Classification pertains to a mode of essay format in which objects ideas or people exhibiting common characteristics are arranged according to a specific kind of group or class.
In academic writing, the process of ordering and arranging information according to type is highly important. This is because the academy deals with huge volumes of information across multiple disciplines, departments and specialties. As a consequence, a rigorous and logical system for organising information is imperative.
Consider the example of a library containing tens of thousands of books on all kinds of subjects. Now imagine that these books were shelved according to no particular logic. They are not alphabetised, not grouped by subject matter, theme or any other connecting point. Someone attempting to use the library would find it virtually impossible to navigate the random arrangements. The placement would make no sense to them; they would not be able to find what they were looking for. Ideas work in much the same way. If they are not ordered and classified according to type, then they merely exist in a chaos of thought. The purpose of the Classification essay is to put in place particular structures which allow for logical order to obtain. Returning to the library analogy, then, we would consider such categories as author, genre, subject matter, and so forth to be classifying labels which afford a means of navigation.
In many ways, academic enquiry is all about trying to locate patterns or continuities within complex datasets which may at first glance seem to exhibit no particular kind of order. Modes of classification work in a sense to impose logic on this seeming disorder, by establishing conceptual frames which provide the reader with a roadmap, a way of navigating the complexity.
Let us now consider in detail how one would go about structuring a classification essay. You would want to begin with an introductory paragraph which clearly establishes the dataset you are seeking to classify. Here, it is advisable to include precise descriptive information which relates the purpose of the essay and will accordingly hook the reader's interest. You will have to also include a thesis statement, a brief explanation concerning how the essay will approach the topic. So, here is an example of such an introduction, using film genre (for the sake of demonstration):
Within film studies, the subject of genre is fluid, often contentious, and frequently re-examined and redefined. A good example of this is Ridley Scott film, Alien (1979), which is often classified as a science fiction film but which may, as this essay will argue, be better defined as a horror film. By a close examination of genre convention, this paper argues that Alien most closely mirrors the “monster in the house” format of conventional horror (though, one which happens to take place in a science fiction context).
Note the way in which the introduction sets up particular expectations for the rest of the essay. The classification type, in this instance “genre”, is clarified in the first sentence. As a consequence, the reader understands the critical framework within which the essay will occur. The thesis statement occurs at the end of the paragraph, making the connection between filmic convention and genre classification. Hence the reader understands the mode of approach the essay will take: classifying genre according to formal convention.
The paragraphs of the main argument body should open by establishing approach, then progressing to a more detailed illustration of the point in question. Always bear in mind that you are, when classifying, making an argument. This means following the specific rules of argumentation – being logical and consistent, making sure that conclusions follow from premisses.
Generally speaking, the argument body will open with fairly broad strokes then progress to finer detail. In technical terms this particular approach is known as inductive, whereby one establishes the bigger picture before advancing with increasingly narrowed scope.
In terms of classification this would (to continue with the original example of Alien) initially probably entail a fairly broad definition of the concept of “genre”, which establishes generalisable properties. In other words, we would explain the details of and reasoning behind the particular kind of classification known as genre. For example, we might write:
In broad terms, the concept of “genre” relates to a means of classification whereby a specific kind of artistic production is categorised according to its formal and thematic content.
By immediately clarifying key terms, we ensure that the reader is aware of our critical framework, shares (or, at least, understands) our point of view regarding how we define the classification type. It is absolutely essential that the essay clearly explains the logic of its classifications. For example, you might take your critical definition from a respected academic source. This would example that your working definition has been successfully used in prior academic research and that it accordingly finds at a degree of support within the academy.
Next, you would narrow your focus, perhaps by identifying some of the formal and thematic attributes of different genres (science-fiction and horror, in this instance). Note that, here, you are engaging in further classification, while at the same time introducing greater degrees of complexity into your argument.
In the concluding paragraph you want to bring together the various arguments you have been making, with a particular emphasis on the purpose of your specific classifying efforts. This would also be the location to stress the strengths and weaknesses of this particular approach, perhaps offering suggestion for future study.
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