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Classification and division

Classification examples

Division and classification example

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Cengage Learning - InfoTrac College Edition - InfoWrite classification and division

Division separates items into categories. Complex subjects are easier understood when broken down into smaller groups. A complicated discipline like medicine is divided into specialties -- hematology, psychiatry, and neurology.
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Scientists organize rocks by the way they were formed, such as sedimentary and volcanic. College students, for instance, can be separated by ethnic groups, major, birthplace, or gender. Pollution can be easier to analyze by dividing environmental hazards by type -- biological, chemical, radioactive -- or by source -- sewage, ground run-off, or automobile exhaust.
For instance, in examining a car (system) to understand how it works (principle of analysis), a mechanic might divide the car into its separate subsystems: transmission, exhaust, electrical, engine, and so on. In order to understand the total system, the writer will need to explain how each sub-system functions, how it functions in relation to the other sub-systems, and how it functions in relation to the total system. To understand how a car uses energy (principle of analysis), a physicist might divide the total system into subsystems focusing on mechanical, chemical, and electrical energy.

In studying the homeless population, you might discover that the people you meet in shelters fall into one of three distinct groups -- alcoholics, mental patients, and battered women.

To address the problems of the homeless, it would be necessary to appreciate the needs of each group.
Of all the various modes, classification/division essays are the easiest essay to organize according to a three part thesis statement. Many teachers like the three part thesis because it has an obvious structure and is, therefore, easier to grade. However, there are some problems with it. First, not all essays lend themselves to three divisions. Secondly, students often force essays into artificial divisions in the attempt to create three divisions.

In writing a division essay, it is important to develop appropriate categories. In discussing cars, you could divide them by price, manufacturer, type, or nation of origin. Do not mix categories.

It does not make sense to write a paper about economy cars, German cars, and off-road vehicles.
Most writers will use labels for their categories. If they are describing standard categories (like types of beetles), they will use the standard categories. Then the explanation will be about what the content of the standard categories can tell us. If they are writing a division based more on their own experiences and knowledge (types of grocery shoppers), then the labels will be more unique and individual. Then, the meaning is often related to why the category exists, not how many items are in it.

* Your categories should be as distinct as possible. An individual item should be placed in one group.

In creating categories, remember that your goal is to make your subject easier to understand and work with.
Classification/Division is concerned with breaking large groups of things, people, ideas, etc. into more understandable and workable categories. If you’ve ever heard anyone talking about a type, they’ve been working with divisions. Divisions can be used to create harm, as with stereotypes, but they can also help us begin to understand how and why things are different (as well as similar). The key is to understand the reason for the classification/division.

* Categories should be meaningful and not based on superficial differences.

One might write a meaningful essay about American Presidents by dividing them by their politics, their attitudes toward the Supreme Court, or their religious convictions.
On the other hand, the writer might want to divide the music into their own categories: this is car music, this is study music, this is date music, this is hackysack music, etc. In this particular case, the essay is going to have to define the category for the reader and explain why it is a significant enough reason to justify its own category. The essay then becomes explaining what the music means and is used for by the owner, not necessarily what it tells us about the owner. The difference between the two is subtle, but it’s there.

But dividing Presidents by their horoscopes, their pets, or their nicknames serves little purpose.

* Categories should avoid including too many diverse elements.

* Avoid distorting the complexity of a subject by presenting simplistic divisions.

Suggesting that they are three kinds of bosses, four types of teenagers, or three ways of coping with depression obscures individual differences.
The main difficulty that writers have with classification is that they describe the categories but don’t bother to give them any meaning. There has to be a reason why the writer is presenting us with these divisions. A writer who works in a hardware store might write an essay about the types of customers who come in the store. This essay can have several different purposes.


