The goal of a classification essay is to classify or organize a set of things (concepts, ideas, events, etc.) into categories. Although it may sound simple, you should not take this sort of work lightly: your college professors would not give you such a task if the classification in question were self-evident. It is especially true for law assignments: they will not give you a task to, let us say, classify types of contracts based on a characteristic you can easily read about in a textbook. No, the factor in question will be small and elusive, and you will have to do research of your own to decide whether this or that item goes to a specific category.
However, you do not have to worry about the specifics – if you simply follow this guide of ours, you will successfully avoid most major pitfalls waiting for those writing classification essays in law, and the rest will come to you with experience.
It is often said that if you do not use at least half of the time you spend writing a paper on preparation, you are doing something wrong. It is especially true for classification essays: their very nature presupposes that you should define the grounds for classification, the categories you will divide things in and examples you will use before you write the first word.
All classification essay topics are more or less similar: they consist of a) the group or type of things you intend to categorize and b) the primary organizing principle you intend to use to divide them into categories. As a result, most topics will look something like “A classified by its relation to B”. This, however, does not mean that thinking of a topic from scratch is easy – on the contrary, finding an interesting and original viewpoint may be quite troublesome, especially in well-researched law-related topics.
Some ideas you may find useful when choosing a topic:
To give you a better understanding of what kind of topics you should think about, here are some examples:
Whether your professor gives you the set of items to classify or you should gather your own examples, check if your organizing method works. This means that each item should fall into a specific category (without any ambiguities) and all categories should be distinct (without overlaps). If, for example, you classify the laws dealing with divorce in different countries, you should use the same set of criteria for all of them. Do not introduce additional ones as you go along to justify your classification.
Classification essays usually fall into two types:
Decide what you are going to write beforehand. The former approach is more specific and allows you to pay more attention to individual items. The latter is more general and is more concerned with categories than with items that belong to them.
A thesis statement is the main idea of your essay, usually expressed in a single sentence. In a classification essay, it should contain the following:
E.g., ‘Crimes are generally categorized as one of four groups based on the severity of associated punishment: felonies, misdemeanors, felony-misdemeanors and infractions’.
A thesis statement should be short and to the point – avoid ambiguity and do not introduce any information not necessary to express the main idea.
If you prepare an outline with the right amount of detail, writing the essay will present no difficulties. An outline is a detailed plan – it enumerates all individual parts of the essay and gives short comments on what you want to write in each of them: how you grasp the audience’s attention in the introduction, in what order you introduce the categories and what examples you will give, etc. An outline of a typical classification essay looks like this:
It is an important principle to follow when you deal with academic writing in general, but classification essays are particularly sensitive to imperfections in flow and structure. Divide your essay into clearly defined segments, each dedicated to an individual category or one of the items from the set you are classifying. Do not go back and forth between them, or the situation will become confusing for your audience.
Although legal matters often have aspects that are open for interpretation, you should be confident in your classification. Therefore, avoid words and expressions like ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, ‘probably’, etc.
When speaking about categories, illustrate them with examples and explain why you believe that these items fall into these categories. It is important to represent each category equally in your essay: i.e., keep the number of examples the same or similar for each category, and dedicate more or less the same word count to each of them.
Signal words, or transitions, are words and phrases used to connect parts of your essay together and create the impression of smooth flow of logic. You can use some of them in any academic paper (e.g., ‘therefore’, ‘thus’, ‘so’, ‘nevertheless’, etc.), but some are specifically associated with classification essays. Some of them are:
An essay is a small assignment, and there is usually not enough space for a comprehensive analysis. If you try to create a classification that considers all the distinctive features of the items you analyze, you will be limited to just a few sentences or even words per category. A better course of action is to concentrate on one or two most important aspects but offer an in-depth analysis.
If any category is more important to drive your point home than the rest, leave it for last. Also, make sure that the preceding categories laid the groundwork for the introduction of this one. For example, if you classify narcotic-related laws used in different countries by their efficiency, you may introduce a few groups of laws and make notes on their drawbacks. When you finally introduce the last group, you can refer to these flaws and explain what makes this final group more efficient when compared to the preceding ones.
When the writing per se is done, the same cannot be said about your job in general. There is plenty more you can do to make sure you get the grade you want – so do not get complacent and put some extra effort into your work.
Depending on your academic level, your professor’s attitude towards flaws of this type may differ, but in college, they are usually a no-go. There is hardly anything worse for the general impression produced by your paper than poor spelling and grammar. Do not rely on the spellchecker in your word processor of choice – they offer only the most basic corrections. Some online spell- and grammar checkers like Grammarly or GrammarCheck are better, but only marginally so – they miss many types of mistakes and offer corrections where they are not necessary.
So reread your essay multiple times, preferably after setting it aside for a few days. Consult grammar textbooks and websites when in doubt. Ask a trustworthy friend to read the essay for you. If you can afford it, hire a professional proofreader.
Writing less than the maximum amount is usually all right and may be an advantage in its own right (although you can use this opportunity to add a few words here or there to flesh out your argument). Exceeding the word count, however, is always a bad idea, so make sure you steer clear of it as you write and cut unnecessary parts if you find yourself going over it. Fortunately, it is almost always possible to decrease the size of your essay without sacrificing the meaningful contents. Here are some tactics for it:
Finally, you should make sure your essay works as a cohesive whole. Read it aloud and pay attention to the flow of logic. Does your reasoning have gaps? Do you jump to conclusions? Is your classification principle weak? Focus on connections between individual parts of your essay and check if the text naturally flows from one to another. Have a trusted acquaintance read the essay (or read it to him/her aloud) and ask if he/she can follow your reasoning.
All parts of a well-written essay are balanced in respect to each other. See if you spend too much time on one point and too little on another, more important one. Even experienced writers often start by introducing many details about the items mentioned early, only to discover that they do not have enough space to proceed in this fashion for the entire essay. Therefore, later items often get less attention. See if your essay suffers from this, and balance it out: cut unnecessary details and flesh out the points that did not get enough representation.
As you can see, once you approach the job systematically, writing a classification essay in law is not that intimidating. Follow our guide, and you will be able to deal even with the most complicated topic in no time.