SPE 101

Writing SPE Technical Papers

The chief asset of SPE is the knowledge of its members, which is documented primarily in the technical papers they write. SPE members derive tremendous benefits from papers—both from reading them and from writing them. Authoring papers is a way to share knowledge with the industry and to gain public recognition for one’s work. Presenters of technical papers at conferences have the chance to share their findings with peers at an industry event (possibly held in an interesting new place!). The networking benefits for authors at these SPE events often lead to additional paths of study or learning.

To help potential authors write the best possible papers, SPE has posted a variety of tips on its website at Here you can find advice for writing a quality paper proposal and for formatting your paper in the “SPE way.”

Whether you are contemplating getting started on your first SPE paper or have already presented several, you can learn a lot from the experience of seasoned authors. With this in mind, TWA sat down with 2010 Ferguson Medal winner Lujun “Lou” Ji, a senior research engineer at M-I Swaco. The Ferguson Medal recognizes significant contributions to the permanent technical literature of the profession by an SPE member younger than 36.

What do you think separates an excellent paper from an average one?

First of all, excellent papers contain excellent information: new ideas, methods, data, observation, analysis, etc. Secondly, all the information needs to be logically organized so that it is easy for readers to understand. After all, the purpose of a paper is to effectively communicate with others.

When reading papers written by other SPE members, what do you think is the most common area for improvement?

The majority of SPE papers are very good. Some may have issues such as being overly long or have language difficulties.

What homework should an author do before beginning a paper?

While planning a paper, it is a good idea for authors to do a literature review on the same or similar topics in order to know more about the history and the recent advances in the particular subject matter.

Do you write a paper with a specific audience in mind, such as for colleagues, researchers, the industry at large, etc.? How might this change your approach?

Yes. Actually, papers for different audiences are organized in quite different ways. For example, papers written for the industry at large may need more introductory material or general technical discussion. On the other hand, papers written for colleagues and peers who are already working in the same field of study may touch more on technical details, ranging from applications and improvements to detailed formulae or experiment analysis. 

What advice would you give to a colleague who has never written a paper? Where is a good place for them to start?

Start with a literature review on your topic of interest and others related to it. The multisociety library at is a good place to begin.

Some SPE members struggle to come up with a “good” topic for a paper. Do you have any tips to help a potential author determine whether or not something they are working on is a worthwhile topic?

Good topics usually can be found by browsing the offerings at SPE events. Clues to popular and interesting topics lie in calls for papers, in the keynote and technical presentations given, and through the networking experiences among members at these meetings. This is one of the great benefits of participating in SPE meetings. Reading SPE papers and journal articles is also very helpful in this regard.

How important are co-authors? How much difference is there in the workload taken on by the author as compared to his/her co-authors?

Co-authors are as important as the main author—they contribute a lot to the paper and are also responsible for its content in the same manner as the author. That said, an author usually has a little bit more workload than co-authors do, since she/he usually handles the overall organization of the paper and is responsible for including co-authors’ contributions. Co-authors may write parts of the paper as well, and they also need to review the entire paper, making sure that all of the information that they want to include is present and clearly organized. Finally, the paper must be understandable for all the co-authors, the first readers of the paper.

What about posters? When should an author consider a poster instead of a paper?

When authors have enough data or results but do not have enough time to put them into a full paper, they should consider putting them into a poster. A poster briefly summarizes the analysis or experimental method, outlines the associated data, results, etc. and draws conclusions based on these observations.

Any final thoughts?

Language skills are also important. Weak language skills can prevent readers from understanding the information in the paper.

Interested in reading Ji’s medal-winning paper? Go to and look up SPE paper 110845 “A Novel Hydraulic Fracturing Model Fully Coupled with Geomechanics and Reservoir Simulator.” Watch for Part II of “Writing SPE Technical Papers” in the next issue of TWA, where you will find more tips to help you write the best possible paper.


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