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  • Background of the Study

Composition can be defined as the act of or art of composing or forming a whole by placing together and writing things, parts or ingredients. It involves sensible brain storming and gathering of data as parts and like a machine each piece of material is fixed in position to form a whole. Composition is a written form of language in which words are arranged in meaningful order o make sentences. These sentences are grouped to form paragraphs that have a common theme. One major thing about writing is that it revolves round a subject matter. In the literary sense, a composition (from the Latin “to put together”) is the way a writer assembles words and sentences to create a coherent and meaningful work. Composition can also mean the activity of writing, the nature of the subject of a piece of writing, the piece of writing itself, and the name of a college course assigned to a student. This essay focuses on practicing how people write. Just like a musician and an artist, a writer sets the tone of a composition to his or her purpose, making decisions about what that tone should be to form a structure. A writer might express anything from the point of view of cool logic to impassioned anger. A composition might use clean and simple prose, flowery, descriptive passages, or analytical nomenclature. Since the 19th century, English writers and teachers have been grappling with ways to classify forms and modes of writing so beginner writers can have a place to start. After decades of struggle, rhetoricians ended up with four aspects of composition writing that still make up the mainstream of composition classes: Description, NarrationExposition, and Argumentation.

The four classical aspects of composition (description, narration, exposition, and argumentation) are not categories, per se. They would almost never stand alone in a piece of writing, but rather are best-considered modes of writing, pieces of writing styles that can be combined and used to create a whole. That is to say, they can inform a piece of writing, and they are good starting points for understanding how to put a piece of writing together.

A description, or descriptive writing, is a statement or account that describes something or someone, listing characteristic features and significant details to provide a reader with a portrayal in words. Descriptions are set in the concrete, in the reality, or solidity of an object as a representation of a person, place, or thing in time. They provide the look and feel of objects, a simultaneous whole, with as many details as you’d like. A narration, or narrative writing, is a personal account, a story that the writer tells his or her reader. It can be an account of a series of facts or events, given in order and establishing connections between the steps. It can even be dramatic, in which case you can present each individual scene with actions and dialog. The chronology could be in strict order, or you could include flashbacks. Exposition, or expository writing, is the act of expounding or explaining a person, place, thing, or event. Your purpose is not to just describe something, but to give it a reality, an interpretation, your ideas on what that thing means. In some respects, you are laying out a proposition to explain a general notion or abstract idea of your subject. Also called argumentative writing, an argumentation is basically an exercise in comparing and contrasting. It is the methodological presentation of both sides of an argument using logical or formal reasoning. The end result is formulated to persuade why thing A is better than thing B. What you mean by “better” makes up the content of your arguments.

There are various challenges in teaching and learning of composition. Many studies indicate that there tends to be interference from students’ first language in the process of writing in English (Benson, 2002). Writing in a foreign language often presents the greatest challenge to the students at all stages, particularly essay writing because in this activity, writing is usually extended and therefore it becomes more demanding than in the case of writing a short paragraph. Writing in general and essays in particular form problems to secondary students in Nigeria. Teachers of composition or writing classes in Nigerian secondary schools are generally faced with students who have memorized a good amount of English vocabulary and grammar rules, but have seldom put that knowledge to practical use (Wachs, 2003). In many cases, the majority of these students are still translating words, phrases, and sentences from their mother tongue to English with often very strange results. The challenge for the composition teacher is to find methods to activate in a meaningful way the passive knowledge the students possess in terms of the writing skill, as well as to help the students become more proficient while working to eliminate some of their errors in descriptive writing. A better understanding of the L1 influence in the process of writing will help teachers know students’ difficulties in learning English. It will also aid in the adoption of appropriate teaching strategies to help students learn English descriptive writing skills better. As Richards & Renandya (2002:303) claim; “there is no doubt that writing is the most difficult skill for L2 learners to master. The difficulty lies not only in generating and organizing ideas, but also in translating these notions into legible text”. Yet, it is very necessary to look into the dynamics of writing and its teaching, as writing is a skill that not only is tested in every valid language examination, but also a skill that learners should possess and demonstrate in academic contexts. Writing includes numerous considerations and choices to be made regarding “higher level skills”, such as content, structure and organization, and “lower level skills”, such as punctuation and choice of appropriate vocabulary items and grammatical structures, which are the terms used by Richards & Renandya (2002). Moreover, writing skills must be practiced and learned through experience. By putting together concepts and solving problems, the writer engages in “a two-way interaction between continuously developing knowledge and continuously developing text” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2007). Indeed, academic writing demands conscious effort and practice in composing, developing, and analyzing ideas. Compared to students writing in their native language (L1), however, students writing in their L2 have to also acquire proficiency in the use of the language as well as writing strategies, techniques and skills, they want to write close to error-free texts and they enter language courses with the expectations of becoming more proficient writers in the L2. Since, most secondary school students find it difficult to write essays free of errors of various types. Therefore, teachers of essay writing need to anticipate certain common types of errors. They may also find other types of errors, which can be revealed by analyzing the written products or essays of students. These are the conventions, which are usually followed by the teachers of writing when analyzing students’ errors.

