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How to Develop and Organize a Classification Essay

Basic Approaches to Drafting a Five-Paragraph Essay

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Classification is a method of developing an essay by arranging people, objects, or ideas with shared characteristics into particular classes or groups. Once you have settled on a topic for a classification essay and explored it through various prewriting strategies, you should be ready to attempt a first draft. This article will show you how to develop and organize a five-paragraph classification essay.

Introductory Paragraph

In your introduction, clearly identify your subject--in this case, the group you are classifying. If you have narrowed your subject in any way (for example, types of bad drivers, rock guitarists, or annoying moviegoers), you should make this clear from the start.

In your introduction, you may also want to provide some specific descriptive or informative details to attract the interest of your readers and suggest the purpose of the essay.

Finally, be sure to include a thesis sentence (usually at the end of the introduction) that briefly identifies the main types or approaches you are about to examine. (See Evaluating Classification Plans.)

Here's an example of a short but effective introductory paragraph to a classification essay:

It's a warm evening in July, and all across the country Americans are gathering to watch a game of professional baseball. Armed with hot dogs and cold drinks, they stroll to their seats, some in grand stadiums, others in cozy minor-league parks. But no matter where the game is played, you will find the same three types of baseball fan: the Party Rooter, the Sunshine Supporter, and the Diehard Fan.

Notice how this introduction creates certain expectations. The specific details provide a setting (a ballpark on "a warm evening in July") in which we expect to see the various fans described. In addition, the labels assigned to these fans (the Party Rooter, the Sunshine Supporter, and the Diehard Fan) lead us to expect descriptions of each type in the order they're given. A good writer will go on to fulfill these expectations in the body of the essay.

Body Paragraphs

Begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence that identifies a particular type or approach. Then go on to describe or illustrate each type with specific details.

Arrange your body paragraphs in whatever order strikes you as clear and logical--say, from the least effective approach to the most effective, or from the most common type to the least familiar (or the other way around). Just make sure that the order of your body paragraphs matches the arrangement promised in your thesis sentence.

Here, in the body of the essay on baseball fans, you can see that the writer has fulfilled the expectations set up in the introduction. (In each body paragraph, the topic sentence is in italics.)

The Party Rooter goes to games for the hot dogs, the gimmicks, the giveaways, and the companionship; he's not really that interested in the ballgame itself. The Party Rooter is the sort of fan who shows up on Buck-a-Brew Night, often with a gang of fellow partiers. He cracks jokes, hurls peanuts at the team mascot, applauds the exploding scoreboard, blasts an electronic horn whenever he pleases--and occasionally nudges a companion and asks, "Hey, who's winning?" The Party Rooter often wanders out of the park in the sixth or seventh inning to continue his celebrations in the car on the way home.

The Sunshine Supporter, usually a more common type than the Party Rooter, goes to the park to cheer on a winning team and bask in its glory. When the home side is on a winning streak and still in contention for a playoff spot, the stadium will be packed with this sort of fan. As long as her team is winning, the Sunshine Supporter will be roaring at every play, waving her pennant and shouting out the names of her heroes. However, as the name implies, the Sunshine Supporter is a fickle fan, and her cheers quickly turn to boos when a hero strikes out or drops a line drive. She will stay around until the end of the game to celebrate a victory, but should her team fall a few runs behind she's likely to slip out to the parking lot during the seventh inning stretch.

Diehard Fans are also strong supporters of the local team, but they go to the park to watch good baseball, not just to root for a winner. More attentive to the game than other fans, Diehards will study the stance of a power hitter, note the finesse of a quick fielder, and anticipate the strategy of a pitcher who has fallen behind in the count. While the Party Rooter is chugging a beer or dropping wisecracks, Diehards may be filling in a scorecard or commenting on a player's RBI tally over the past few months. And when a Sunshine Supporter boos an opposing player for tagging out a local hero, Diehards may be quietly applauding the expert moves of this "enemy" infielder. No matter what the score is, Diehard Fans remain in their seats until the last batter is out, and they may still be talking about the game long after it's over.

Notice how the writer uses comparisons to ensure cohesion in the body of the essay. The topic sentences of the second and third paragraphs refer to the preceding paragraph. Likewise, in the third body paragraph the writer draws explicit contrasts between the Diehards and the other two types of baseball fans.

Such comparisons not only provide smooth transitions from one paragraph to the next but also reveal the sympathies of the writer. He begins with the type of fan he likes the least and ends with the one he most admires. We now expect the writer to justify his attitudes in the conclusion.

Concluding Paragraph

The concluding paragraph gives you an opportunity to draw together the various types and approaches you have been examining. You may choose to offer a final brief comment on each one, summarizing its value or its limitations. Or you may want to recommend one approach over the others and explain why. In any case, make sure that your conclusion clearly emphasizes the purpose of your classification.

In the concluding paragraph to "Baseball Fans," consider whether the author has been successful in his effort to tie his observations together.

Professional baseball would have trouble surviving without all three types of fans. The Party Rooters provide much of the money that owners need to hire talented players. The Sunshine Supporters bring a stadium to life and help boost the morale of the home team. But only the Diehard Fans maintain their support all season long, year in and year out. By late September in most ballparks, enduring chilly winds, rain delays, and sometimes humiliating losses, only the Diehards remain.

Notice how the writer hooks his conclusion back to the introduction by contrasting the chilly night in September with the warm evening in July. Connections such as these help to unify an essay and give it a sense of completeness.

As you develop and organize your draft, experiment with various strategies, but keep this basic format in mind: an introduction that identifies your subject and the different types or approaches; three (or more) body paragraphs that rely on specific details to describe or illustrate the types; and a conclusion that draws your points together and makes the overall purpose of the classification clear.

The Next Step: Revising Your Essay

Once you have finished your draft of the essay, you're ready to begin revising. Visit these two pages for examples of the revision process:

Finally, be guided by our Revision and Editing Checklist for a Classification Essay.

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