Q:I received a prestigious internship at the district attorney's office. One of my responsibilities is to interview police officers and crime victims to ascertain the facts of alleged criminal incidents. When I say that I'm calling from the D.A.'s office, even when I give my proper title, people often assume that I am an assistant district attorney (or even the D.A. himself). Must I disabuse them of their incorrect notion? I'm not dispensing legal advice, just fact-checking.
A: No harm is apt to result from this small misunderstanding, so you may ignore the confusion and continue with your queries. Here's a guideline: If this clarification would not lead anyone to give different answers, then you need not keep repeating your prestigious job title - intern. What's key is that the person you're interviewing understands that he or she is speaking to someone from the D.A.'s office who is operating in an official capacity - not a pizza-delivery guy, not a wacky crank caller, not phone sex. (I do like that your subjects think that the D.A. has time to do fact-checking, make the office coffee in the morning, maybe clean the gunk out of everyone's computer keyboards.)
If this were a situation in which the person being interviewed might respond differently, then you would have to continue to clarify your job title, even repeatedly, even at the risk of becoming an old bore. It would be insufficient to announce it at the start of the interview, that is, to physically utter the words. Your listener must actually grasp their meaning. Not everything said is thoroughly understood. Psychological quirk of us bonehead humans? Acoustic anomaly? Distracting text messages? It's a mystery.
David Feige, a creator of the drama Raising the Bar and a former public defender at the Bronx Defenders, public defenders in, yes, the Bronx, told me: "Our investigators often found themselves in situations in which complaining witnesses seemed to think our investigators were from the D.A.'s office even when they, too, made clear they were from the defense. Then, of course, when confronted, those same victims called the D.A.'s office and said we lied or duped them." To avoid such confusion, you should strive for basic understanding but need not be overly fastidious in doing so when the subjects' responses will not vary.
This column originally appeared in the New York Times Magazine. Send questions and comments by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.