            Descriptive essay is one of the functional texts which is difficult enough to be learned by the students. Wardiman (2008) stated that descriptive text is a text that describes the features of someone, something or a certain place. Descriptive text consists of introduction and description. Introduction is the part of paragraph that introduces the character, and description is the part that describes the character. The students can use the simple present and adjective clause in writing descriptive text. In writing the descriptive text, students often find some difficulties. The students usually feel difficult to organize their ideas. Furthermore, many students made some mistakes and faced difficulties to build and develop their imagination. Siahaan (2013) mention that descriptive essay is different from information reports because they describe a specific subject rather than general group. Furthermore, Novita (2014) stated that the purpose of descriptive text is to describe objects or person in which the writer is interested. Description essays usually present a verbal portrait of a person, place or thing. This type of writing involves a piece of essay that vividly presents the different attributes or characteristics of the particular person, object, places or even event. In a nutshell, description can be said to be a visual material in words. In its view, the N.T.I. (2009) observed “descriptive writing involves describing people and objects of a house or the scene of an accident. A good descriptive work involves making use of your powers of observation”. It goes further to say that the description should be vivid by giving all the required details to create a clear visual material in the mind of the reader so that the reader not only sees, but smells, feels, hears and tastes through the words used. The objective is to produce in the mind of the reader a visual material as and as accurate as the one in the mind of the writer. The descriptive essay, according to it, should be systematic, beginning from top to bottom and left to right for the objects or from head to toe, physical appearance and character for people in terms of language. It is very important that one gives a clear and vivid descriptition when writing a descriptive essay. In support of this, Langan (2003, p. 175) opined that “When you describe someone or something, you give your readers a visual material in words. To make the word visual material as vivid and real as possible, you must observe and record specific details that appeal to your readers’ senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch)”. He further says that “more than any other type of essay, a descriptive paper needs sharp, colorful details”.

The state of teaching and learning of descriptive writing in secondary schools today is not encouraging – it is gradually declining. It’s true that non-native speakers are more prone to committing errors. Teachers of English in Nigeria are currently facing the challenge of adopting and developing a wide range of methods to accomplish effective teaching of English writing. This, of course, is not an easy task. A large number of students in Nigeria continue to fail to master the basics of the English writing even after long years of formal education. Teachers of English feel satisfied to have a student who speaks and writes correct English. This has been the ambition of all L2 teachers of English. However, why do students still find difficulties in writing in English when their teachers do their best to help them to achieve good results? The answer to this question might be that learning English or any other foreign language is difficult, for all non-native speakers. The main problem is that, even in their very first lesson, the learners of a foreign language do not start learning this new language from zero or a neutral point (Hwang, 2000). Instead, they interpret the new phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic patterns through those of their native language.       The results of these interpretation is error-smeared essay writing.

Ali (2012) asserts that errors are integral part of language learning and scholars have pointed out that the language of second language learners is systematic and that learners’ errors are not random mistakes but evidence of rule-governed behaviuor. Scholars have made efforts to device means of assisting learners and teachers alike to ameliorate the problem of error in language learning. Two major approaches in studying students’ errors are Contrastive Analysis (CA) and Error Analysis (EA). They are both offshoots of applied linguistics. Ali (2012) explains further that error analysis is to reveal that learners’ errors were not only because of the learners’ native language but also they reflect some universal strategies. Literature has identified some models of error analysis. Error analysis seeks to identify and describe erroneous utterances produced by a learner or a group of learners (Ogunyemi, 2014). Errors have been variously classified and some classifications include graphological, grammatical and lexicon-semantic errors, while some others include errors of omission, addition, selection and ordering. Error analysis should not just stop at identifying them but that it should include classifying them and giving an analysis or explanation on them for necessary corrections (Summaira, 2011). The first step towards this requires a selection of a corpus of language followed by the identification of errors for classification.

It is in line with the above discussion that this study seeks to analyse errors in descriptive writing among senior secondary school II students in Pankshin Local Government Area of Plateau State.