If your instructor does not assign a topic, you might consider one of the following items. Select a topic, then explore its possibilities using one or more prewriting strategies:

the ways people cope with bad news types of off-campus housing
the ways students prepare for exams kinds of investment plans
ways of rearing children types of sitcoms/soap operas/movies
methods of losing weight/exercising kinds of computer systems
self-defense techniques types of vacation spots
methods of generating energy current bands
construction methods kinds of athletic shoes
computer search engines internet providers


Developing a topic for writing division can be made easier by considering your paper to be a series of descriptions or definitions:

1. Narrow your topic.

2. List sub-topics on a page or computer screen in columns.
To plan the essay, consider the purpose. A good place to start is by considering the tone of the essay. If the professor asked for a serious topic that employs outside research, you could begin by thinking about categories of items within your major. For instance, if you are a biology major, you might write about categorizing different types of dinosaurs into modern categories. For example, some dinosaurs exhibit bird-like characteristics, some exhibit characteristics most like reptiles, and some may have been warm-blooded like mammals.

Consider using clustering to develop topics.

3. List ideas under each sub-topic.

4. If you develop too many subtopics, consider narrowing the general topic.



Consider writing a strong thesis statement that announces the topic and explains the method of division:

People cope with loss in four common ways: anger, depression, denial, and compensation.
One distinct difference between division essays and classification essays is that in classification essays, the members of each class must be distinct from the members of other classes (no item can be a member of more than one class). In division essays, individual parts might be members of more than one subsystem; however, the function of the part will be examined as it relates to each individual subsystem. For instance, the human body can be divided into subsystems that include the circulatory, the respiratory, and the excretory. The blood is an element of each of those systems, but its funtion is interpreted differently depending on the subsystem being discussed. Because division essays examine functionality, they frequently use process as a method. What distinguishes the division essay from the process essay is the focus on the interrelationship of processes both within subsystems and within the total system.

Children develop personal values from three major influences: parents, peers, and teachers.

* Stating the number of subtopics can help readers recall major points.

* Some abstract topics may defy such a simple and direct thesis.

* Before stating your thesis, you may wish to address misconceptions or possible reader objections and include background information.


To avoid oversimplifying your subject, qualify your remarks and point out possible exceptions:

Most people deal with loss in three ways.
Scheme: A scheme is the quality, standard, type, or function by which the elements of the set are sorted into classes, that is, the principle of selection for creating the groups. Biologists classify living organisms based on life processes and qualities. Geologists sort rocks into igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks, a classification based on how the rocks were formed. In order for a classification scheme to be effective it must be a significant, important, relevant, or valuable way to understand the set of things under consideration.

. .

In most instances investigators use one of four methods to detect fraud . . .


To make your division easier to follow and remember, consider using bold type or larger fonts to highlight each subtopic.
Secondly, although some categories may seem separated, they all are to follow the same logical principle. Lastly, every category must include examples. Keeping these three things in mind would make a classification or division essay much easier to write.

Use paragraph breaks to make clear transitions between each type.


Classification essays, like division essays, break a topic into subtopics -- with a difference. Instead of simply dividing a topic into groups, a classification essay rates or ranks the groups according to a common standard.

Homicide, for instance, is classified as first, second, and third degree murder according to circumstances and intent.
For example, every music store is divided into the standard categories: rock, rap, country, classical, jazz, etc. If a writer were to write a classification essay about their CD collection, they could divide their collection into these categories, but that would give the reader no real meaning, because the reader already knows that these categories exist, they expect them to be there. Instead the meaning would come from analyzing the tastes of the owner of these particular CDs. Lots of heavy metal, but no classical tells us things about the owner, as does having twice as much jazz as rap.

Burns are classified as first, second, or third degree depending on tissue damage.

You will study classification in psychology, anatomy, biology, business, and economics. It is a convenient way to organize data and simplify complex decisions, Insurance companies base rates on codes, classifying businesses according to their chance of experiencing a loss.

Stockbrokers classify investments from a low to a high risk.
Classification/Division as a form of organization has two primary purposes: sorting and explaining.

* The method of measurement must be clearly stated.

* Each category must be measured against the same standard: price, quality, durability, time, quantity, etc. Don't mix standards.

* Keep categories uniform. If you are rating personal incomes or prices, maintain uniform increments -- 20,000-30,000; 30,000-40,000; etc.
In division essays, writers break down their subjects into parts for the purpose of understanding the subject. The relationship of these parts to the whole is then explained. Division essays often deal with systems and subsystems.


