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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: offers prizes in Show-Me the Errors contest

By Maggie Walter
September 24, 2010 | 10:17 a.m. CDT

Starting Oct. 1, the Missourian hopes you’ll catch us doing a lousy job. Well, sort of.

Here’s the deal: We’re launching Show-Me the Errors, a contest that offers prizes to people who find and report errors in online content at


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At the end of each article on the website, there will be a box similar to the current box for comments. The new box will be labeled Show-Me the Errors — report corrections or additions here.

And that’s where you come in.

In this contest, readers will earn points for finding errors – whether the error is a subject-verb agreement mistake, a misspelling or an erroneous pronoun usage. If you are an exceptionally eagle-eyed reader who wants to generously point out more than one error per story, that’s great, but only one point will be awarded per person for each submitted online entry.

Every month, the points leader will receive a Missourian mug and a hardcover copy of Roy Peter Clark’s latest book “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English.”  

In an interview with the New York Times published in the Book Review section on Aug. 20, Clark, when asked about his book, said:

“In the common imagination, grammar has lost all those enchanting associations. Now it conjures everything unglamorous: nagging perfectionists, pedantic correctionists (my spell checker wants me to change that word to “creationists”), high school students asleep at their desks, stalactites of drool hanging from their lips.

“My seemingly impossible mission, if I choose to accept it, is to bring back to language learning and usage some of the magic, some of the energy and power, some of the fun.”

We agree. Language does have the power to work magic, and it often feels magical to write perfect headlines and craft change-the-world stories.

The copy editors at want our website content to be error-free or at least as close to error-free as is humanly possible. And, just like the copy editors at the Missourian, we know there are readers who love language, grammar, punctuation and factualness as much as we do.

We want you to catch us when we are not doing our best to reach our goal.

We hate those days.

For example, on Aug. 27, we ran this headline for a regular feature in the Opinion section:

"TODAY'S QUESTION: Does scandal in the athletics department effect your support of the Missouri Tigers?

As a sharp-eyed reader pointed out, the correct word is "affect.” It was consistently wrong – three times.  (My mnemonic device for remembering the difference between affect and effect is RAVEN – remember, affect verb, effect noun.)

A couple days before that error, we received an e-mail from Brian Brooks, associate dean for undergraduate studies and administration at the Missouri School of Journalism as well as a co-author of “Working with Words.”  The subject line was Dominate v. Dominant.

“You might want to tell your football writers (and editors) that DOMINATE is a VERB and that DOMINANT is an ADJECTIVE. Today marks the second time in the last week that it's been wrong in the paper.”

That is very much an e-mail you don’t want to receive.

And there have been other such e-mails and other errors, all disheartening. 

Spell-check won’t help you when you have the wrong word to start with.

We ask you to express your opinions in letters to the editor and in comments on stories. We ask you to send us your community news through We ask you to contribute to your neighborhood news in our family of newsletters.

So, now, we’re asking you to join us in our quest for error-free copy.

The contest is for factual errors only, not opinions or comments. If you want to point out an error and make a comment, then you’ll need to return to the article page.

Please be civil and refrain from profanities and name-calling; in other words, don't say anything you wouldn't otherwise say in public.

The Show-Me the Errors contest is not open to Missourian employees.

Every reported error will generate an e-mail to you acknowledging your submission and another e-mail to the copy desk with your report. From there, we’ll make corrections, and an editor might contact you if additional information is needed.

And, through the magic of computers, your points will be tallied and a winner will be selected on the last day of the month.

And, will be a step closer to its goal. Who knows, maybe some month there won’t be a winner of the Show-Me the Errors contest.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at the Missourian. She plans to celebrate National Punctuation Day on Friday by using an exclamation point.