The purpose of a classification essay is rather straightforward: you have to classify, organize or divide a set of things into categories. The concept of a ‘thing’ is purely relative here – when dealing with literature, you can discuss theories, literary works, authors, schools of writing, genres, trends in literary thought and so on. Sometimes your instructor gives you a set of things to classify; sometimes he/she just assigns a general direction in which your research should move and leaves it at that.
Anyway, classification essay is a very popular type of assignment in literature studies, for a variety of reasons. It helps you organize what you already know on the subject of your course and create templates into which you will be able to fit the knowledge you acquire later. It improves your analytical ability and motivates you to look closer at what makes each work of literature, author and school of writing unique and distinctive. In other words, you can expect to deal with your fair share of classification essays in your time – and this guide will help you with it.
Unless your instructor assigns a topic, you have to pick one yourself. The specific feature of choosing a topic for a classification essay is that you have to do most of the research before you do it. You cannot start with choosing a topic because (unless you are very familiar with the general area of research) it may turn out that the preliminary classification you had in mind falls apart as you start gathering information. Therefore, before you finalize your topic with your instructor, you have to gather enough info to be sure there are enough categories, and you can find enough examples for each category.
In the long run, the choice of topic for a classification essay boils down to selecting what you intend to classify and determining a single organizing principle. Here are some examples:
Just like in any other type of academic assignment, a thesis statement here is the primary idea of your essay expressed in short form (no more than a couple sentences). For a classification essay, it usually involves delineating the topic (what type or group of things you intend to classify or sort) and describing how you are going to classify it (your organizing principle) in a clear and straightforward language. If you like, you can also enumerate the categories as well.
Even if you think you know enough about the subject matter, you cannot build your entire classification essay on this knowledge. A deeper study of the topic can point out new information that will seriously influence the way your classification should work. Therefore, you should first do a bit of research, and for that, you will need sources of information.
Even if your purpose is mere classification, you should not blindly trust everything you find in a printed source. Different publications have wildly different value, and you should take it into account when judging the reliability of information you find in them. The most commonly used approach to evaluating sources is called CRAAP and suggests that you pay attention to:
Obviously, you should look for information that is up to date, objective, precise and verifiable.
The primary goal of the introduction is to pull the reader in and give him/her a reason to read on. It is not enough to state your topic, what you are going to classify and how you will do it, but to show that what you are doing is important and has value. Do not just say what you are going to do in your essay, explain why you are doing it. Why did you choose this particular organizing principle? Why do you believe it to be important? What you intend to achieve with your classification? Do not forget to include your thesis statement at the end of the introduction.
One of the most common mistakes students make when writing classification essays is getting distracted halfway through and losing the sight of the original organizing principle they chose. For example, you may start classifying writers based on their connections to specific literary movements, then get distracted and start talking about their relations with political trends. This information may be perfectly correct and interesting in itself, but it is not related to the topic. In other words, make sure you retain a single classification principle throughout your essay.
In your body paragraphs, you have to describe each category and its distinctions from the others. However, it should be more than just a description. E.g., if you classify literary movements of the 20th century, category descriptions should not be limited to pointing out the characteristic features of the movements you cover. You should focus on criteria that determine whether these movements fall into this or that category based on your organizing principle.
Your statements should be based on more than just your words. It is not enough to describe a category and explain where it falls within your classification. You have to also back your claims up with relevant examples of this category and point out its characteristic features as they are seen in these examples. Also, try to keep the number of examples more or less consistent throughout all categories (although, if some categories are more important/better represented than others, it is acceptable to give them more examples as well).
Conclusion sums up your research and expresses the conclusions you reached after completing your classification. You may summarize what you found out about each category (but do not dedicate too much space to it and try to make your comments non-repetitive).
Now may seem like a good time to pat yourself on the back and leave things at that, and many students do exactly this. Do not make this mistake. What you have right now is not an essay, but its first draft. If you leave it unedited and unrevised, you are likely to miss flaws and potential for improvement. When you write the first iteration of your essay, you almost always forget to mention things, repeat things that you already wrote, express your thoughts in a suboptimal way and so on. Only by returning to the text afterwards you can hope to improve it. So, if at any stage of your revision you see that you can make your essay significantly better by dropping parts of it, rewriting other parts and, in general, doing a lot of extra work, do not try to salvage what you already have. If necessary, rewrite everything from scratch. Your purpose is to get an excellent mark, not to make things easy for yourself.
First, reread the essay in its entirety and see if anything needs changing on a logical or structural basis. Is your classification sound? Do you follow the same organizing principle throughout? Are there any gaps or leaps in your logic? Does your classification cover the entire set of things you study? Did you give enough examples for each category, and did these examples fit the criteria of these categories? Do you dedicate noticeably more attention to some categories over the others? If so, is it appropriate?
Do you successfully get your message across? Ask a friend or a fellow student to read the essay and say if any parts of it are unclear or inconsistent. If you find yourself in need of explaining what you wrote, it means that you are doing something wrong.
Some things that may influence the clarity of your work are:
Removing what your essay does not need is just as important, if not more so, than adding what it should have. After you finish writing and rearranging the general structure of the paper, go through it again and ask yourself, ‘Is it really necessary?’ about every single word, sentence and paragraph. If you can do without something, remove it without reservations. You should always try to express your thoughts in as few words as possible.
Finally, reread your essay paying attention to the spelling, grammar and syntax of your writing. If you are unsure you use the word correctly, look it up in the dictionary – word that look and sound similar may sometimes have different meanings and be used in different situations.
You may find grammar and spelling checkers like Grammarly and GrammarCheck useful during the initial examination of your paper, but do not rely on them too much – while they can notice the more obvious mistakes, they are much less accurate when it comes to more complex situations.
A classification essay can turn out to be a much more complicated assignment than it initially suggests. However, we believe that this guide will help you the next time you deal with work of this kind.