A classification essay organizes ideas into categories using a clear and consistent organizing principle, it then lists examples, scenarios or real life applications within each category. For example, you could organize computers by their operating systems, such as Windows, Mac, etc., then describe strengths and weaknesses of each platform. Writing a classification essay can be a great way to get at the essence of a broad subject matter and focus your audience's attention on specific, measurable comparisons of objects or ideas. As with any essay, it's important to keep your audience in mind throughout every step of the writing process. It's also important to know what you want your audience to come away with, that is, what you want them to learn from your essay and what opinion you'd like them to embrace.
A classification essay is separated into three main sections, the introduction, the body and the conclusion. The introduction of a classification essay should introduce your thesis statement and organizing principle then transition into the body. The body should consist of a few paragraphs that describe your categories and list examples of each one. Your conclusion should restate your thesis statement and summarize your findings in such a way that delivers your message or opinion.
Often you'll want to focus on specific categories more than others in order to effectively support your thesis statement or opinion. In that case, you can list categories within the body in descending level of importance or detail, with the least important as the first and the most important as the last. This method will ensure that your audience has the most important category in their mind as they reach the conclusion and finish your essay.
Choosing a topic and dividing it into categories is arguably the most important part of writing a classification essay. You'll probably want to divide your subject matter into three categories; there is no rule that states you have to use three, but you want to make sure you have enough to justify categorization and not too many to lose your audience. One of the first things to think about is the breadth of your topic and your organizing principle, that is, the attributes you'll use to classify your topic. You'll want to choose something that you can divide into three or so categories without missing any major category. You'll also want to make sure that your categories are mutually exclusive and as objective as possible. Stay away from classifying things as "good", "ugly", or "useful" and other subjective terms and try to stick with measurable, tangible attributes like "population", "cost", or "color".
Make sure that your organizing principle is consistent and that it divides your topic into categories using attributes that have some sort of relationship. For example, while "herbivore", "omnivore" and "carnivore" would make fine categories for mascots of state schools, "herbivore", "omnivore" and "invertebrate" would be an inconsistent organizing principle.
You can also adjust the scope of your subject matter to make sure your categories are as comprehensive as possible. For instance, you wouldn't want to use "grasses", "bushes" and "trees" to classify all the plants of the world, but you'd probably be fine classifying the visible plants in your backyard as such. By adjusting the scope of your topic you can make sure that you have exactly enough categories to work with while remaining comprehensive.
Your thesis statement should summarize your topic, organizing principle, and list the categories you have chosen. To return to our original example in the first paragraph, your thesis statement might look something like the following.
Home computers can take advantage of three operating systems: Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.
Now that you know what a classification essay is and how best to choose your topic and organizing principle, you shouldn't have any trouble at all writing an excellent essay. Make sure that you keep your audience in mind at all times and try to keep your classification essay interesting and easy to read. You can learn a little more about classification and division, as well as review your essay using the links below. Good luck!