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.
Writing an essay often seems to be a dreaded task among students. Whether the essay is for a scholarship, a class, or maybe even a contest, many students often find the task overwhelming. While an essay is a large project, there are many steps a student can take that will help break down the task into manageable parts. Following this process is the easiest way to draft a successful essay, whatever its purpose might be.
According to Kathy Livingston’s Guide to Writing a Basic Essay, there are seven steps to writing a successful essay:
1. Pick a topic.
You may have your topic assigned, or you may be given free reign to write on the subject of your choice. If you are given the topic, you should think about the type of paper that you want to produce. Should it be a general overview of the subject or a specific analysis? Narrow your focus if necessary.
If you have not been assigned a topic, you have a little more work to do. However, this opportunity also gives you the advantage to choose a subject that is interesting or relevant to you. First, define your purpose. Is your essay to inform or persuade?
Once you have determined the purpose, you will need to do some research on topics that you find intriguing. Think about your life. What is it that interests you? Jot these subjects down.
Finally, evaluate your options. If your goal is to educate, choose a subject that you have already studied. If your goal is to persuade, choose a subject that you are passionate about. Whatever the mission of the essay, make sure that you are interested in your topic.
2. Prepare an outline or diagram of your ideas.
In order to write a successful essay, you must organize your thoughts. By taking what’s already in your head and putting it to paper, you are able to see connections and links between ideas more clearly. This structure serves as a foundation for your paper. Use either an outline or a diagram to jot down your ideas and organize them.
To create a diagram, write your topic in the middle of your page. Draw three to five lines branching off from this topic and write down your main ideas at the ends of these lines. Draw more lines off these main ideas and include any thoughts you may have on these ideas.
If you prefer to create an outline, write your topic at the top of the page. From there, begin to list your main ideas, leaving space under each one. In this space, make sure to list other smaller ideas that relate to each main idea. Doing this will allow you to see connections and will help you to write a more organized essay.
3. Write your thesis statement.
Now that you have chosen a topic and sorted your ideas into relevant categories, you must create a thesis statement. Your thesis statement tells the reader the point of your essay. Look at your outline or diagram. What are the main ideas?
Your thesis statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, and the second part states the point of the essay. For instance, if you were writing about Bill Clinton and his impact on the United States, an appropriate thesis statement would be, “Bill Clinton has impacted the future of our country through his two consecutive terms as United States President.”
Another example of a thesis statement is this one for the “Winning Characteristics” Scholarship essay: “During my high school career, I have exhibited several of the “Winning Characteristics,” including Communication Skills, Leadership Skills and Organization Skills, through my involvement in Student Government, National Honor Society, and a part-time job at Macy’s Department Store.”
4. Write the body.
The body of your essay argues, explains or describes your topic. Each main idea that you wrote in your diagram or outline will become a separate section within the body of your essay.
Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure. Begin by writing one of your main ideas as the introductory sentence. Next, write each of your supporting ideas in sentence format, but leave three or four lines in between each point to come back and give detailed examples to back up your position. Fill in these spaces with relative information that will help link smaller ideas together.
5. Write the introduction.
Now that you have developed your thesis and the overall body of your essay, you must write an introduction. The introduction should attract the reader’s attention and show the focus of your essay.
Begin with an attention grabber. You can use shocking information, dialogue, a story, a quote, or a simple summary of your topic. Whichever angle you choose, make sure that it ties in with your thesis statement, which will be included as the last sentence of your introduction.
6. Write the conclusion.
The conclusion brings closure of the topic and sums up your overall ideas while providing a final perspective on your topic. Your conclusion should consist of three to five strong sentences. Simply review your main points and provide reinforcement of your thesis.
7. Add the finishing touches.
After writing your conclusion, you might think that you have completed your essay. Wrong. Before you consider this a finished work, you must pay attention to all the small details.
Check the order of your paragraphs. Your strongest points should be the first and last paragraphs within the body, with the others falling in the middle. Also, make sure that your paragraph order makes sense. If your essay is describing a process, such as how to make a great chocolate cake, make sure that your paragraphs fall in the correct order.
Review the instructions for your essay, if applicable. Many teachers and scholarship forms follow different formats, and you must double check instructions to ensure that your essay is in the desired format.
Finally, review what you have written. Reread your paper and check to see if it makes sense. Make sure that sentence flow is smooth and add phrases to help connect thoughts or ideas. Check your essay for grammar and spelling mistakes.
Congratulations! You have just written a great essay.
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