At a glance, there is nothing particularly difficult about writing a classification essay. After all, it is exactly what it says on the tin – you simply have to analyze a number of objects, ideas or concepts, see if they share any characteristics and divide them into two or more categories. However, things are not always this easy. While you are in high school, you probably can make do with haphazardly putting the concepts in question into different categories. In college, this task gets much more complicated, especially if you study a subject like IT or related disciplines.
For one, you have to carry out a significant amount of research. You cannot simply put something into this or that category – you have to find as much information about it as possible and provide convincing proof of why you chose to do so. In addition to that, you have to make sure that the classification you offer follows a consistent organizing principle. For example, if you classify programming languages, you can stick to the broad classification into machine-level, assembly-level and high-level languages, or you can take a more specific approach and deal with the purposes they primarily pursue, e.g., educational, esoteric, reflective languages etc.
It is just one thing you have to consider, which is why writing an IT-related classification essay can become a very confusing task. However, you will find all the information you need in this primer – simply follow it, and you will never run into any trouble.
It is often said that the right choice of topic and proper preliminary work defines the success of an entire academic paper. It is normally true, but it is particularly important when it comes to classification essays. While it is often possible to modify an essay halfway through to fit a somewhat different topic or structure, in case of classification writing you will normally have to rewrite your entire essay. So make sure you pay special attention to preliminary work.
Selecting a topic for a classification essay boils down to defining three things:
The first point is simple: you take a sufficiently large set of things, ideas or concepts to divide into categories. Sometimes your professor gives it to you, sometimes you are free to choose whatever you like. If it is the latter with you, make sure the things you choose are sufficiently similar to each other: to be classified, things first have to bear enough resemblance to each other for this classification to be meaningful.
Then you have to choose your organizing principle and make sure you can classify all the items in the set according to it. It is very important – this principle has to remain consistent throughout your essay. For example, you cannot classify programming languages according to level and suddenly introduce a category based on the way these languages deal with memory management.
Finally, you have to define if this classification gives meaningful results when applied to this set of things. E.g., it is not a classification if all the items in the set fall into the same category based on your organization principle, or if each item falls into a category of its own.
If you do not encounter problems on any of these stages, you can now formulate your topic in a single phrase. Here are some examples:
When writing a classification essay, it is usually a bad idea to invent categories and put items into them as you go along. If you want to avoid unpleasant surprises, better identify your categories and define which items go where before you start writing, on the planning stage. Even if you have already decided upon your organizing principle, you, for example, can discover an item that does not quite fit any category halfway through. Therefore, make sure you know the categories ahead of time.
An outline is an in-depth plan of your paper, something like its short version containing only the most basic information, without any clarification. You write down how you will introduce your topic to the audience, how you will try to grab their attention, what categories and in which order you will use, how you will analyze the items and which factors will play the major role in your classification. Although you do not do an in-depth write-up at this stage, if you prepare a good outline at this point, later you will simply have to add some content to this framework.
At this point, you have to define the structure of your future essay. The overarching structure is the same as in most other essay types: introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. The difference lies in the way you organize the body. There are two major approaches to this:
Unless you have a pre-determined set of items to categorize, you should start with defining categories and then flesh them out with examples. In this case, make sure each category has the same or at least comparable number of examples (e.g., avoid distributions like 6/7/2, try to make it closer to 3/4/3). Sometimes, one category plays a larger role in your classification than the others do. In this case, it is usually reserved for last and can do with some further elaboration.
Thesis statement is what you intend to say in your essay, boiled down to a single sentence. It is different from the topic: the topic simply delineates the subject matter, the thesis statement is a declaratory sentence expressing the main idea of your paper. For example, ‘Classification of Computer Types by Function’ is a topic. The thesis statement for such an essay will be something like ‘There are five types of computers based on their function: personal computers, workstations, servers, mainframes and supercomputers’. The rest of the essay will be dedicated to clarification and providing additional details.
If you put enough effort into preparation and specifically into writing an outline, by now your job should be easy: simply take your preliminary notes and flesh them out enough to meet the required word count. However, there are still some tricks that can make your work easier and the final result better.
Your audience should get a clear idea of what you are writing about from the outset. Identify the type of things you classify and, if necessary, provide descriptive or informative details to lay the foundation of your categorization and draw the attention and interest of the readers.
Clearly defined categories are the foundation of any classification essay. Make sure you provide sufficient detail when introducing them and point out their specific features. It also may be necessary to point out the similarities and differences between the categories under scrutiny so that the readers better understand what differentiates them from each other.
Transition words and phrases are important in all types of writing, and you can use most of them here: ‘therefore’, ‘consequently’, ‘thus’, ‘so’, etc. However, classification essays have their own transition phrases: ‘the first/second/third type/group/category’, ‘similarly to’, ‘unlike’, etc. Make sure you introduce them where appropriate.
You should not introduce categories haphazardly. Instead, think of a logical order in which to do so. For example, you can move from the most known to the least known category, or in chronological order of appearance (e.g., going from the oldest to the newest programming languages). Make sure you mention this order in your thesis statement and stick to it throughout the essay.
What kind of closure depends on the purpose of your essay. You may point out a method that is most effective for solving a particular sort of problems. You may say that despite all the differences between the categories you have analyzed, they have a few very important similarities. You may summarize the advantages and/or limitations of each category. Try out different approaches, see which of them fit the topic of your essay better, and do not be afraid to experiment – at least if you have enough time to do so.
When writing a classification essay, it is very important to be realistic about your timeline and set aside enough time at its end to edit, proofread and polish the text. In the long run, the attention you pay at this stage of your work to a large extent defines the grade you eventually get.
Firstly, you should pay attention to the essay in its entirety. Read it several times, preferably in different ways: to yourself and aloud, off your PC’s screen and printed on paper. By perceiving it in an unfamiliar fashion you have a chance of noticing something that eluded you when you were typing it out.
See if your argumentation looks and feels sound. Check if all parts connect to each other naturally. Make sure there are no gaps in your logic. Make the necessary corrections.
Do your writing style and composition of your essay remain consistent throughout the text? Do you use any inappropriate words, expressions or stylistic devices? Are any paragraphs significantly longer or shorter than the others are (if so, you may need to edit them up or down)?
Your essay should pursue a single goal – to clarify the idea expressed in your thesis statement. Anything that does not move you towards this purpose is unnecessary. Reread your essay a few more times, asking yourself when reading each word and sentence: do I really need this to drive my point home? If you are not sure, get rid of it.
Finally, pay attention to the spelling, grammar and syntax. While spellcheckers (both the ones offered by most word processors and online tools with this functionality) take care of most spelling mistakes, you should be on the lookout for the commonly mixed up words – you can be sure you use them correctly only if you know what they mean.
The same goes for grammar and syntax. Although automatic checkers can single out a number of mistakes, you can never fully rely on them and have to apply your own knowledge if you want to be sure. If you can, hire a professional proofreader – this way you can be sure this side of your paper gets sufficient attention.
As you can see, when you approach the job of writing a classification essay on IT and web-related topics, it is much less intimidating than it initially seems to be. Follow this guide, and you will complete your assignment in no time!