The idea behind writing classification essays is simple – you take a type of things (concepts, ideas, phenomena, events, etc.), analyze them, single out their characteristic features, define what makes each of them unique and divide them into categories based on a consistent set of criteria. However, this simplicity is often misleading. This kind of task may be easy in high school, when you usually have to classify tangible things and relatively simple ideas. By the time you reach college, you have to deal with some very abstract notions. In addition to that, if you study poetry you have to possess some very deep knowledge of the subject to make meaningful conclusions and be able to form categories that are based on something more than your subjective opinion.
However, it does not need to be all that difficult – at least if you have proper guidance. For that purpose, our specialists have prepared this manual. It contains all the information you are going to need to write your first classification essay in poetry studies and understand how to develop your own style.
The choice of topic in an essay of this type boils down to deciding two things:
Once you do it, what is left is simply to improve the wording until you are satisfied with it, and it looks sufficiently original. Fortunately, poetry provides plenty of opportunities for different approaches to classification. You do not even have to stick to any accepted approach – in this sphere you can always claim to be following your own perception of the subject, and it will usually look legitimate. Here are some tips that will help you settle down on a specific topic.
An essay is a relatively short assignment, and your topic should reflect it. Do not choose something like ‘Classification of Poems by Type’, because this topic is so broad that it is almost meaningless. Poetry is a common feature of human culture, and as a result, there are dozens upon dozens of poem types: originating from different nations, popular in different historical periods, used in different situations, etc. To write a classification essay, you will have to choose something much narrower – e.g., ‘Most Common Types of Traditional Japanese Poetry’.
Do you have personal experience writing poetry? Write a classification of meters based on their accessibility for beginners. Are you interested in Medieval poetry? Write a classification of Medieval English poets based on their most typical subject matter. The most important thing is to stick to the things you are interested in and know about – it is much easier to write when you do not have to spend half the time doing research.
In a classification essay, you should not simply divide things into categories. You have to make sure the basis of your classification remains consistent all the way. To that end, check if it bears up under scrutiny before you start writing. See if your chosen criteria apply to all the items, if each item firmly falls into a single category, if you have to invent additional factors to classify some of the items and so on.
You can use many different things as a basis for your classification: cultural context, themes covered in the poetry, its genres, approach to versification, use of figures of speech. Here are some examples, so that you better understand what to look for:
Preparation plays a significant role in all types of academic writing, but it is crucial in case of classification essays. The thing is, it is relatively easy to modify and rearrange parts of an essay in most writing types. Some people even succeed in writing their essays without preparation, simply following their inspiration. However, with classification essays this approach does not and cannot work. In order to write a coherent essay of this type, you have to prepare its structure beforehand – otherwise, either it will be a mess or you will have to rewrite it heavily multiple times.
The task of a classification essay is not limited to simply putting things into categories. You should also explain why you use the categories you chose, why you believe this or that criterion to play a significant role in your classification, why the examples you give are good illustrations of what you are trying to prove. To create a classification that is based on something more than just your conjectures, you have to navigate in the subject matter, and to do so you have to collect and analyze information.
You can find most data in online academic databases and search engines. Start with searching for the keywords generally related to your topic, then study other works by the same authors and the ones found in the bibliographies of their papers, and it will most likely be enough.
An outline is a framework you will use to write your essay. It is a plan with short summaries of what you are going to write in each of its parts. Feel free to write it in as much or as little detail as you need. Some students write their outlines in great detail – sometimes they need just to flesh them out a little bit to turn them into full-fledged essays. Others boil down the details of each section to just a couple of words. There is no right way – you have to choose what works for you.
Anyway, the structure of a classification essay is usually as follows:
In academic writing, a thesis statement contains the primary idea of a paper in its most basic form. In other words, the audience should understand the point you try to drive home in your essay from this section, and the rest of the paper serves to prove what you say here. A thesis statement should be:
A thesis statement of a classification essay will usually refer to the type of things you classify, criteria you use and, perhaps, the idea you want to prove. For example, if you classify American schools of poetry that existed in 19th century, you may also mention which of them you believe to influence the later authors most.
You do not have to keep this number exactly equal, but do try to divide your attention relatively equally between the categories. Only deviate from this rule if there is a good reason for it. For example, if you discuss poets belonging to a specific school, it may be necessary to pay individual attention to those of them who seemingly should not belong to the category in question. Some of them may be highly unusual and require additional explanations on your part. Alternatively, if you deal with a very obscure genre of poetry and are not able to locate the same number of notable examples as for other categories, do not go out of your way to even this number out.
Transitions are words and phrases that connect parts of a text and make it look smoother and more coherent (e.g., ‘thus’, ‘therefore’, ‘however’, ‘meanwhile’ etc.). An essay that lacks them looks disjointed even if it is perfectly logically sound. And vice versa, sometimes these words can mask little gaps in logic and omissions (if they are not too glaring). Make sure you use transitions to connect introduction and conclusion to the body paragraphs and body paragraphs to each other.
In an essay, you have a very limited word count to work with. Each additional category requires equal attention, which means that the more categories you use, the less you can say about each of them. An optimal number may differ depending on the size of the essay and specifics of the task, but 3 to 5 is the norm.
An academic essay should strike a careful balance between drawing on arguments of others and offering your own ideas. Although classification essays are usually not heavy in quotes, when dealing with poetry you may need to cite either the poems you analyze or authorities writing about them. When you do so, always quote or paraphrase them properly, indicating the source. Otherwise, it is all too easy to get accused of plagiarism.
Spellcheckers and grammar checkers can be very useful, especially when you screen your text for the first time. They can help you notice many a mistake, typo and awkward grammatical structures. However, humans are yet to develop software that would be able to replace a skilled proofreader. This goes both for Word’s spellchecker (which is extremely basic) and various specialized tools (which are even worse in some respects, as they claim to deal with many more types of mistakes and often see them where there are none).
And change the way you perceive it every time. For example, read the text aloud, paying attention to every word. Read it backwards, sentence by sentence, to pay greater attention to spelling and word choice. Print it out using an unusual font – if it looks differently, you are less likely to overlook mistakes you are already used to. Cover everything but the line you currently read with a screen – it will help you focus. Reread it multiple times, focusing on a single type of mistakes each time.
From your experience, are there any mistakes you tend to make? If you know yourself to mix up certain words, or use certain grammatical structures incorrectly, or be prone to any other kind of errors, make a list of them and check every text you write while paying special attention to them. This will help you be more conscious of them and, in time, root them out.
Proofreading your own text is hard and ineffective – after writing it and rereading it many times, you go blind to many big and small grammar and syntax errors. The same goes for gaps in logic and argumentation.
Meanwhile, hiring a proofreader can be expensive, and you never know for sure if the person you hire is any good. An alternative is to arrange it with one of your peers to proofread and edit each other’s essays. You will not only get help free of charge – your writing buddy will soon learn to recognize your typical mistakes and draw your attention to them. That is why it is more useful than asking different people to proofread for you every time.
Classifying poetry and things related to it may be difficult, especially for the first time. But we believe that with the help of this guide these tasks will not be a problem for you anymore!