Emilie Ganter
Composition and Rhetoric
Material Type:
Community College / Lower Division
  • Division and Classification
  • English Composition
  • Rhetorical Modes
  • Rhetorical Strategies
  • Tennessee Open Education
  • Video
  • english-composition
  • video
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
    Media Formats:
    Text/HTML, Video

    Video: Division and Classification

    Video: Division and Classification



    This video presents "division and classification" as a rhetorical mode.  Students can select a captioned version, an un-captioned version, and/or a full transcript.

    Videos and transcript

    Using "Division and Classification" as a rhetorical mode.

    This lecture presents Division and Classification as a rhetorical mode for composition.  The lecture is offered here in three different formats: video without captions; video with captions; and a text transcript.

    Video without captions:

    Division and Classification


    Video with captions:

    Division and Classification--captioned



    0:00:00 -  0:00:28


                Welcome.  In earlier videos, you've been introduced to rhetorical strategies used to illustrate and explain.  In this video will be looking at Division and Classification, another strategy used to analyze and organize, but one that does not fit easily in either of the categories we've covered so far.  Like the other complex strategies we’ve covered, division and classification is first a mental activity, whether it's used for everyday tasks or intellectual ones. 


                0:00:28 - 0:01:41


                Packing for a trip, you might first organize your clothing into categories (office, casual, and formal) before you decide which items to take with you.  As you build a CV for college applications, you're classifying your assets, work experience, education, honors received, and so on.  Division and classification is important work for people in many fields of endeavor.  A biologist might spend her life determining an appropriate system of classification for a group of organisms, or discovering in which class or category a particular organism belongs.  A market analyst might spend his career on demographics--on categorizing a target population of consumers by income, by age, or by education, and then determining which segment of that population is buying which brand of laundry detergent or gasoline.  To divide or classify, you have to create a system for grouping things or people according to shared characteristics.  For example, the social classes in the population of your hometown, or the types of volcanic formations seen in Hawaii, varieties of wigs worn by fashionable Georgian women. 


                0:01:41 - 0:03:52


                Like comparison and contrast, division and classification involves looking for similarities and differences to classify things and people into logical groups.  As a rhetorical strategy, division and classification is a way of reporting on the products of the mental activity of dividing and classifying.  For example, in order to divide a population of students by fitness, you have to first determine what the appropriate levels are and who belongs in each one.  (IMAGE: A diagram titled “student body” with three main blocks beneath the title: “able to jog a mile in under 30 minutes,” “able to walk a mile under 30 minutes,” and “able to walk a mile under 60 minutes.”  The three blocks have descriptions:  “The majority of student at XYZ high school fall into three general levels of fitness.  First, there are the 15% who can job or walk/jog a mile in under 30 minutes.  Most of these students are athletes who train every morning and afternoon.  Second, there are the 50% who can walk a mile in under 30 minutes.  Some of these students are athletes who play on a varsity or intermural team.  Others take part in activities like marching band.  Finally, there are the 35% who need 30 minutes to walk a mile.  Many of these students are essentially sedentary.  It is this group that our exercise initiatives are intended to serve.”)   

    Or, in order to classify extracurricular activities available at your school into categories based on least to most strenuous, you have to have figured out what exactly strenuous means, and which activity belongs in which category.  (IMAGE: The previous diagram, but the three categories are changed to “very strenuous,” “somewhat strenuous,” and “sedentary.”)  But division and classification is a special case among rhetorical strategies, because it is just as often used simply as a tool for organizing material in an essay with a very different goal.  For example if you're writing an essay with the goal of arguing that high school students experience levels of stress that make learning difficult, you might organize your essay by breaking the different stressors into categories by origin: financial difficulties, family problems, learning differences, bullying, and so on, before you try to analyze the cause and effect relationship between those stressors and their effects.  Or, you might organize by breaking the student body into groups according to their plans for the future before you discuss the different types of stress experienced by each one.  Division and classification can serve as a means of making your writing task more manageable, and the written product more coherent for the reader.  After all you can't throw every source of stress into one paragraph, and every effect of every  stressor into another.  It's a sprawling and complicated task, and division and classification can help you get a handle on it.  At the same time, be aware that even if you think your system of classification is just an organizing tool, the system you choose will influence the content that you produce, even if you don't intend it to or notice that it's happening. 


