Skip to content

Should I Correct Vendor Errors?

Yesterday a client wrote me with an interesting writing problem. In her job, "Jean" has to respond to customers who claim that the client’s building materials did not live up to the guarantee. Jean sends an inspector to investigate the claim, and she uses the inspector’s report word for word in her response to the customer.

Jean writes, "Often these reports contain typos, inconsistencies, abbreviations, etc." She doesn’t want to send them out as is, because she doesn’t want her own company to seem sloppy. Yet is she justified in correcting the errors if she is presenting the information as the inspector’s exact words?

Jean considered the alternatives: (1) To include the editor’s mark sic, which indicates "I know this is wrong, but it’s exactly what the writer wrote," or (2) To leave the errors in.

I loved this question because it raises the issues of professionalism and authenticity. Jean doesn’t want her company to seem slipshod, but she’s not comfortable tampering with the documentation.

Here’s what I suggested: When an inspector has made mistakes in grammar, spelling, etc., why not merely capture the essence of what the inspector wrote rather than giving the exact text. Jean might write, "The inspector indicated that the damage to the materials had been caused by. . . ."

Although this solution creates more work for Jean than simply pasting in the inspector’s report, it makes her company look professional and it doesn’t doctor the evidence.

There’s just one more issue: What is Jean going to do about the inspectors’ error-filled writing? That’s a subject for another day.

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.