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Division and Classification

The classification essay is a valuable expository form because it provides students with a procedure for sorting and analyzing large quantities of information. It is also valuable because it uses the strategies studied in process analysis and comparison and contrast even as it anticipates some of the skills that will be examined in definition. Division, often the first step in classifying a subject, is similar to analysis in that it breaks something into smaller parts. Once these parts (or categories) have been established, they can be distinguished from one another by using the techniques of comparison and contrast. In the classification essay, such techniques become more complicated, however, because to classify effectively, writers must analyze at least three categories. To establish each category, writers must define its unique properties so that it will not overlap with the others.

The classification essay, like the previous writing strategies, can be viewed as a way of organizing and presenting information. That is, narration is organized by the chronology of events, description by the evocation of the senses, process analysis by the sequence of steps, and comparison by the divided or alternating patterns. In subsequent (and more sophisticated) forms—definition, cause and effect, argument—the writer must create the organizational pattern. But as the introduction to this section points out, the classification essay follows a fairly recognizable form. Some beginning writers see this format as no more than an outline: divide the subject into categories, arrange the categories in sequence, define each category by differentiating it from the other categories, and illustrate it with examples. More experienced writers regard this formula as a poet regards the rhyme scheme for a sonnet—as a structure that encourages endless variations. For a brief example of how this pattern can be integrated into graceful writing, ask your students to examine Gareth Tucker’s “Gentlemen! Start Your Engines.”

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