What is a Classification Essay

In simple terms, a classification essay (also called classification and division essay) is a piece of writing where you classify subjects. What does classify mean? It means to arrange items, concepts, historical facts, people, or other subjects into a class or category that unites these subjects on the basis of similar features they share, as opposed to other categories that include subjects dissimilar to the former ones. This practice develops your ability to organize things, see specific similarities and differences between them that are determinative of the category, type, or class they pertain to. Classification essays are mostly informative and rarely persuasive.

Principles of Classification: Essay Edition

Writing a Classification and Division Essay

Before you start writing your classification and division essay, prepare a “blueprint” for your classification.

The three key elements of classification writing are the subjects to be classified, the principle or criteria by which they will be classified, and the actual classes, groups, or categories by which the subjects will be organized.

The subjects must be of the same kind but have items of different types or classes in them. To exemplify, think of how all the various ships belong to the same kind of objects - in brief, they all are watercraft. Yet, there are military ships, passenger ships, cargo ships, and other types.

The principle of classification definition identifies this principle as a criterion that sets a standard for necessary features that a subject should have to be included in a certain category. Therefore, subjects are classified based on distinctive types of aspects, services, qualities, or characteristics that are inherent or relatable to them. Psychological needs of a human may be grouped by the principle of hierarchy or by the aspect of life they are associated with; types of food can be differentiated by their nutritiousness, land of origin, or the ways they can be cooked. The principle by which you group the subjects may be pointed out in your assignment, or you may be free to choose an approach yourself. In any case, as the writer of a classification essay, you have to stick with that initial principle.

There are usually at least three groups or categories to organize the subjects by. These categories, classes, or groups each have to be described in the essay. Then, explain which features define a subject as one that pertains to this or that category. If you're using categories of different kinds, the same subject can belong to two or more kinds of categories (very simple example, a pair of shoes belongs to two kinds of categories: leather shoes and running shoes). You may use such overlaps if they can be of interest to your reader and contribute to the purpose of the essay. Provide examples of items, events, or people representative of every class or group. Another part of your task may be to compare or contrast the classes in some way, or do that with subjects instead in order to show what similarities or differences between them put them into the same or different categories.

Types of Categories That Can be Used in Classificatory Writing

  1. components. It is possible not to have many different subjects grouped in some ways, but rather have one subject that consists of many different components which can be classified. An example of such classification can be elements of a city's urban design or various aspects that describe the nature of a single continent;
  2. characteristic features. Organizing items by how durable they are, how handy they are, or by their price, grouping newspapers and other periodicals by their level of credibility, or classifying historical events by either negative or positive changes they have brought are all examples of arranging subjects according to their characteristics;
  3. types. Classification by type is resembling of classification by characteristics, but the difference is that types usually entail many different characteristic features. This is easier to see when we notice such a tricky detail as that a type is denoted by a noun, while characteristics and attributes are adjectives. There are exceptions, but even in that case we understand that a Victorian type of house incorporates such features as bay windows, high ceilings, stained glass, and fireplaces at the same time; and we also know that Chinese medicine is a kind of medicine that is mostly culture-specific by scale, holistic by approach, and ancient by age. Other types can be manufacturer brands, forms of government, professional fields, types of essays, and so forth.

Follow the instructions in your assignment or choose things to classify yourself, if they are not specified in the task. The categories should be somehow connected. This connection may be expressed through the fact that the categories are of the same type or can be applied to the same subject. For example, countries can be categorized by their geographical position, climate, cultural attributes they are most famous for, such as cuisine or religion. The categories are actually different, but they are united by the main subject they characterize: countries of the world. Another way to look at it: only one of these categories is used, say, climate. Seems like there's nothing to connect because this category is just alone. Yet, it is multiplied by division into many smaller categories that represent different types of climate. These types of categories are connected by the fact that they all describe climate.

The next step is to order these climate types, whether from hottest to coldest, from less widespread to more widespread kinds of vegetation, and many other arrangements.

Make sure that whichever type of arrangement you choose, examples are present for each category.