                0:03:52 - 0:06:55


                Division and classification are, in many ways, two names for the same activity.  There are subtle distinctions made in some fields, but for the purpose of composition, it's easiest to think of them this way.  If you start with one entity--for example, the supply of festive clipart available on Microsoft Office--you might divide that entity into logical parts based on differences, but then classify individuals according to similar characteristics.  (IMAGE: Five clipart images: a graduation cap, colorful safety pins, a trophy, a cake, and a wine bottle in a bucket of ice.  These have been divided into two categories.  The trophy, cap, and pins are in the “things we celebrate” category, and the cake and wine are in the “things we celebrate with” category.”)  Once you've established a set of classes or categories, you can classify new individuals by deciding which group or class each one belongs in.  Note that when you classify things according to just one or two shared characteristics, especially when you do so for organizational convenience, you may end up with some pretty strange associations.  For example, if you organize by color, birds and shoes may end up together, or little black dresses and bats.  Division and classification is used carelessly all over the Internet.  Try Googling, “there are just three kinds of (blank),” and look at what you get: men, lies, desire, book clubs, careers, ancient humans, league players, and Adam Sandler movies.  Take a look at any of these sites to see some kind of division and classification going on there.  Here's a more literary example.  In this excerpt from the writings of early American minister and religious philosopher Jonathan Edwards, you can see that he has used a classification system that establishes three categories for “things that are serviceable to us and answer their end.”  Pause the video for a moment and read the passage. 


    (Reading Sample:

    The way in which most of the things we use are serviceable to us and answer their end is in their being strained, or hard-pressed, or violently agitated.  Thus the way in which the bow answers to its end is in hand straining of it to shoot the arrow and do the execution; the bow that won't bear straining is good for nothing, So it is with a staff that a man walks with: it answers its end in beind hard-pressed.  So it is with many of the members of our bodies, our teeth, our feet, etc.; and so with most of the utensils of like, an ax, a flail, a rope, a chain, etc.  They are useful and answer their end by some violent straining, pressure, agitation, collision or impulsion, and they that are so weak not to bear the trial of such usage are good for nothing.)


                Here is a lively representation of the way in which true and sincere saints (which are often in Scripture represented as God's instruments or utensils) answer God's end, and serve and glorify him in it: by enduring temptation, going through hard labor, suffering, or self-denial or such service or strains hard upon nature and self.  Hypocrites are like a broken tooth, a foot out of join, a broken staff, a deceitful bow, which fail when pressed or strained.)



      So what are his three categories and what is the principle of classification that Edwards uses?  Again, Edwards tells us in his topic sentence that there are three ways in which things are useful: in being strained, hard-pressed, or violently agitated.  These are odd, maybe even overlapping categories, but you can see that he follows through and discusses them in the paragraph.  It's unlikely that Edwards wrote this paragraph in order to classify things in different categories.  However, he has used classification to help him make his point about what a thing or person must do to be valuable or worthy. 


                0:06:55 – 0:07:13


                In this video, you've had a look at division and classification, and the ways that it is used to analyze or just organize.  Later in the course, you'll be looking for this strategy in longer essays, and trying it for yourself.  Thanks for watching!




    Derbyshire, David. “There were THREE types of ancient humans: 30,000-year-old fossils prove Neanderthals and modern humans were not the only species on Earth.” Daily Mail. 27 December 2010.

    “Eastern Bluebird-27527-2.” Ken Thomas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    “Four images showing women wearing different styles of fashio Wellcom Voo1984.” Iconogrphic Collections. CC BY 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

    Hickey, Walt. “The Three Types of Adam Sandler Movies.” FiveThirtyEight. 25 April 2015.

    Krool, Heather. “There are only three kinds of book clubs.” Huffington Post. 3 December 2014.

    “Los Espadrilles Blue.” Losespadrilles, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

     “Phylogenetic Tree of Life.png” User:Crion, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

    “U.S. Consumer Expenditure, 2004.” Tokachu at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


    All other images are Microsoft Clip Art (2000 and 2011).