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This is an extremely broad question, as writing well involves so many skills, most of which take time to develop. When you get your essays back, what does your teacher comment upon? What things are you doing well with now, what do you need to work on? If you could elaborate on your current strengths and weaknesses, you'd have a basis from which to work. You yourself would have assessed what to work on, so that you'd better know where to focus your attention, and folks here can help you with that.
Well, my teacher says that I know how to analyze rhetorical devices and explain them, but that's it. She usually marks Why? and How? on my papers yet I feel like I already explained the Why and How. In order to receive a 9, I feel like I have to use extremely intellectual words in order to really convince my teacher and reveal the "underlying meanings of the text?" Is there another way to improve on this "critical analysis" that may help me make more persuasive arguments?
Can you post one of your papers with the comments on them? It's difficult to know exactly what she is responding to. Perhaps you are making assertions (statements) without supporting them well enough? That would be consonant with the comments you describe. These are literary critiques, I take it? She could well want you to dig deeper into the meaning of the text. Doing so would not necessarily involve "extremely intellectual words," but it could involve more nuanced arguments. She may want you to push yourself, to go beyond the initial analysis. Or simply to better support with evidence from the text whatever analytical statements appear in the paper.
I should say too that, if I'm right about what the issue is, this is very very common for students learning to write critical, persuasive essays. You have to learn to expose in your writing exactly what it is *you* are seeing in order for your audience to follow your thinking. By that I mean, you don't just say it, you have to explore the thinking underlying why you said such and such. You don't just say it, in a sense -- you show it. This can be a tough one to speak about in the abstract. If you post something, people here can help you see where you need to explain more of what you're thinking, support those statements more thoroughly. Or whatever the issue might be. But with something tangible to work with, the many very fine writers here can help you see how to improve.
Hmmm, with just a quick look, I see a lot of structural issues too, with respect to sentences, to passages, and a lot of repetition, yet she has not commented on any of this. Can you tell me, were these comments in red directed towards an initial draft, comments that were intended *only* to address the thesis statement and its support? Or were these comments on a final draft, such that they represent the only comments on the final essay itself? Can you post the assignment that this essay was in response to? Taking your thesis statement itself, I haven't read this piece of Twain's, but I'm thinking that he's using humor for a very serious end, in which case it is not so much that his diction, his selection of detail, and his use of the unexpected "reveal his humorous and light-hearted attitude" but that he uses these and other devices in order to challenge. These devices are his weapons. They do not "reveal" an attitude that challenges, rather they form the basis of that challenge. See what I mean? And does he really dismiss social etiquette as overly strict? Or is this a posture with which he makes his attack? (That is, is he writing a satire?) Then the opening qualification of that statement -- "though he is aware of such social etiquette in funerals" -- misses the mark because, as you have said yourself (and I'm assuming you're on board with his purpose here), he is challenging those social norms. Purely at the level of syntax, that series of three needs some work. The series begins with "his use of" and that is then the preface that must be applied to each of the other two: so, "his use of the selection of detail" (which seems overly wordy) and "his use of use of the unexpected" (which is of course redundant). As for that first item in the series itself, "his use of diction," well, one doesn't really *use* diction. One uses words and the way that those words are used amount to diction. What you mean is "his diction." All of which is to say that it seems to me your thesis statement itself needs work, both at the syntactic level and at the conceptual level. Do you see what I mean? Is this more than the teacher is expecting of your writing? I think that the more precise you can learn to be at the sentence level, the easier it is to build a strong essay. The individual pieces must be strong or the structure as a whole cannot be strong. This sort of precision comes through practice and, of course, revision. Well, let me know if this is at all helpful, limited as it is. We can talk about the larger issues of supporting a thesis statement next, if you like. Your teacher asks at one point "how does this relate to diction?" because the details at that point (in the paragraph meant to be exploring diction) do not relate to diction -- not unless you have something to say about them that can make that connection. She asks you to clarify a topic sentence because it is not clear enough as is, and she asks you "why?" in a couple of places to get you to dig a little deeper. In that "why," you would be further exploring how the particular aspect you are focusing on enables him to challenge social norms. Does this make sense so far? Is it helpful?
This is an initial draft, but basically in the real exam, it is essentially the only draft that will be seen by the essay readers. The comments are directed towards the content, rather than the structure. But I hold both to be equally as important. The prompt in the attachment is basically what we are only given when we start the essay. For my thesis, I wrote "Though he is aware of such social etiquette in funerals", meaning that although Twain understands what is expected at funerals, he disregards these expectations and instead tries to challenge these social norms. Would this be a better thesis than the previous? Thank for taking the time for helping me out, Redwood Girl. Every comment is helpful and I only wish to improve every chance I get.
Oh, so this is an exam? This essay was written in a relatively short period of time, completely impromptu? That's a completely different situation. Under those conditions, you have very little time to analyze and then plan what you are going to say, and very little (if any) time for revision. Once you've got a plan, you pretty much just have to write. I guess my point about the thrust of that clause ("Though he is aware . . . ") with respect to the thesis is that Twain is not disregarding these conventions -- he is using the very understanding of them to send them up, to strike out at the ceremony all too often evident at funerals. And the hypocrisy. So using "although" (or "though" -- same thing) gives that piece of information the wrong cast. It is that very awareness which enables him to write so as to criticize. That awareness is central to what he's doing. But if you wrote this essay in a timed exam, the fact that it has some imprecise expressions is less important. It is much more difficult to get everything just so in a timed essay writing exercise.