Classification: Definition With Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

classification - book store
The primary purpose of classification is to provide a framework for thought and discussion. (Michael Coyne/Getty Images)

In rhetoric and composition, classification is a method of paragraph or essay development in which a writer arranges people, objects, or ideas with shared characteristics into classes or groups.

A classification essay often includes examples and other supporting details that are organized according to types, kinds, segments, categories, or parts of a whole.

Classification Paragraphs and Essays

Examples and Observations

  • "The primary support in classification consists of the categories that serve the purpose of the classification.
    "The categories in classification are the 'piles' into which the writer sorts a topic (the items to be classified). These categories will become the topic sentences for the body paragraphs of the essay. . . .
    "The supporting details in classification are examples or explanations of what is in each category. The examples in classification are the various items that fall within each category. These are important because readers may not be familiar with your categories."
    (Susan Anker, Real Essays With Readings, 3rd ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009)
  • Introductory Paragraph of a Classification Essay
    "Americans can be divided into three groups--smokers, nonsmokers and that expanding pack of us who have quit. Those who have never smoked don't know what they're missing, but former smokers, ex-smokers, reformed smokers can never forget. We are veterans of a personal war, linked by that watershed experience of ceasing to smoke and by the temptation to have just one more cigarette. For almost all of us ex-smokers, smoking continues to play an important role in our lives. And now that it is being restricted in restaurants around the country and will be banned in almost all indoor public places in New York State starting next month, it is vital that everyone understand the different emotional states cessation of smoking can cause. I have observed four of them; and in the interest of science I have classified them as those of the zealot, the evangelist, the elect and the serene. Each day, each category gains new recruits."
    (Franklin Zimring, "Confessions of an Ex-Smoker." Newsweek, April 20, 1987)
  • Examples of Classification Paragraphs
    - The Great Gardens of Jamaica
    "Each of Jamaica's four great gardens, although established along similar principles, has acquired its own distinctive aura. Hope Gardens, in the heart of Kingston, evokes postcard pictures from the 1950s of public parks, gracious and vaguely suburban and filled with familiar favorites--lantana and marigolds--as well as exotics. Bath has retained its Old World character; it is the easiest to conjure as it must have looked in Bligh's time. Cinchona of the clouds is otherworldly. And Castleton, the garden established to replace Bath, fleetingly evokes that golden age of Jamaican tourism, when visitors arrived in their own yachts--the era of Ian Fleming and Noel Coward, before commercial air travel unloaded ordinary mortals all over the island."
    (Caroline Alexander, "Captain Bligh's Cursed Breadfruit." The Smithsonian, Sep. 2009)
    - Cybercriminals 
    "Cybercriminals generally fall into one of three categories, he [Michael DeCesare, president of McAfee] says. First there are the 'Anonymouses of the world' or the hacktivists--people who expose information about a company or government they morally oppose. Second is organized crime. 'They're realizing there's far more money in cybercrime than prostitution,' Mr. DeCesare says. 'You can buy somebody's I.D. for less than $10 online.' Third are activities funded by states and other political groups. 'Every government has a cyber division,' he says, including the U.S. But cyber dangers now stretch beyond state lines to groups such as al Qaeda. 'Cybercrime is a lot like that—[the country is] almost not relevant anymore,' making it difficult to hold governments accountable."
    (Alexandra Wolfe, "Michael DeCesare." The Wall Street Journal, December 14-15, 2013)
    - TV Interviewers
    "Local TV interviewers come in two varieties. One is a bulimic blond person with a deviated septum and a severe cognitive disorder who went into broadcasting because he or she was too emotionally disturbed for telephone sales work. The other variety is suave, sagacious, grossly overqualified for the job, and too depressed to talk to you. Good local TV people are always depressed because their field is so crowded."
    (P.J. O'Rourke, "Book Tour." Age and Guile, Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995)
    - Book Owners
    "There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers--unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns woodpulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books--a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many--every one of them dogeared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled from front to back. (This man owns books.)"
    (Mortimer J. Adler, "How to Mark a Book." The Saturday Review of Literature, July 6, 1941)
    The English-Speaking World
    "The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; (5) those who know and distinguish."
    (H.W. Fowler and Ernest Gowers, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2nd ed. Oxford Univ. Press, 1965)

    Pronunciation: KLASS-eh-fi-KAY-shun