I’ve lost track of how many times in my career asking a clarifying question or two has saved me from heading down the wrong path with a project. It’s a lesson I learned early on as a young newspaper reporter, after having to run the only retraction of my career. I had interviewed a SME about school programs and assumed I knew what she was talking about, but since I didn’t follow up with her to make sure, the paper ended up printing the wrong school name (more than once). My editor was not happy, but more importantly, I wasn’t either. There weren’t any long-term, serious consequences, but I realized that there could have been.
Take, for example, the case of Oakhurst Dairy in Maine. In March 2017, three truck drivers successfully sued the company for millions of dollars in unpaid overtime. The sticking point that won them the case?
The lack of a comma between items in a list of overtime exemptions in Maine’s state regulations, which the court agreed was ambiguous.
It’s easy to think these days that proper English and face-to-face (or telephone) interaction is becoming irrelevant. Who needs to understand correct grammar when you can just send a one-sentence email to your colleague down the hall? However, I would argue that in the digital age, when emojis and abbreviations are often used in place of complete sentences, strong, clear communication is more important than ever.
If you’re unsure, ask. If you can’t remember how to spell it, look it up. It’s better to be persistent on the front end than risk getting it wrong.