Technical Writing and Publishing: Tools, Techniques, and Strategies

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Course Description

All professionals—scientist, engineers, etc.—must write. This includes those annoying reports, proposals, and all their cousins, most of which do not receive proper external editing and many of which barely satisfy their audiences. In addition, many professionals must publish. Here the audiences are more diffuse— the next office, next floor, next building, cross town, cross the country, or cross the world—and here, again, many of these documents barely satisfy or fall short of satisfying their audiences. So, why bother? Simply, work not published is work not recognized and credit not received. Through a unique and nontraditional approach, this course gives participants the tools of effective writing that in turn gives them the impetus to recognize and address the shortcomings in their writing, improve their writing, and publish their work.  All professionals must feel empowered to write effectively and there is no excuse for substandard writing.  Though few of us will be great writers, all of us can be effective and readable writers.  Effective writing is simply writing in which readers walk away having captured what the writer intended them to capture.  This requires the writer to identify goals and implement the means to these goals that address the needs of the readers.  Remember, no one tries to write poorly!  So, why do so many succeed in writing poorly?

The course operates in five (5) parts intertwining lecture, discussion, question-and-answer, and examples. Part one (1) focuses on the course participants: their reading habits and their technical writing habits.  Part two (2) is a prologue and background centering on the perspectives and building blocks of reading and how one learns from reading.  Successful writing is predicated on understanding reading.  Part three (3) discusses creating quality: writing, honest revising and focused editing, and the necessary pieces of a successful document.  Part four (4) is preparing the submission.  Part five (5) focuses on pitfalls and recommended work beyond this course.

Learning Level


Course Length

2 Days

Why Attend

Unless you are of the tiny minority whose writing talents and skills are such that you are sought out by those in power to do the writing, your writing could, most likely, be improved.  If any or many of the following bullets are new to your thoughts on writing or your writing workflow, you will gain from this course:

  • Recognize the sources, characteristics, and fundamentals of poor writing
  • Recognize reader’s needs
  • Plan your time to allow a draft to “ripen in the drawer”
  • Define the goals of the document
  • Merge reader’s needs and document goals
  • Define the problem that is the basis of the document
  • Target the readership
  • Prepare and plan completely
  • Organize logically based on goals, not necessarily temporally based on work effort
  • Understand continuity, transition, cohesion, information flow, and their cousins
  • Recognized that complex topics do not necessitate complex writing
  • Maintain the goals of the document
  • Keep it simple!
  • Don’t inflate
  • Recognize and avoid common pitfalls
  • Learn and use aggressive and focused editing
  • Identify and complete all tasks before submitting
  • Understand that a personal history of publishing is not equivalent to good writing

As the great American humanist and former baseball player, Yogi Berra, might have said, “If you don’t know what you want to say, it is easy to get there.”

Who Attends

All Professionals

Special Requirements

There are no special requirements, but recommend a rudimentary understanding of English grammar and a willingness to change or amend your approach to writing, as needed, based on the facets of this course!


1.6 CEUs (Continuing Education Units) are awarded for this 2-day course.

Cancellation Policy

All cancellations must be received no later than 14 days prior to the course start date. Cancellations made after the 14-day window will not be refunded.  Refunds will not be given due to no show situations.

Training sessions attached to SPE conferences and workshops follow the cancellation policies stated on the event information page.  Please check that page for specific cancellation information.

SPE reserves the right to cancel or re-schedule courses at will.  Notification of changes will be made as quickly as possible; please keep this in mind when arranging travel, as SPE is not responsible for any fees charged for cancelling or changing travel arrangements.

We reserve the right to substitute course instructors as necessary.

Full regional cancellation policies can be found at the Cancellation Policy page within the SPE Training Course Catalog.


Kenneth D. Mahrer, is chief scientist at SIGMA3.  His principal function is preparing documentation that builds the full picture of microseismicity and hydraulic fracture stimulations. His career has included a diversity of positions including a member of the team that monitored, mapped, and characterized the microseismicity induced by the world’s deepest, continuous, high-pressure injection well. Prior to SIGMA3, he was a principle geophysicist in the microseismic mapping group at Weatherford.

Mahrer was a technical editor for the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) for 17 years and has been a technical editor for the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) since 2000. In addition, he is presently an editor for the Hydraulic Fracture Quarterly. He wrote two columns for the SEG journal The Leading Edge, “The Writer’s Block” on improving technical writing and “Bright Spots” summarizing technical articles appearing in the SEG journal Geophysics. In addition to teaching short courses on technical writing, Mahrer teaches short courses on microseismicity and hydraulic fracturing. He holds BS and MS degrees in physics, a PhD in geophysics from Stanford University, and two post-doctoral fellowships in fracture mechanics.