Classification Essay Format

The common type of format or structure for almost any essay is the introduction - main body - conclusion , type, usually comprising five paragraphs: one for the introduction, three for the main body, one for the conclusion. However, based on the requirements of your assignment or on some particular features of your text, the main body layout may contain less or more paragraphs, as well as sub-paragraphs. They usually concentrate on a different set of points each, whereas any special noteworthy facts or arguments within such a set would be more clear to the reader if put into a separate classification paragraph too. With a classification essay, there’s an opportunity to make this format a bit more interesting. All those groups, types, and classes by which you organize various subjects may be more accessible to the reader’s comprehension when put in a visually clear way - for example, in a table or a graph. That could be a good supplement to the actual body of the text.


The introduction is the cornerstone of every essay. Here you write a good thesis statement, but not before exposing the subjects and the categories of your classification and the organizing principle that will be used to put them together. The goal of the essay’s classification is also an important thing to establish in your introduction. Finish the introduction with a thesis. Most suitable as a thesis statement would be an explanation of the core goal of your classification and probably a specific context that gives it special value. To spark interest in the reader, you may come up with a hypothetical or real-life typical story to which the current classification directly relates - like the turmoil of having to choose a type of loan when you want to buy a new house, or that embarrassing moment at a History class when the teacher asks you to name the types of government in Ancient Greece, and it really is all Greek to you. Such a story is a nice lead-in to give your reader some hope that the classification you provide in your essay will help them stay out of that worry.

Main body

The structure of the actual main body of the text may vary, but to keep your points clear and avoid confusion in the reader’s mind, make a separate paragraph or sub-paragraph for each of the main features: sets of subjects that participate in this classification, sorting criteria, description and significance of the categories or maybe even several different types of categories.

You may work with a definite set of subjects or simply draw examples of subjects that would be ideal or typical for a category. If there’s a small number of such subjects, each of them can be presented in a new paragraph, characterized and put into a category. Usually, it is the categories that are in the center of every classification paragraph, in company with the explanation of criteria against which a subject’s compatibility with the category is measured.

Every classification and division paragraph should start with the name of a subject you're classifying or the name of a category, followed by their detailed description. The sequence in which you analyze every class or type may be set in your assignment or be up to your own liking, but it shouldn't be random unless there really is no "least to most" link connecting them. Such a link is what is used to put categories in a specific order, such as popularity, effectiveness, rarity, importance, or whatever applies. For instance, you're classifying fiction novels from least to most popular, or political figures from most to least influential. And yet, it’s not uncommon to have categories that don’t share this progression or "backgression" link. An exemplary situation is when you classify those fiction novels by genre. There's no genre that is better or worse, so you put them in an order that complies with your best judgement or an order that is indicated in literary textbooks. In the example with the politicians, the categories might have no progressional relationships, too - like when the people are grouped based on a field they have done the most work in: protection of the environment, salary raise, enhancement in the education system, et cetera. Those are just different aspects of life, like different genres of literature.

Apart from the format arrangement, supply your text with transitional sentences and expressions that make it wholesome and guide the reader from a paragraph, group, or point to the next one. Along with transitional expressions that can be found in pretty much every kind of essay, a classification essay uses indicators of classification. These clearly define a certain number of classes or categories and their order, e.g., "the first category, the second category", "the most recognized group", "the least recognized group", and so on. Other expressions that guide the reader through the table of classifications are: within this group, in this class, are organized by the principle of, that kind of, distinctive features of this category are, grouped according to, et cetera.


A conclusion in a classification paper is an overview of all the categories presented. Sometimes it is allowed to pick out one or a few categories or classes that are the best for a certain function or in a certain aspect, or the category with the most popular subjects. Such a choice, clearly, must be reasonably explained. In the conclusion, we also come back to the thesis and briefly show how it was substantiated in the course of the essay.

Classification Essays In a Nutshell

What is classifying definition? It is the process of assigning something to a certain class, group, or category. The reason to present a classification to the reader may be a simple intent to explain it, but quite often its purpose is to show something important (and explain why it is so), like more or less favorable types of things or an alarmingly high or low number of subjects in a category. This is what makes your classification specifically valuable.

Students may confuse division classification essays with a compare and contrast essay because different classes of subjects remind of the differences that are usually investigated in a compare and contrast essay. Example essays are also a bit like classifications, which provide examples of subjects. Simply keep in mind that your main focus is classification, and you'll be grand.