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English Composition I
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• Breaks down large groups of things into smaller categories/types/subgroups/etc.

• 100, 000 people in a city is too many to understand

• But breaking them down by race/income/gender/neighborhood/etc can tell us things

• Can be a problem – stereotypes can be harmful

• Can be helpful – help us understand why things are different (or similar)


• The key is to have a clear purpose/reason

• Two main reasons to classify/divide

– Sorting

– Explaining

• Just sorting a group into subgroups is the first step, but

• The explanation/analysis makes it work as an essay – emphasizes the meaning


• Sorting focuses on what separates the groups

• But sorting also indicates what connects the members of the new category together

• Biologists look at animals and separate insects from reptiles from mammals, etc.

• But the groupings themselves are based on commonalities like fur-bearing, egg-laying, cold-blooded, invertebrates, etc.

• The common connection is what sets them apart – division should explain both ideas


• Sorting can be as broad or precise as needed

• A beetle is a bug, an insect to most of us

• To an expert, there’s many TYPES

– Scarab beetles

– Longhorn beetles

– Stag beetles

– Etc.

• The more you know, the more precise you can be

Precise divisions need specific explanation


Explanation gives the meaning to the types

• We classify/divide everything

– Types of music

– Sections of the grocery store

– Categories of automobiles

– Etc.

• Even small children classify

• But their classifications are simplistic

• To support an essay, classifications need to have some meaning behind them


• Most grocery stores use the same categories

• Imagine the chaos if they didn’t –

– Alphabetical?

– By color of label?

– By manufacturer?

– Completely random?

• So an essay using these standard divisions needs to do more than just state them

• Needs to explain WHY these categories are used or HOW they affect our behavior


• Writers have two choices: standard or personal names/labels for categories

• If using standard labels, the focus of the essay is on what the contents of the category tell us

– Why more items are in frozen than ethnic

– Why location of one category is important

• If using personal labels, emphasis is on why category exists

– What does category “lazy items” mean?


• Music is categorized by standard types: rock, rap, country, classical, jazz, etc.

• Essay that uses these standard types needs to explain what the amount or quantity in the category tells us

• If the subject has 100 classical CDs and 5 country CDs, what can we assume?

• If same subject also has 20 rap CDs, but they are groups like US3 that use jazz samples, what does that tell us?


• If writer categorizes music by their own personal categories, they must be explained

– Car music

– Date music

– Hackysack music

– Study music

• These categories are more about how the subject USES music, not what the types of music tell us about him/her

• Subtle difference, but important


• Writer cannot just give categories, define them and walk away

• There needs to be a purpose – a meaning – some analysis of those categories and/or their content

Why is the writer presenting us with these categories/types?

What are we, the readers, supposed to learn about the subject?


• Essay about hardware store customers divides customers by their questions

– Might be used to vent by showing how horrible the job is because of the types of questions

– Might be used for training to show typical situations – but then also needs to show how to answer the questions properly

– Might be used to explain to customers why certain questions don’t get answered the way the customer expects – but then needs to offer alternatives

• Many possibilities, dependent on purpose


• No one purpose is better than the other

• It’s a choice of the writer

• But the writer needs to make sure that the purpose/focus is clear

• Use the introduction and conclusion to emphasize purpose/focus

• Make sure each category is explained in terms of the focus/purpose/meaning

• If a good category doesn’t fit, cut it or change the purpose to include it


Writing a Classification/Division essay

Determine the purpose/focus/meaning

Sort the subjects into appropriate categories

Decide how each group fits the purpose

Organize into proper order (best to worst, worst to best, etc)

Use specific example in each category

Make sure introduction sets up topic

Make sure conclusion emphasizes purpose


Reading Questions

• What are the categories used by the author?

• Is the author using standard or personal categories?

• What is the author’s purpose?

• What is the author’s tone?

• Are the categories clearly explained?