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What is Classification?

In rhetoric, classification is a methodOpens in new window of organizing an expository paragraphOpens in new window or an essayOpens in new window by which the author differentiates or classifies specific features of people, objects, or ideas into groups, classes, categories, kinds, or parts of a whole.

Whenever a writer faces the task of differentiating a number of similar items into separate groupings, the practice of classification serves as a framework to group these tasks into separate compartment in an effective and orderly manner.

We can observe a simple classification in the article below, titled classifying book owners.

Classifying Book Owners

  1. “There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers – unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns woodpulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books – a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many – every one of them dogeared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled from front to back. (This man owns books.)”

    —(Mortimer J. Adler, “How to Mark a Book.” The Saturday Review of Literature, July 6, 1941)

Here the author classifies book owners into three (3) major categories viv-aviz;—those who owns woodpulp and ink, but not books;—those who love to own books but are restrained by physical appearance of such books; and ofcourse—those whose books are dogeared and dilapidated, these set he regarded as people who own books.

Classification differs significantly from divisionOpens in new window or partition. Whereas division or partition always involves one object only, which is systematically taken apart and analyzed piece by piece; classification, however, is the act of sorting many items into separate groups based on some similarity. For instance, a single refrigerator can be partitioned into its component parts, whereas home appliances can be classified into refrigerators, washers, dryers, stoves, micro-wave ovens, dishwashers, and so on.

Now that we have got idea what classification (in rhetorics) really is, it would be interesting to learn a few things about the historical foundation of classification.

How did Classification came about?

In classical rhetoric, many of the practices that writers today think of as ways to organize ideas were used as ways to discover and develop ideas. In book 2 of the Rhetoric, AristoleOpens in new window discusses topoi, or topics, which “constituted a method for probing one’s subject to discover possible ways of developing that subject” (Corbett 24).

Although Aristole does not specifically mention classification as a method of developing one’s ideas, he does discuss a number of other methods, such as definitionOpens in new window, comparisonOpens in new window, contrast, cause, effect, and others.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Aristotle’s topics formed the basis for expanding the ways to organize or arrange paragraphs and essays. One of the first nineteenth century rhetoricians to articulate the four modes of discourse – narrationOpens in new window, descriptionOpens in new window, expositionOpens in new window, and argumentOpens in new window (or persuasion)— was Alexander BainOpens in new window (1818-1903), in English Composition and Rhetoric (1866).

Although Bain does not mention classification, the term began to appear as one of several methods of organizing essays, along with illustration or exemplification, comparison/contrast, cause/effect, partion, and process analysis.

While classification has been used more conventionally during most of the twentieth century as a method for organizing essays and paragraphs, classification and other traditional methods of organization since the 1960s have come to be used as tools of invention, of systematically exploring subjects in order to develop ideas for an essay. This use has helped to blur the sometimes-rigid distinction between the first two parts of rhetoric, inventionOpens in new window and arrangementOpens in new window.

Frank D’AngeloOpens in new window has suggested that classification and other methods of organizing essays are systematized ways in which many human minds in the WesternOpens in new window tradition process information.

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