- Determine the purpose and structure of the classification essay.
- Understand how to write a classification essay.
The Purpose of Classification in Writing
The purpose of classification is to break down broad subjects into smaller, more manageable, more specific parts. We classify things in our daily lives all the time, often without even thinking about it. Cell phones, for example, have now become part of a broad category. They can be classified as feature phones, media phones, and smartphones.
Smaller categories, and the way in which these categories are created, help us make sense of the world. Keep both of these elements in mind when writing a classification essay.
Choose topics that you know well when writing classification essays. The more you know about a topic, the more you can break it into smaller, more interesting parts. Adding interest and insight will enhance your classification essays.
On a separate sheet of paper, break the following categories into smaller classifications.
- The United States
- Colleges and universities
The Structure of a Classification Essay
The classification essay opens with an introductory paragraph that introduces the broader topic. The thesis should then explain how that topic is divided into subgroups and why. Take the following introductory paragraph, for example:
When people think of New York, they often think of only New York City. But New York is actually a diverse state with a full range of activities to do, sights to see, and cultures to explore. In order to better understand the diversity of New York state, it is helpful to break it into these five separate regions: Long Island, New York City, Western New York, Central New York, and Northern New York.
The underlined thesis explains not only the category and subcategory but also the rationale for breaking it into those categories. Through this classification essay, the writer hopes to show his or her readers a different way of considering the state.
Each body paragraph of a classification essay is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subcategories. In the previous example, then, each region of New York would have its own paragraph.
The conclusion should bring all the categories and subcategories back together again to show the reader the big picture. In the previous example, the conclusion might explain how the various sights and activities of each region of New York add to its diversity and complexity.
To avoid settling for an overly simplistic classification, make sure you break down any given topic at least three different ways. This will help you think outside the box and perhaps even learn something entirely new about a subject.
Using your classifications from Note 10.43 “Exercise 1”, write a brief paragraph explaining why you chose to organize each main category in the way that you did.
Writing a Classification Essay
Start with an engaging opening that will adequately introduce the general topic that you will be dividing into smaller subcategories. Your thesis should come at the end of your introduction. It should include the topic, your subtopics, and the reason you are choosing to break down the topic in the way that you are. Use the following classification thesis equation:
topic + subtopics + rationale for the subtopics = thesis.
The organizing strategy of a classification essay is dictated by the initial topic and the subsequent subtopics. Each body paragraph is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subtopics. In a way, coming up with a strong topic pays double rewards in a classification essay. Not only do you have a good topic, but you also have a solid organizational structure within which to write.
Be sure you use strong details and explanations for each subcategory paragraph that help explain and support your thesis. Also, be sure to give examples to illustrate your points. Finally, write a conclusion that links all the subgroups together again. The conclusion should successfully wrap up your essay by connecting it to your topic initially discussed in the introduction. See Chapter 15 “Readings: Examples of Essays” to read a sample classification essay.
Building on Note 10.43 “Exercise 1” and Note 10.46 “Exercise 2”, write a five-paragraph classification essay about one of the four original topics. In your thesis, make sure to include the topic, subtopics, and rationale for your breakdown. And make sure that your essay is organized into paragraphs that each describes a subtopic.
- The purpose of classification is to break a subject into smaller, more manageable, more specific parts.
- Smaller subcategories help us make sense of the world, and the way in which these subcategories are created also helps us make sense of the world.
- A classification essay is organized by its subcategories.
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WRITING A CLASSIFICATION PAPER
Classification is sorting things into groups or categories on a single basis of division. A classification paper says something meaningful about how a whole relates to parts, or parts relate to a whole. Like skimming, scanning, paraphrasing, and summarizing, classification requires the ability to group related words, ideas, and characteristics.
Prewriting and purpose
It is a rare writer, student or otherwise, who can sit down and draft a classification essay without prewriting. A classification paper requires that you create categories, so prewriting for a classification paper involves grouping things in different ways in order to discover what categories make the most sense for the purpose you intend.
An important part of creating useful categories is seeing the different ways that things can be grouped. For example, a list of United States presidents may be grouped in any number of ways, depending on your purpose. They might be classified by political party, age on taking office, or previous occupations, but you could just as well, depending on your purpose, classify them by the pets they keep or how they keep physically fit. If your purpose was to analyze presidential administrations, you would group information focusing on the presidents' more public actions–say, cabinet appointments and judicial nominations. On the other hand, if you intended to write about the private lives of presidents, you might select information about personal relationships or hobbies.
Make sure the categories you create have a single basis of classification and that the group fits the categories you propose. You may not, for example, write about twentieth century presidents on the basis of the kinds of pets they kept if some of those presidents did not keep pets. The group does not fit the category. If you intend to talk about all the presidents, you must reinvent the categories so that all the presidents fit into it. In the example below, the group is "all U.S. presidents" and the two categories are "those who kept pets and those who did not":
Some U.S. presidents have indulged their love of pets, keeping menageries of animals around the White House, and others have preferred the White House pet-free.
Alternatively, in the following example, the group is "twentieth century U.S. presidential pet-keepers" and the three categories are "dog lovers, cat lovers, and exotic fish enthusiasts."
Among the twentieth century presidents who kept pets, presidential pet-keepers can be classified as dog-lovers, cat-lovers, or exotic fish enthusiasts (for who can really love a fish?).
Developing a thesis
Once you have decided on your group, purpose, and categories, develop a thesis statement that does the following three things:
- names what group of people or things you intend to classify
- describes the basis of the classification
- labels the categories you have developed
Here is a thesis statement for a classification paper written for a Health and Human Fitness class that includes all three of the above elements, underlined:
Our last five U.S. presidents have practiced physical fitness regimens that varied from the very formal to the informal. They have been either regular private gym-goers, disciplined public joggers, or casual active sports enthusiasts.
Order is the way you arrange ideas to show how they relate to one another. For example, it is common to arrange facts and discussion points from most- to least-important or from least- to most-important, or from oldest to most recent or longest to shortest. The example thesis statement above is ordered from most- to least-formal physical fitness activities. There is no one right way; use an ordering system that seems best to suit your purpose and the type of information you are working with.
For example, suppose you are writing about the last five U.S. presidents for a psychology class. If you wish to show that these presidents' public decisions spring directly from negative issues in their personal relationships, you might order your information from most private to more public actions to clearly establish this connection. Or, if you wish to give the reader the impression that he is moving into increasingly intimate knowledge of personal presidential foibles, you may choose the reverse, ordering your information from public to private.
Signal phrases, or transitions, typically used for classification papers include the following:
- this type of...
- several kinds of...
- in this category...
- can be divided into...
- classified according to...
- is categorized by...
These phrases signal to the reader your intention to divide and sort things. They also contribute to the unity of the paper.
Classification requires that you invent (or discover) abstract categories, impose them on a concrete whole, and derive something new-a tall order that you can, nevertheless, manage if you resist the temptation to skip the brainstorming steps. Remember that clinical dissection is never an aim in itself; the point of classification is to reveal and communicate something meaningful.