When my daughters were in grade school, they loved to use colored strings to weave friendship bracelets for their classmates. Typically, though, Maria and Katrina became frustrated early in the process because their colored strings had become a tangled mess, and the girls had a hard time picking out the four colors they wanted to use for their bracelets. Inevitably, they’d come to me and ask, “Daddy, can you help us untangle this ball of string?” Though my daughters didn’t realize it, they were really asking, “Daddy, can you show us how to write a division/classification essay?”
When you write a division/classification essay, you’re really doing the same thing my daughters were trying to do. You’re trying to bring some kind of order or logic or organization to a subject that has not yet been categorized. In my daughters’ case, for instance, they solved the tangled-string problem by, first, separating all the different colors and, then, storing them in different compartments in a new, plastic divider they purchased solely for that purpose. The separation and organization by color made it so much easier for them to choose their colors and to begin work on their bracelets.
Other examples of division/classification are all around you. In your backpack, for instance, you probably have a collection of folders to divide your academic paperwork by courses. At home, you probably have a plastic divider in your silverware drawer to separate the knives, forks, and spoons. And when you walk into the grocery street, you’ll see that the aisles are divided according to various categories such as fruits and vegetables, dairy products, baked goods, frozen foods, etc. All these forms of division/classification make the world easier to deal with and comprehend.
Technically, the difference between division and classification is a small one. When you divide, you take one big, general subject — such as literature — and carve it up into smaller parts such as novels, plays, short stories, poems, and essays. When you classify, however, you, essentially, reverse the process. You can take various literary works — such as Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare and “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe — and slot them into the appropriate categories (play and poem) from the same five categories mentioned above. With division, you start with one and separate according to differences, but with classification, you start with many and organize according to similarities.
When you are asked to write a division essay, your teacher probably wants you to choose a single subject and divide it into three or four key categories. For instance, one student wrote about a football team, and he divided the team into three units: offensive players, defensive players, and special-teams’ players (those who play during kickoffs, punts, field goals, and extra points). Another student wrote about the Beatles, and she wrote about each of this musical group’s four members: John, Paul, George, and Ringo. One classic professional example is the book On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. In this particular work, Kübler-Ross divides the dying process into five distinct stages: (1) denial and isolation, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression, and (5) acceptance.
When you are asked to write a classification essay, your teacher probably wants you to choose a series of items and organize them by some logical process. For instance, one student listed her ten favorite television programs and then divided them into four categories: soap operas, comedies, dramas, and reality shows. Another student looked at the racial makeup of the nine wards in his hometown and labeled them as primarily white, black, Hispanic, or mixed. Finally, author E. B. White wrote an essay entitled “The Three New Yorks.” In this essay — from his 1949 book Here Is New York — White looks at the millions of New York City people and fits them all into three groups: those who were born in New York City and continue to live there, those who work in New York City but live somewhere else, and those who were born elsewhere but came to New York City to settle.
The hardest part about writing the division/classification essay may be choosing the subject and, then, dividing or classifying the various categories and components. Once you’ve completed those tasks, however, make sure you also explain the purpose of your essay, and think about using definitions, examples, and comparison and contrast to show similarities and differences.
Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. Scribner Classics, 1997.
White, E B. Here Is New York. Harper, 1949.