How to Write a World-Class Classification Essay

Classification: It sounds like one of those terms a mobster might use in a 1940s film noir. “Hey, Mac! Get that dame over here. This place could use some classification. Someone needs to class up this joint!”

Okay, classification doesn’t mean “to class up a joint.” To understand the meaning of the word, think about the word “classify.” It simply means to organize or put something into categories.

It’s like dividing a package of M&Ms by color. Doing so means you’ve just classified your candy by color.

Writing a world-class classification essay follows the same principle: sorting things into categories.

But there’s no use hanging around here sorting candy. C’mon, let’s get outta this joint. I’ll show you how to write a classy classification essay.

classification essay

World-Class Classification Essay Ahead

Okay, listen up. Don’t tell anyone, but writing a classification essay ain’t that hard, see?

To write a gem of a classification essay, just start with a topic and then sort the examples into specific categories.


The key is to sort items into meaningful categories. The categories need to be useful and logical. You cannot just go around haphazardly throwing things into groups.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you go into your university’s bookstore to look for your literature textbook. You’d expect books to be classified by course, such as Algebra II or Composition I. They might also be classified by subject, such as math or English.

But when you look for the American Literature section, you cannot find it.

You ask the clerk for help. He says, “Oh, we don’t sort books by course anymore. We sort them by the color of the cover. It makes the store much more aesthetically pleasing.”

Wait … what!? Really? A college bookstore sorting texts by the color of the cover? This is not a useful way to classify books.

The takeaway: useful and meaningful categories are crucial in a classification essay.

If it ain’t useful and it ain’t meaningful, you don’t need it.

Got it? Good. Now, let’s move on to Step 1.

classification essay

Step 1: Find a Topic

If you can divide something into useful categories, you can probably write a classification essay about it.

You could write about things like mobsters, medieval chainmail, Roman architecture, or metaphysical poetry. But if you don’t know anything about these topics, then you’re probably better off writing about something you know about. Pick something you have an interest in.

(Unless, of course, you do have an interest in mobsters, chainmail, architecture, or poetry. Then research away, and start classifying!)

One quick FYI about topics: Writing a paper about something like classifying textbooks isn’t going to be the most fun to write or to read. Choose a topic that’s compelling (both to you and to your readers).

If you’re not up for doing any research, try classifying something you might know about. For example, video games, superheroes, Facebook friends, flowers, smartphones, shoes, or anything else you might be able to sort into categories would be good choices.

Your grades will thank you.
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Before you pick a topic, try brainstorming a list of things you could write about. A list might include things like speakeasies, femme fatales in film noir, or mafia movies.

As an example for this post, let’s veer away from the general mobster topic. Let’s write about spokespeople in television commercials.

Alright, mister, take a break to brainstorm. Sit and think for a few minutes. Pick a topic you can work with. Read this post with 20 classification essay topics if you need some ideas.

Still stuck? Check out these classification essay examples for more topic ideas:

You might also find a viable topic (or something that sparks an idea for one!) on this short list.

All right, we’re working on a classification essay, right? You cannot classify anything without categories, so your break is over. Let’s get to work.

Step 2: Determine the Categories

I trust you have a topic in mind. Keep it there.

Keep it to yourself, that is. Don’t let anyone steal your idea. Now think of how you could possibly sort the items into categories.

There are generally a number of ways to sort items. The challenge is to find a way to classify them that’s logical and useful.

Think about the books in the university bookstore. Sure, you could sort them by the color of the cover. But that’s useless to a college student. Instead, it makes more sense to classify them by subject or course.

In an example paper about commercial spokespeople, you could classify spokespeople by age, gender, or hair color. But these categories aren’t very useful.

Instead, let’s classify spokespeople into the following four categories:

  1. Anonymous pitch people
  2. Character actors
  3. Cute creatures
  4. Celebrity endorsements

These categories allow us to examine most or all commercials and place them into categories that identify which marketing strategy the company uses.

You could even use this basic format of listing categories to write a thesis statement. For our example, a thesis statement might look like this:

Commercial spokespeople can be classified into four categories:  anonymous pitch people, character actors, cute creatures, and celebrity endorsements.

And another thing … don’t take the easy way out. What’s the easy way out? Classifying items by two or three categories if you really need four or five to write an effective classification essay on your topic.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say you’re classifying speakeasies. You include a category for those found in attics, basements, and private homes, but you don’t include a category to discuss speakeasies found in rooming houses or in office buildings. That’s the easy way out.

The problem? You cannot effectively classify them.

Step 3: Provide Examples for Each Category

classification essay

Now we’re getting somewhere. We have a topic and some categories. Now, let’s take those categories and find some examples to fit into ‘em.

These examples make up the body of your paper. Make them count.

When you develop this section of your classification essay, think about what makes these examples ideal for each category. Consider how you will explain their characteristics. Why did you place them in specific categories?

If you’re classifying university textbooks, it’s easy to include the British literature texts, the American literature texts, and the women’s literature texts all into one category of literature textbooks.

Other topics, though, are likely to be more complex.

Let’s say you’re classifying shoes. For instance, you’re classifying them as either comfortable or fashionable. You might have to make a difficult decision if you have shoes that are both comfortable and fashionable. (Oh, to have such a dilemma … )

In a commercial spokespeople paper, you’d look for current examples of spokespeople that fit into the categories of anonymous pitch people, character actors, cute creatures, and celebrity endorsements.

Anonymous people examples

You might choose the 2014 Doritos Super Bowl ad as an example for the anonymous pitch people category.

The 2015 Toyota Super Bowl ad would also fit in this category.

These types of commercials don’t use recurring characters or anyone recognizable. The commercials simply use anonymous people to sell products. The focus is the product, not the character.

Character actors examples

The category of character actors would include Stephanie Courtney as the character Flo in Progressive Insurance ads.

It would also include Milana Vayntrub as the character Lily in AT&T ads.

These ads use actors who play a recurring character in a company’s commercials for a series of campaigns. It’s these recurring characters that make the brands more recognizable.

Cute creatures examples

The Aflac duck easily fits into the cute creatures category.

The Cricket Wireless characters also fit in this category.

The creatures allow companies to create timeless, ageless characters. The companies then use those to promote products in any number of ads. These characters also become the face of the brands. They make the brands memorable.

Celebrity endorsements examples

The final category is celebrity endorsements. Larry the Cable Guy pitches for the drug Prilosec.

Alec Baldwin has done a series of ads for Capital One.

Companies who use these types of commercials bank on celebrity reputations to get you to buy products.

I could certainly include more examples, but you get the point, right?

In order to show readers how something can be classified into specific categories, you need to provide clear examples. You also need to explain why each example fits into that category.

I’m warning you: don’t let your paper become a list of examples with no explanation as to why you’ve classified them as you did. Understand?

The Final Steps

Before I let you go on your way, here’s a final piece of advice. Finish what you start.

You cannot end an essay without including a killer conclusion that wraps up your essay.

But the final period in your conclusion isn’t the end. Far from it. You still have work to do.

Set your paper aside. Come back to it later to do some revision. It will look different to you then. You’ll catch mistakes you might have missed earlier.

Because I like your style, kid, I might just let you hang around. And I might just give you one last piece of advice. Let one of our Kibin editors review your paper and help add even more class to your world-class classification essay!

All right, now get outta here!

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