (sonic, lithodensity, and neutron). Today
there are more tools available in array sonics, directional densities,
and array resistivities that help, particularly in highly deviated wells.
Formation evaluation while drilling is widespread in high-tech environments where wells are expensive. In traditional onshore areas, the
logging suites are still minimal. Imaging tools are used routinely in
thin-bedded (less than 0.5 m) intervals (often deepwater turbidite
environments) where they greatly help the identification of pay.
Image logs were originally sold as the replacement of cores. The latter, no doubt very difficult to justify to management, are still required
for ground-truthing of log data, detailed geological studies, and a
range of special core-analysis measurements. Downhole-pressure
measurements and sampling tools have become more sophisticated,
identifying fluid types in the subsurface and allowing for vertical
interference tests. The latter are particularly helpful in those reservoirs in which measurement of vertical permeability at small scales
(but larger than the scale of a plug) is required. The petrophysicist
has to move toward interpretation of dynamic (pressure) data in
order to provide these critical flow measurements. This blurs the
boundary between petrophysicists and reservoir engineers.
The interpretation of seismic and other geophysical data (electromagnetism, resistivity, gravity) will require models populated by
petrophysical data. We tend to call the acoustic and moduli
measurements on rock “rock physics.” In some companies, rock
physicists are quite different from traditional petrophysicists, and
the discipline-blurring is here with geophysicists. As the numerical
subsurface models become used for both re s e rvoir flow prediction
and petro-acoustic predictions, it makes sense to have a shared sampling program for all the petrophysical data.
The generation joining the industry now will have to persuade us
oldies to change from our established practice. One would have
thought that those of us from the industry’s “punk age” would welcome the energy and influence of the current “rap age.” My generation should fight hard to let the current young promoters of technology have their chance to change the industry. The industry could
usefully speed up the adoption of new technology. New logging
devices (such as nuclear magnetic resonance) have shown great
potential for the direct measurement of permeability in the subsurface, but people still rely on good old porosity/permeability transforms. What is in the research labs today might not see widespread
industry adoption for another 10 years.
The Way Forward
For 20 or more years, we have been singing the praises of integration between our disciplines. Let’s just knock down the remaining
physical and perceived walls and merge geophysics, geology,
petrophysics, and engineering into one seamless profession. Let
this be a profession that values and nurtures specialists and excellence within its midst, but pursues a single-minded increase in
hydrocarbon-re c o v e ry factors to new levels. World oil-re c o v e ry
factors are variously reported to be 27 to 35%; U.K. North Sea
recoveries average 46%. Various parts of the world show a creep
upward in recovery factors through time—certainly due to technology to some degree—but probably also reflect a certain conservatism in initial estimates. Each percentage point increase in world
re c o v e ry factors will ensure that world demand is supplied for
several additional years. This is one aspect our stretched industry
targets could focus on.
R e s e rvoir geoscientist, petrophysicist, or re s e rvoir engineer? Does
it matter what your business card (or future ring tone?) claims or
what your core discipline is/was? I don’t really believe it does, as
long as you have an in-depth knowledge of re s e rvoir architecture,
re s e rvoir properties, property modeling, re s e rvoir simulation, and
re s e rvoir management and a vocabulary to communicate effectively
across the disciplines. With these skills, you will be valuable to the
future industry. Some careers of colleagues and industry acquaintances have gone sideways, and some possibly backward for a short
period, but those committed to the industry usually resurface in a
new guise, strengthened by the experience. Time spent getting an
appropriate specialty and broad training or the converse—broad
experience with specialist training—will repay investment in the
long run. Just avoid a diet of specialist and associated specialist
training, or no specialty and no training; otherwise, the industry
might leave you behind.
We are told that 30% of the world’s oil production will come from
the Middle East in 2020. I have always valued the international
aspects of the petroleum industry—there is no other like it for developing international relations—and sincerely trust that opportunities
to work in each other’s countries, as a welcomed visitor, will remain
a feature of the international oil patch for many years to come. For
those of you reading this who choose, or have chosen, to join our
industry, I wish you well in your careers.
Patrick Corbett graduated in 1977 with a BS degree in geology (Exeter U.) followed by an MS degree in
micropalaeontology in 1978 (U. College London), a postgraduate diploma in geological statistics in 1982 (Kingston U.),
and a PhD degree in petroleum engineering (geopseudoupscaling) in 1993 (Heriot-Watt U.). From 1978, Corbett worked
for 11 years in various positions in international exploration and development geoscience for Unocal in the U.K., The
Netherlands, and Indonesia.
Since coming to Heriot-Watt U. as a professor in 1989, Corbett’s research focus has been on the integration of geoscience
and engineering through geological analysis, petrophysical measurement, and flow modeling. Current research areas include permeabilityanisotropy modeling, well-test interpretation, dynamic upscaling, and genetic petrophysics. He has been closely involved in the master’s course
in reservoir evaluation and management since its inception, a course designed to teach the integrated nature of reservoir description and modeling to geologists, petrophysicists, geophysicists, computer scientists, and petroleum engineers. Recently, he has become involved in research
initiatives in the broader energy field and sustainability, particularly with respect to the petroleum industry.
Corbett was Student Affairs Committee Chairman of EAGE from 1995 to 2001 and continues to support the EAGE as a member of the
Continuing Professional Development Committee and the Executive Council. He is a Chartered Geologist and coauthor of the books Statistics
for Petroleum Engineers and Geoscientists and Cores From the Northwest European Hydrocarbon Province. He was an EAGE
Distinguished Lecturer (Petroleum Geoengineering) for 1998 and an SPE Distinguished Lecturer (Integration of Geology and Well Testing)
for 1998–99. He is an Associate Editor of First Break. His chair in Petroleum Geoengineering is the first such position at Heriot-Watt U. in
support of the petroleum industry and is financially supported by Total. In September 2003, he was appointed head of the Inst. of Petroleum
Engineering and Sub-Dean of Heriot-Watt U.
Outside of professional interests, he is actively involved in path projects in the local community and promoting access to the countryside.