What Is a Classification Essay?

Maggie Worth

A classification essay is an essay in which the writer sorts a number of items into categories. Categories may be very specific and based solely on fact or may be broad and determined more by subjective opinion. Such essays begin by establishing the subject of the paper and listing the categories, then continue by describing each category and providing examples. Both the broad categories and the examples within should be clearly related to one another. A summary paragraph often ties the essay together at the end.

An elementary teacher might ask a young child to group together items that are the same color, as a classification essay.
An elementary teacher might ask a young child to group together items that are the same color, as a classification essay.

There are many topics that can be used for a classification essay. A writer might choose to write about types of women's shoes, breeds of dog or vacation spots in the US. If writing about women's shoes, the categories might be flats, sandals, and pumps. A dog breed classification essay might group the breeds by show class, such as working dogs, sporting dogs, and hounds. One on US vacation spots might include Florida, Hawaii, and New York City.

Once the main category and subcategories have been established, the writer will then give examples under each subcategory. In the US vacation spot example, the writer might list Orlando, Miami, and St. Augustine as vacation spots in Florida. He would then give details about each example, such as the presence of Disney World in Orlando or the proximity of St. Augustine to the beach.

A classification essay can be relatively simple. For example, an elementary teacher might ask a young child to group together items that are the same color. The child might write that apples, fire trucks, and stop signs are red while leaves, broccoli, and grass are green. A classification essay assigned to a teenager would likely be more involved. A teacher might ask a student to involve opinion by assigning such topics as good books. In this case, the student might group the books he likes into genres, such as mystery, science fiction, or literature, and then give examples of each.

Want to automatically save time and money month? Take a 2-minute quiz to find out how you can start saving up to $257/month.

Researchers often publish long, complex papers that are actually highly analytical classification essays. For example, a professor researching the effects of a certain chemical on unborn children might divide his findings into physiological effects and psychological effects. He might then further classify the physiological effects into those affecting growth, those affecting spacial perception, and those affecting motor skills. In this situation, it is common to include a section explaining the methodology by which the researcher collected and verified his findings.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


@allenJo - You basically would have to write in very general terms in your thesis. For example, if you were writing about your favorite movies in various genres, you could write, “I love watching movies in a variety of film genres.”

That’s about as specific as you could get in your thesis statement I would think. Then in each paragraph you would expound on each genre and list your movies, explaining why you liked those particular films.


@nony - How do you write a classification essay thesis then? Since your essay is little more than a list of items, your thesis becomes more challenging to write about, wouldn’t you say?


@everetra - I generally agree. There was only one challenge with the classification essay. Sometimes there were too many available categories to choose from when writing your essay.

Your job was to reduce these to three or four categories, to fit into your model essay outline as you explained. Depending on your topic this might be difficult or it might be easy.

For some topics you would have overlapping categories. You would have to step back and create larger categories within which to lump those categories. That was the biggest challenge that I saw.


I always found the classification essay one of the easiest essays to write when I was in high school. Generally with this essay what you want is an introductory paragraph, three paragraphs and a concluding paragraph.

The classification essay outline lent itself perfectly to this format, because each paragraph in the body of the essay could represent a single classification category. It was easy to come up with categories most of the time, too.

The classification essay topics that I wrote about were simple and straightforward, like the effects of drugs and alcohol on teen behavior. In this case of course you are combining the cause and effect essay with the classification essay, so that made it even easier.

Post your comments
Forgot password?