  • Statement of the Problem

Hesse (2010) stated that another problem in student’s essay is lack variety in their expression of ideas. Sentences are long and meaningless. Sentences include wrongly used conjunctions. The complex sentences which are correct lack variety. Students show lack of understanding of the difference between fragments and short sentences. They confuse the two thereby messing essay with meaningless fragments. Furthermore, most students do not know the various types of essays. These are, descriptive, argumentative, narrative and expository. Lack of knowledge on types of essays cause many students to provide contrasting devices to a different essay. Tense errors are also common in student’s works. Expressions like “he play football” instead of “he plays football” are frequently found in students’ writing. Spelling errors are also common errors found in students’ writing. Students commit spelling errors by omitting a letter, adding a letter, missordering letters and substituting letters such as “presiden”, “noisce”, “mehtod” and “persistant”. Such errors have been classified by Dulay Evans (1984) into omission, addition, substitution and transposition of elements. Mother tongue sometimes is the cause of these errors. Students usually try to translate word by word from the first language. They think in their mother language then transfer and translate their thought to English.

            Another form type of error found in students’ descriptive writing is punctuation error. When students have poor punctuation knowledge, their compositions are full of ambiguous expressions. It is not surprising to find expression such as “what is you name!” “good morning sir?”, among others. These sorts of errors are embarrassing to the Nigerian secondary school leavers, who cannot construct simple standard essays.

The above problems are what has triggered the interest of the research to carry out this research in order to analyse errors in descriptive writing among senior secondary school students in Pankshin Local Government Area of Plateau State.

  • Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of this study is to analyse the errors in descriptive writing of secondary school students. Other purposes include:

  1. To identify errors in descriptive writing
  2. To identify the extent to which meaning and intelligibility is distorted in students’ writing as a result of spelling errors
  • To discuss the most frequent type of error in students’ descriptive writing.
  1. To proffer solutions to the effect of these error found in the descriptive essay writing of students
    • Research Questions

In order for the researcher to have a sense of guide in carrying out the researcher, the following questions are formulated with the intention of providing answers to them at the end of the research:

  1. What are the errors in descriptive writing of students?
  2. To what extent do errors committed by the students inhibit the intelligibility in their writing?
  • What is the most frequent type of error found in students’ writing?
  1. What are the solutions to the effect of these error found in the descriptive writing of students?
    • Significance of the Study

The significance of this study cannot be overemphasized. The study shall be of benefit to the all the educational stakeholders which comprise of the students, teachers, parents, curriculum planners and the government as well.

            Students at the senior secondary school level will benefit from this study as it will try to neutralize the errors in descriptive writing committed by students by classifying these errors and analyzing them. Therefore, the students will come to know the areas that contribute to their errors in descriptive essays and they will work towards surmounting these errors.

            Curriculum planners will as well benefit from this study because no man is an island. The recommendations made as a result of the findings, will help them in structuring learning experiences which will meet the needs of the students in terms of correcting these errors in descriptive writing made by students in essay writing.

            To the government, they will see the adequate need to provide instructional materials, textbooks and other learning materials that will enable the smooth teaching-learning of English language as a subject in the secondary school.

Through the findings of this study, educators, federal and state ministries of education and other stakeholders would organize conferences and workshops for teachers where they can learn innovative techniques and methods for teaching writing.

Furthermore, the study could be quiet significant to the secondary school English language curriculum developers and researchers in error analysis. The study would provide data on the types of errors students commit while writing descriptive essays. Similarly, the findings in this research could be of immense benefit to policy makers and educational Administrators, as it will help to review our present educational policy and curriculum with the aim of introducing better teaching strategies since they are the core components of teaching writing skills in English language lessons.

Finally, when this study is completed, it will add to the already existing body of literature on error analysis of descriptive writing. It will serve as reference source for future researchers in the related aspects of English language teaching.

  • Scope and Delimitation of the Study

This study is limited to errors in descriptive writing in essay writings of secondary school students. Although there are many errors in descriptive writing, the present study will only be focused on spelling errors, tense errors and punctuation errors which are the major types of errors found in students’ writing. The study shall make use of five (5) public schools in Pankshin Central with a number of 20 students from each school which brings the total sample to 100. The students will be given a descriptive essay to write on. The research will cover Pankshin Local Government Area of Plateau State.

1.8 Operational Definition of Terms

Error: In applied linguistics, an error is an unintended deviation from the immanent rules of a language variety made by a second language learner. Also, error is a kind of mistake that is committed from neurological level of human mind.

Descriptive Writing: A description, or descriptive writing, is a statement or account that describes something or someone, listing characteristic features and significant details to provide a reader with a portrayal in words. Descriptions are set in the concrete, in the reality, or solidity of an object as a representation of a person, place, or thing in time.

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