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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Contributors to Show Me the Errors increase

By Maggie Walter
February 9, 2011 | 5:27 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — In writing classes, journalism instructors tell their students to vary their leads. Make some short, they say. Write a narrative lead; go for a straight news lead; add details to draw the reader into the story.

When it comes to the Show Me the Errors contest, Jim Terry makes it difficult to follow that advice. That's because Terry has been the winner of the contest for three of the four months since the contest started in October. Jim Terry wins the Show Me the Errors contest again. And again. And again.

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We're delighted that Terry, a professor who teaches art history in the liberal arts department at Stephens College, continues to join us in the process of making the content on ColumbiaMissourian.com as error-free as possible.

On the other hand, we're not so happy that Terry finds so many opportunities to file a report. We're working with our copy editors to reduce the errors. We don't let an opportunity go by where we don't put an emphasis on accuracy as a hallmark of editing. 

Students working as copy editors have been given fair warning and a goal: Shut off the valve of errors. No excuses. No complaints. Just do it.

To help, we asked Terry for the secret to his ability to spot errors. He attributed his prowess to lots of experience. For students to improve he recommends that both writers and editors read their sentences out loud.

"You can hear it better," he said, adding that the process helps to eliminate awkwardness and tortured syntax.

It's the nature of Show Me the Errors that there is a push-pull with contributors and the ColumbiaMissourian.com staff.  The contest invites readers of the website to send us a notice when an error is spotted. At the bottom of each article on the website, there are two boxes — one for Show Me the Error contributions and one for commenters. There are often comments submitted to the errors contest, but that number seems to be decreasing.

For January, there were about 200 corrections plus about 50 comments submitted to the errors box. Terry contributed 92 of those suggested corrections. He's a little more prescriptive about hyphenating compound modifiers than the editors here are, but for the most part, his suggestions were spot on. 

The second-place contributor for January was Jo Hamm with 19 entries.

Hamm is a journalism professor at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, Ind., and teaches communication, design and editing. She discovered ColumbiaMissourian.com after one of her former students, Laura Oberle, joined the Missourian staff as a writer. Hamm, who taught high school journalism for more than 25 years, said she uses articles from ColumbiaMissourian.com as examples of good writing.

A close third-place contributor for January with 17 reports was Brad Fischer.

Aside from the number of errors, we're really heartened by the number of contributors who participate in the contest. There were 89 contributors in October, the opening month. In November, that number dropped to 73, and it fell again in December to 68.

In January, the number of contributors rose again to 81. That's great news. We want all of our readers to join in as contributors to the copy editing efforts. Every month, there are contributors offering just one or maybe two suggested fixes. We value those contributors as much as those in the top ranks. So, please, join in and help us make ColumbiaMissourian.com as accurate as possible.

The monthly prizes for those submitting the most corrections are a copy of "The Glamour of Grammar" by Roy Peter Clark, a Missourian coffee mug and, of course, bragging rights.

Come join us. Maybe next month, it will be your turn to collect the prizes.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and a night news editor at ColumbiaMissourian.com. She's been known to splice a comma or two in her time as an editor, but she's not proud of it.