We classify when we sort things into groups. Because it creates order, classification helps us make sense of our physical and mental experience.
Writers classify to explain a pattern in a subject that might not have been noticed before.
Using the Method
Writers classify primarily to explain a pattern in a subject that might not have been noticed before.
Writer also classify to persuade readers that one group is superior.
Classification is a three-step process:
- Separate things into their elements, using the method of division or analysis
- Isolate the similarities among the elements
- Group or classify the things based on those similarities, matching like with like.
The number of groups in a classification scheme depends entirely on the basis for establishing the classes in the first place. There are two systems:
- In a complex classification, each individual fits firmly into one class because of at least one distinguishing feature shared with all members of that class but with any members of any other classes.
- In a binary or two-part classification, two classes are in opposition to each other.
Sorting demands a principle of classification that determines the groups by distinguishing them.
Your choice of a principle depends on your interest.
Although you may emphasize one class over the others, the classification itself must be complete and consistent.
Developing an Essay by Classification
Be sure that your general subject forms a class in its own right—that its members share at least one important quality.
Your principle of classification may suggest a thesis sentence, but be sure the sentence also conveys a reason for the classification so that the essay does not become a dull list of categories.
TENTATIVE THESIS SENTENCE Political fund-raising appeals are delivered in six ways.
REVISED THESIS SENTENCE Of the six ways to deliver political fund-raising appeals, the three rely on personal contact are generally the most effective.
Be sure to consider your readers’ needs. The principle of classification for a familiar subject need little justification. On the other hand, an unfamiliar subject might require considerable care in explaining the principle of classification.
The introduction to a classification essay should make clear why the classification is worthwhile: what situation prompted the essay? What do readers already know about the subject? What use might they make of the information you will provide?
Do state your principle in a thesis sentence, so that readers know where you’re taking them.
In the body of the essay the classes may be arranged in order of decreasing familiarity or increasing importance or size.
Among other uses, the conclusion might summarize the classes, comment on the significance of one particular class in relation to the whole, or point out a new understanding of the whole subject gained from the classification.
For the first draft of your classification, your goal will be to establish your scheme: spelling out the purpose and principle of classification and defining the groups so that they are complete and consistent, covering the subject without mixing principles or overlapping.
Revising and Editing
The following questions can help you revise and edit your classification:
- Will readers see the purpose of your classification?
- Is your classification complete?
- Is your classification consistent?
FOCUS ON PARAGRAPH DEVELOPMENT
A crucial aim of revising a classification is to make sure each group is clear: what’s counted in, what’s counted out, and why. You’ll provide the examples and other details that make the groups clear as you develop the paragraphs devoted to each group.
The second group, evangelists, does not condemn smokers but encourages, them to quit. Evangelists think quitting is easy, and they preach this message, often earning the resentment of potential converts.
Contrast the given paragraph with the actual paragraph written by Franklin E. Zimring in his essay, “Confessions of a Former Smoker”:
By contrast, the antismoking evangelist does not condemn smokers. Unlike the zealot, he regards smoking as an easily curable condition, as a social disease, and not a sin. The evangelist spends an enormous amount of time seeking and preaching to the unconverted. He argues that kicking the habit is not that difficult. After all, he did it; moreover, as he describes it, the benefits of quitting are beyond measure and the disadvantages are nil.
The hallmark of the evangelists is his insistence that he never misses tobacco. Though he is less hostile to smokers than the zealot, he is resented more. Friends and loved ones who have been the targets of his preachments frequently greet the resumption of smoking by the evangelist as an occasion for unmitigated glee.
In Zimring’s paragraph, he contrasts evangelists with zealots; he provides specific examples of his message and of others’ reaction to them. These additional details make the group distinct from other groups and clear in itself.
Analyzing Classification in A Paragraph
Daniel Goleman (born 1940) is a psychologist who consults and writes on “emotional intelligence.” He previously wrote for the New York Times, and the following paragraph comes from a 1992 Times a column headlined “As Addiction Medicine Gains, Experts Debate What It Should Cover.”
Dr. Milkman, in a theory often cited by those who are stretching the boundaries of addiction, proposed in the mid-1980s that there are three kinds of addiction, each marked by the change they produce in emotional states. The first involves substances or activities that are calming, including alcohol, tranquilizers, overeating, and even watching television. The second involves becoming energized, whether by cocaine and amphetamines, gambling, sexual activity, and even watching television. The second involves becoming energized whether by cocaine and amphetamines, gambling, sexual activity, or high-risk sports like parachute-jumping. The third kind of addiction is to fantasy, whether induced by psychedelic drugs or, for example, by sexual thoughts.
Principle of classification (topic sentence underlined): change produced in emotional states
1. Calming Addiction
2. Energizing Addiction
Aaron, Jane E. The Compact Reader : Short Essays by Method and Theme. 7th Ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.