This column, coordinated by the VIG Committee, is oriented towards the demonstration, promotion, or encouragement of the value of integrated geophysics. This may include short technical notes, business cases, workflow examples, or even essays. The format of the column is purposefully open, relaxed, and flexible to allow a wide variety of discussion without unnecessary burden. The column will generally be written by persons on the VIG committees, however, all members of the CSEG are invited to submit a short value oriented article to the VIG committee through committee chair George Fairs ( Additionally, the VIG committee invites your letters. If you have a story, question, or comment about the value of geophysics, please send it on to George Fairs. We hope that the letters and columns that we publish are unique and different: tied together only by an interest in encouraging the value in our science and profession.

When Geophysics is a Second Language

Recently, it has been my privilege to help with English as a Second Language classes. This is one situation where it is quickly apparent that the most valuable person in the room is the one who can communicate in more than one language.

It is imperative that we geophysicists remember that our colleagues – including engineers, geologists, accountants, and lawyers – while highly trained in their own professions, do not ‘speak’ geophysics as their first language. When presenting our results, we must invest thought and effort to communicate across this language gap. If we don’t, it doesn’t matter how brilliant and valuable our geophysical results are, our work will likely be tuned out and dismissed, with costly business decisions the result. Interestingly, this theme runs through many previous Value of Integrated Geophysics columns; contributors Lee Hunt, Kurtis Wikel and David Gray all speak of the need for geophysicists to communicate clearly.

Here are some ideas on how to make the value of our technical work accessible to colleagues of other professions.

State the conclusion first

Start your presentation or paper by stating your most important message first, followed by the most important supporting information, then further details, ending with background information. This ‘Inverted Pyramid’ is how journalists arrange information in a news story. This structure ensures that readers can quit reading at any point and understand your take-away message, even if they don’t have all the details.

This is opposite to how you’ve been taught to write scientific papers! While peer-reviewed academic publications have their place and will require the traditional structure – Abstract, Introduction, Review of historical research, Method, Results, Discussion, Conclusion – this structure often does harm to your message when communicating to people who have geophysics as their second language. They get bogged down or worse, stop listening. Instead, first state your message and why it matters, only then add in details. Consider relocating the math to an appendix.

Speak their language

Do you want the value of your work to be understood by others? Use language that helps your cause. For example, when presenting to accountants or lawyers, describe a seismic survey as ‘remote sensing’; spectral balancing as ‘a sound system’s equalizer’; PSDM as ‘a way to focus and position’ a picture of the reservoir.

This is opposite to what you’ve been trained to do, namely to be cautious in your words, stating disclaimers and assumptions. Guess what? It doesn’t matter how precise you are if no one is listening! Be willing to let a little precision fall by the wayside initially so that you can engage others – they will want to know more. Once they grasp the general meaning of your results, then you will have the opportunity to add more detail and precision to your message as you work together toward a decision.

Whenever possible, cast geophysical parameters in terms of properties that your audience understands well. For example, to express seismic azimuthal anisotropy in a language more meaningful to engineers, consider presenting this in terms of estimates of Young’s modulus, Poisson’s ratio, vertical and horizontal stresses and differential horizontal stress ratio – geomechanical parameters that can help identify fairways within a shale unit that may be more receptive to fracturing (Gray et al., 2012). Another example: translate seismic inversion attributes into predicted petrofacies types and probabilities via a lithology prediction workflow (Nieto et al., 2013) to make prestack seismic inversion more meaningful for geologists and petrophysicists (and geophysicists).

Fig. 01

Less is more

The curse of PowerPoint® is the temptation to include everything you know about everything! If you can convey your idea in only a couple of slides, do it. It actually takes a lot of work to distill a complex project into a core message. The audience knows: a 60-slide presentation says to them, “You sort it out”; a two-slide presentation says, “I respect your time. Here are my main points, polished and ready for your consumption.”

Figure out what one or two things you absolutely want to get across, and what you could live without if you had to. Try asking yourself: if you had only one minute to speak, what would you say? Then say that first, and be willing to let the rest go.

Don’t expect managers to want to sit through derivations. Consider going ‘equation-free’.

Understand it, then plan how to explain it

One helpful guideline that I was taught is that if I am waving my arms around a lot while talking, it means that I probably don’t yet understand a thing well enough to explain it to someone else. Albert Einstein put it this way: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it yourself,” his point being, I believe, that we would be well-served by stopping to confirm our own understanding before we try to explain our work to others.

One geophysicist who is an excellent communicator reports that he looks first at the mathematical solution – for his own understanding – and then from there he figures out how to explain physically the solution. He has the mathematical meaning in his back pocket, but he uses the physical meaning to explain to someone else.

Apply a checklist

In his distinguished engineering career, Dr. George Heilmeier developed a set of questions which has become known as The Heilmeier Catechism. Originally a tool to evaluate research proposals, this list is also a valuable communication checklist. Does your paper or talk answer these questions?

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What’s new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares?
  • If you’re successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks and the payoffs?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the midterm and final “exams” to check for success?

In summary

It has been suggested by some that geophysicists may resist these ideas as too risky; that by simplifying the message, we risk a decision being made on dumbed-down science. This point is not without merit, and these ideas are merely meant as tools for introducing our work to colleagues, to engage their discovery of the significance and value that geophysics brings. Once they see the value, then more in-depth cross-discipline collaboration can naturally follow, paving the way to solidify everyone’s understanding prior to drilling decisions.

Communication, after all, is not about sending a message, it is about sending a message that is clearly received. How can we communicate the value of integrated geophysics across disciplines? By investing the effort to speak the language of our colleagues, making the contribution of our discipline clear and accessible.


I wish to thank Franck Delbecq and Nancy Shaw who gladly offered their time and suggestions, as well as the VIG Committee for their encouragement and helpful comments. Any errors or mis-statements remain entirely my own.



Gray, D., Anderson, P., Logel, J., Delbecq, F., Schmidt, D., and Schmid, R., 2012, Estimation of stress and geomechanical properties using 3D seismic data, First Break, Volume 30, Issue 3, 59-68.

Nieto, J., Batlai, B., and Delbecq, F., Seismic Lithology Prediction: A Montney Shale Gas Case Study, 2013, CSEG Recorder, February 2013, 34 – 41.

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