How To Write A Classification

Writing a classification document suggests the need for deconstructing a broad topic into smaller units that define parts of the whole.

Many kinds of jobs require classification-style writing. For example, an insurance policy manual writer may need to list several types of medical coverage in the employee handbook. Each type probably will be given a name, a definition, and several examples. This type of document can be termed a classification. More likely, it will be said to use classification as a rhetorical mode.

Classifications help to break down and explain the many parts of something that is identified as a whole. Policies, procedures, strategic plans, and other types of business documents often use classification to explain complex issues or broad topics to other people. If you have been asked to write classifications, these tips might help:

1. First, define the overall unit. In a few paragraphs or a couple of pages, explain what the document is and for whom it is intended. Readers will be able to appreciate reasons why they should read the document, and will be more likely to take an interest. In addition, understanding the overarching structure will help to put the pieces in context as they browse categories, either reading straight through or selecting areas for particular information.

2. Next, list sub-points derived from the main idea. If the handbook you are writing describes employee benefits, for example, you may need to categorize these into various types, such as medical, disability, and educational. Again, explain what you are doing in terms of the document's layout, then list each point succinctly and separately, whether on pages or paragraphs, so readers can find the information they need quickly.

3. Identify each category. Assign a name, if it doesn't have one already, and use it consistently throughout the document. If you use an abbreviation, keep that consistent, too. Readers should have a clear understanding of the name and purpose of each part, whether it be a few sentences or a few pages long.

4. Describe each category. Explain what the section is, how it connects to the whole, and what it does. Use examples that readers can relate to in order to illustrate the main point of each section. Avoid nebulous language that can let one section blend into another. Be clear about how each differs from the rest.

5. List support detail for each classified section. From supervisor names to hours of operation, be thorough in outlining needed information to your readers. They don't want to read through all categories, only to then have to search for a telephone number or product code related to a particular classification.

6. Don't use too many categories. Page after page of one section after another will probably overwhelm a majority of readers. Of course, such lists make useful reference tools, but they are not effective training tools to teach new skills or desirable outcomes. Keep your classification simple and short.

Perhaps the most time-consuming task is drawing distinctions between similar entities and writing descriptions for them. But taking time to do a thorough job will make easier reading later and perhaps contribute to increased productivity.

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