If your instructor does not assign a topic, you might consider one of the following items. Select a topic, then explore its possibilities using one or more prewriting strategies:

rate cars by quality, ease of repair, or sticker price
rate best to worst bosses, students, or customers you have encountered
evaluate the best to worst methods of disciplining a child
rate local daycare options by price
classify local apartments by size, price, or age
apply a personal rating system to classify movies, talk shows, or sitcoms (make sure you clearly establish your method of evaluation)
rate best to worst computer search engines
classify mutual funds or other investments by risk or current rate of return
rate stores from best to worst in service
rate airlines from best to worst based on your personal experience


Developing a classification paper is a two step process:

1. Choose a subject

2. Select and define a clear method or standard of evaluation

Keep the length of your paper in mind as you consider subjects.
In addition to process, description, narration, and definition are frequent modes used as methods in division essays. Students should be careful not to confuse division with these other modes. Division essays identify the parts or subsystems of something in relation to the whole. Description or narration can be used to illustrate those parts or subsystems after the parts or subsystems have been defined and related to the whole. Topic sentences in division essay body paragraphs should clearly define the part as it functions in the whole.

If you are assigned a 500 word essay, it is unlikely you can classify apartments in Manhattan in any meaningful way. It might be better to limit your subject to apartments in a single neighborhood, or a type of apartment such as lofts, or a particular price range ($1,000-$2,000 a month).
Classification/division essays lend themselves to the three part thesis for several reasons. First, a two part classification/division is often overly simplistic. Second, classifications or divisions that exceed five in number are often unwieldy to discuss within the limits of an essay.

In some cases a method of classification may be clear cut, especially if you are working with numbers. You can easily classify car engines by their number of cylinders.
In your introduction, clearly identify the classification that you have made and chosen to write about. The introduction is going to include your thesis statement with a further description of what it exactly means.

But if you are rating subjective elements such as "desirability" or "quality" you will have to clearly define what you mean by this term:

The quality of airlines can be classified by their on-time record, their response to customer complaints, their ability to address special needs.

Talk shows can be classified by their choice of topics, their quests, and the host's attitude.
Confusing Modes: Sometimes students will confuse the classification essay with the example essay. Classification essays include examples, but the examples are given to illustrate the class. The class must be clearly defined and explained first, and then examples given as illustrations of the class.

To keep your ideas straight and develop a clear outline, use a chart to guide your first draft:

Socially meaningful topics -- child custody, computer fraud, AIDS

Expert guests -- professors, authors, researchers

Thought provoking host -- seeks to summarize/explain complex ideas for a general audience


Entertaining topics -- celebrity divorces, fashion, fad diets

Celebrity guests -- movie stars, comics, singers

Entertaining host -- seeks to entertain by showcasing talent and interviewing for gossip rather than insight


Controversial topics -- sex, drugs, cults, gangs

Dysfunctional guests -- criminals, social misfits, rebels

Confrontational host -- seeks to bait guests into fights, arguments, confrontations to excite audience


If you are establishing a personal method of evaluation, state it clearly at the outset of the essay. Explain what the classification method is based on:

Having worked in the restaurant business for six years, I can classify most customers in one of four categories of tippers.
The classification essay organizes supporting details into three or more groups with each group having its own identifying characteristics. For this reason, classification essays rely heavily on description and example as supporting details or evidence, description providing the means for identifying distinguishing characteristics and examples illustrating the members of each class. Classification essays may also use short narratives or anecdotes as evidence to support or illustrate a class.

. . .

If any elements might not fit into your categories, explain them clearly at the outset or conclusion of your paper.



1. Have you clearly defined your goal -- to write a division or classification paper?

2. Do you make meaningful divisions or classifications -- does your paper oversimplify a complex subject?

3. Are your categories clearly defined?

4. Do you avoid overlapping categories?

5. Do you use parallel patterns to develop categories and items?

6. In classification, do you use a single standard of evaluation?

7. Do all the parts of your subject clearly fit into a single category? Are there any items left over?

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