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What is Classification?


College assignments often depend on the ability to classify. Examinations and reports in such wide-ranging assignments as government, literature, and science require you to classify before answering. For example, you may be asked to, "explain the results of the French Revolution."  You could classify the results as economic, political, social, etc. Unless you begin by classifying, there is a tendency to write an unorganized paper with too many details and no emphasis on the most important ideas.


To classify is to gather into categories, segments, methods, types, or kinds according to a single basic principle of division. A writer takes a subject like the kinds of politicians, divides it into related sub-topics, and discusses each one individually. 


Classification is a common activity that is especially helpful in organizing large groups of ideas into smaller, recognizable divisions that can be given distinct names or titles and then described in detail.


How should I organize this essay?


As you write, keep these guidelines in mind: 

  • Your thesis statement and introduction will need to explain why these divisions/ classifications should matter to your reader.
  • Your thesis statement and introduction MUST define or explain the category you plan to discuss (i.e. A sport is a competitive, physical activity therefore cheerleading should be considered a sport.)
  • You should organize your body paragraphs so that each division or category has it's own paragraph or section. 


Writing the Paper:


  • Limit the subject.  In cases when you face the prospect of an endless number of classes, it's generally better to revise the subject, making it much more narrow, than to add a catch-all class like "miscellaneous" or "others." A paper classifying religions, for example, could go on forever, whereas a paper classifying religions practiced most frequently by SLU students would have a simpler task.


  • Choose a principle or basis for making the classification.  For example, items on a shopping list may be classified on the basis of importance: items that are absolutely necessary, items that would be helpful, and items that are luxuries. A wise shopper would begin with those items in the first category and buy those in the last only if his money held out. Of course, another shopper may divide the list according to food, household goods, and gifts. How a thing is divided into classes depends, therefore, on who does the dividing and what the division is for. Nonetheless, to be clear and consistent, a classification should be made according to a single principle. 


  • Once you have selected a criterion for making your division, you can concentrate exclusively on developing the categories that result.  Different classifications can apply at different times to the same subject, but it is essential that you use only one at a time. Cars, for instance, can be classified by size. They can also be classified by manufacturer, price, body style, and so on. Choose the one principle of classification suitable to your purpose. Something is obviously illogical in this arrangement of cars: compact, intermediate, Fords, full-size. Also, you should not, halfway through, switch to another principle that is likely to spawn further categories. For example, if you were writing an essay classifying cars according to their body types and suddenly switched to a classification based on number of cylinders, overlapping categories would result. The effect would be a tiresome double count.


  • Divide the subject into three or four distinct groups.  Suppose you were going to write a paper that classified the ways people answer the telephone. Your plan might be as follows: the rude way (specific example), the sexy way (specific examples), and the business-like way (specific examples).


  • Arrange these groups in some kind of order.  There is no set rule about which category to present first, second, or last in a classification paragraph; however, some kind of logical sequence should be followed: from the most to the least important category, from the least to the most important (climactic order), or from the smallest to the largest, and so on. Use appropriate transitions to emphasize the order of arrangement of details and to show the relationships among the classes or divisions as you move from a description or illustration of one to a description of the next. Using transitions will also make each category separate from the others; because if the segments overlap, the details are fuzzy.


  • Develop the classes as equally and completely as possible.   Write approximately the same amount for each class. Give equal importance to each segment of the classification. Balance plays an important role in a classification theme. You must curb the tendency to pamper one segment with elaborate details and the other with a few barren lines. Once you have begun, be sure that you discuss the whole pie--the entire subject. Don't leave a missing piece. For each, describe specifically enough to show how it is distinct from the others. Use as many specific examples for each as you need to make the class distinct. All individual aspects of your subject should be able to fit into one of the classes you've devised. Classifying politicians as only good or bad doesn't take care of the many who are neither all one nor all the other; you need another category.


Download this handout 


Classification Text to Analyze:  This is New York


Sample Classification Essays:  Shades of Character; Shopping


Classification Handout and Sample Essay from UTEP


CCC Handout


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