64 2. Writing the Classification Essay

Your next essay assignment is the classification. In this essay, you will categorize information into groups. For instance, you could categorize different types of television programs (comedies, dramas, reality shows), types of popular autos (sports cars, compact cars, station wagons) or any topic you could break down into groups.

Remember how in the comparison/contrast essay you looked at the similarities between two items: Coca Cola vs. Pepsi, let’s say. You then developed that essay by looking at basic concepts: color, taste, cost, for instance. In classification you will have one major topic (Soda pop) and will break that topic into three or four categories: colas, fruit sodas, sparkling sodas.

It is important to have some kind of connection between the categories- they have to have a relationship. Here are some important points to consider when choosing a topic and its categories:

  • Pick a topic that is workable. Don’t try to classify all the types of music, for instance. There are dozens, really. Narrow your topic down- types of modern popular music, or types of classical music. You can write an essay about types of students at Clinton Community College, but in reality there are many, many different types. What you might want to say is “the most common types of students” and then focus on three or four categories (a good number).
  • Make sure your categories are balanced. If your talking about types of students and you categorize them into three categories: shy students, outgoing students and rich students, what kind of problem have you created? A rich student might be shy or he/she might be outgoing. Two categories deal with personality, the third with financial status. They all have to have a connection- all personality or all financial status.
  • Categories should be generalizations- support should be specific. Popular music categories: country; alternative; the Rolling Stones. The first two are general categories in which you can find many examples. The third is a specific that doesn’t really have examples. The Rolling Stones are one example of classic rock, let’s say.
  • Try not to classify a topic with two categories. That can lead to a comparison/contrast essay. Sure, there are some that work: two main types of trees in the Adirondack forest: deciduous and coniferous. But for the most part, look for ways to break into at least three categories (but no more than four): leafy trees, needle trees, shrubby trees, perhaps.
  • Have a solid introduction that establishes classification (and may include the categories) and a brief conclusion that expresses what the reader should think about now that he/she recognizes these groups.

In the comparison/contrast essay, you wrote about the similarities and difference between lake trout and Atlantic landlocked salmon, let’s say. You could write a related classification essay by putting Lake Champlain fish into types: predator fish, prey fish, scavengers (based on food consumption), or sports fish, pan fish, nuisance fish (based on angler preferences). Trout and salmon, then would be good examples for the predator or the sports fish categories, as would bass, pike and walleyes. Yellow perch, rock bass, sun fish might all be fit into the prey category while suckers and bullhead would be considered scavengers.

Pick a topic you’re comfortable with, something you have an interest and background in. If you can’t come up with examples for each category, then you probably haven’t created good categories. Turn to the Assignment area for instructions on what I am looking for with the classification. I have also provided you with some examples below.


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