The tool of measuring "vitrinite reflectance" under a microscope has great value in petroleum exploration and coal utilization, and the reflectance is a simple number, such as 1.4% Ro, with some slight variations depending on technique. Sample collection, preparation and measurement are simple and many sedimentary rocks yield vitrinite. However, the reported number can lead one astray if its origin and quality are not fully understood. I analyze here just one factor, "smear" of crude oil on the polished surface (from the sample), which may reduce reflectance because of thin-film interference. Some other causes of error are listed in an addendum to this note.