With the new year growing old, our thoughts turn to the conferences of 2012. And the technical papers we may write and present. I am reminded of this by today’s email on the soon to be first meeting to set about organizing Tailings and Mine Waste 2012. So soon, so soon after the last conference?
Here then are a few personal thoughts on technical papers as marketing tools.
On the basis of personal experience, I believe that technical papers are one of the best marketing methods. This I believe to be true for individuals in their own right as they seek to advance their profession, and for the companies for whom they may work. A well-written technical paper stands the test of time and attests to the experience and ability of the authors. Even today, I receive work enquiries based on old papers that I wrote as long as thirty years ago.
Technical papers may be published in learned journals, industry magazines, and most often in conference proceedings. The point is to make sure the paper is accessible to potential users. Make the paper available over the web if possible. Post the paper on the website of your company. Get InfoMine to post a copy in their library. Have OneMine (run by the American Society of Mining Engineers) post it in their extensive collection.
Electronic posting sometimes runs into the issue of copyright. Many publishers of magazines and conference proceedings make you sign a copyright waiver or undertake not to publish or post the paper elsewhere. Personally, I avoid initial publication in such venues. Or if I do, I simply ignore the copyright and post the paper anyway. At the worst, I recommend rewriting the paper with a different title and somewhat changed content and posting this revised version on a publicly available site.
The best topic for a paper is a case history. Everybody loves to read case histories. They are entertaining and proof of experience and ability. Unfortunately papers on case histories require that you did the work and, more important, that the client is prepared to give you permission to publish.
I have been involved in projects involving lawyers. The projects have involved litigation, failures, and mishaps. You will never get permission to publish on the projects involving lawyers or failure. But this is not an absolute impediment to a paper. In a number of cases I have written a paper on some aspect of the theory that underlay the litigation. Or I have written of the history of the technology that was the cause of the failure. Just make sure you do not mention the site or the companies involved.
Because of the sensitivities all too often involved in case histories, you may choose instead to prepare a paper on the theory of some aspect of the science, technology, or engineering of mining. The theory may derive from a case history. But you may have expanded the theory beyond the immediate needs of the project. Good for you.
Topics for papers may come from the subject of the conference to which you seek to submit the paper. Thus the conference series (ongoing for over thirty years) on Tailing and Mine Waste has elicited many papers that would not, in the absence of the conference, been written. If you seek to attend the conference (as a paid holiday) or for the noble purpose of marketing, scan the topics listed by the organizers in the conference brochure and think up a title that fits within one of the topics. Prepare an abstract; submit the abstract; and if it is accepted, panic, and write the paper. Even if you have to bend and twist the subject to get client approval and make something worth reading.
Once I worked on a large project where the client encouraged the publication of papers and presentation at conferences. We consultants always wrote the papers. But the first author was always a member of the client’s staff. No harm in that. It is easy to get client permission to publish; the client is grateful; and probably you can charge billable hours for the effort. You will get the deserved attention for the paper if it is well-written. Most readers are astute enough to recognize the practice of putting client’s names first even though you did the writing. Of course if you can get an able client to write, so much the better.
A good paper format is this: one-third theory; one-third practice; and one-third case history. Such a paper is informative and will endure in the literature.
As we get older, a good paper topic is the history of the practice. I have written papers on the history of tailings disposal and even of the history of conference series. Why not now get down the history from the old when we are still around?
You do not have to and preferable should not put all the data into your papers. There is nothing worse than pages of tables dense with numbers. Refer to a report if you want to distribute data so that somebody can check your calculations and conclusions.
Figures are better than text. Avoid long-winded explanations. Never develop your thoughts as you write the paper; nobody want to read your brain chicken-scratching. Edit and edit; for the paper is short, and it takes a lot of work to write something short and good. Have a good technical editor or a cynical co-worker read the paper before submission. Even the best writer should implement this practice. For there is nothing worse than a technical paper replete with errors and gauche language. That is an insult to us all.
So plan and write well. And enjoy the picture above, namely The Birth of Venus. When I was growing up, I was, and I remain, fascinated by this painting which is, afterall about the generation of the new. For writing a paper is, in the final analysis, the generation of something new about something old and durable.