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10.3: Charting Your Categories

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  • Once you have some ideas about what categories you think will be useful for dividing your evidence, you have to figure out how you want to do it. I recommend you create a table or chart, either by taking advantage of the table function of your word processor, using a spreadsheet software, or just good old-fashioned paper and pen or pencil. Write your categories across the top and some basic citation information-- author, title, publication, etc.-- about each piece of your evidence along the left side of the table. In each “cell” of the table or chart created by this arrangement, indicate if the article falls into that category and make any other notation that you think will help explain how the article fits into that category.

    The example below is part of a categorization chart that explores the topic of computer crime and computer hacking. The writer’s current working thesis at this stage of the project was “While many hackers commit serious computer crimes and represent a serious Internet security problem, they can also help law enforcement officials to solve and prevent crime.” The left-hand column lists the title of the articles that the writer is categorizing, while the categories themselves are listed across the top row.

    There are other possibilities for categories not included here of course, and I would encourage you to come up with as many categories as you can for this step in the process of writing a categorization essay. There are ten different pieces of evidence being categorized here. You could do more or less, though again, though for this exercise to be effective, you should chart at least five or six pieces of evidence.

    As you can also see here, most of the entries include at least a few extra notes to explain why they are in different categories. That’s okay, and these notes might be helpful to the writer later on when he puts together his categorization and evaluation essay.

    A Categorization Chart Example

    Evidence: Web-based Sources Academic/Trade Sources Gov. Doc Sources Popular Sources Hackers always bad Hackers sometimes good Enforcement/ fighting crime

    Brenner, Susan, 01

    XX XX
    (Law school)
    XX (Legal issues/laws against) XX (courts, laws, etc.)

    Cameron, Al

    “Fighting Internet Freud”

    Business Credit, 02


    (Trade Pub)

    XX (Money &


    XX (cops, company software)


    US. Gov., 02

    XX XX
    (Dept. of Justice)


    (terrorism, fraud)

    XX (FBI, etc.)

    “Cybercrime soars”

    Info Management Jrnl,02


    (Trade pub)


    Markoff, John.

    “New Center...”

    NYT, 10/99

    XX XX (business) XX (private business)

    Neighly, Patrick

    “Meet the hackers”

    America’s Network, 00

    XX (??) XX (“hanging out” with hackers)

    Palmer, CC.

    “Ethical Hacking”

    IBM Sys. J, 01


    (Trade pub)

    XX (can help with business) XX (hackers fighting crime)

    Sauer, Geoffrey

    “Hackers, Order, Control”

    Bad Subjects 2/96


    (Culture studies)

    XX (the “culture” of hacking)

    Speer, David

    “Redefining Borders:”

    C, L & S C, 00



    XX (business but individuals, too)


    (abstract ideas)

    “World Cybercrime...”

    CNN, 10/02


    (CNN web site)

    XX XX (business, terrorism) XX (inter-national effort)

    Presumably, you are not familiar with the specifics about these pieces of evidence; but for the purposes of this example, it’s more important that you understand the categories and the process the writer must have gone through to come up with this chart. The number of observations that can be made from a chart like this could be explored in more detail in a categorization and evaluation essay. You’ll use your own chart to complete such an essay later in this chapter.

    • While the reasons for the articles for being put into the category “Hackers always bad” are similar (fear of damage to business and the potential for terrorism), the reasons why the articles were put into the category “Hackers sometimes good” vary. The Palmer essay suggests that hackers might be beneficial (when they work “ethically,” as the title says) in order to help protect business from the attacks of “bad” hackers. While both the Neighly and Sauer articles make distinctions between “good” and “bad” hackers, these essays are more focused on hackers as people than as criminals.

    All of this suggests that if the writer wanted to continue exploring this idea of “hacking,” it might be wise for the researcher to carefully consider how hacking is discussed. For example, how does each article define “hacking?” How does each article assess the potential threat or potential benefit of computer hacking?

    • With the possible exception of the Neighly essay, the three essays that describe computer hacking as something that is sometimes good are from academic or “trade” publications. The writer put question marks in his chart in the “Academic/Trade Sources” category next to the Neighly essay because it was a difficult to categorize source that seemed to fit best here. . Interestingly enough, one of the “hackers sometimes good” publication was produced by the computer company IBM. The professional and trade publications that suggest computer hacking is always bad focus on the issues of the law, law enforcement, or criminology.
    • Almost all of the evidence included here is concerned with enforcing the laws and fighting against cybercrime, but there seems to be little consensus as to how to do it. Some of the resources are advocating for tougher U.S. federal laws; one is advocating international action; and some are suggesting that enforcement must come mainly from the Internet business community.
    • There is only one government publication listed on this categorization chart, which suggests that either the U.S. government has not published many documents on computer crime and hacking, or the researcher ought to consider conducting some more research that focuses on government documents.

    The same can be said in some ways about Web-based resources: all of the Web-based research portrays computer hacking as an unlawful and criminal act. Considering the fact that the World Wide Web is a space with many divergent views (especially about topics like computer crime and computer hacking), it seems logical that there may be worthwhile to see what other evidence is available on the Web.

    This process of charting your categories is one that can go much further than suggested here. For example, perhaps your initial categories have prompted you to consider new ways to categorize your evidence, which might lead to additional relationships between your sources. You might also include more evidence, which again might lead to different observations about your evidence.

    Ultimately, you have to write about the results of your categorization in the form of an essay. I will describe this in more detail in the next section of this chapter, but you might want to consider two strategies as you move from the “charting” phase of this exercise to the “drafting” phase:

    • You will have to explain the significance of your different categories and groupings of evidence in your essay for this exercise, perhaps more than you might think. As the writer, the division of the evidence might make perfect sense to you, but that “sense” often is not as accessible to your readers. This potential of missing your audience is possible with any writing project, but it is something to be especially mindful about with this exercise.
    • Charting of evidence will probably yield many different and interesting points of comparison and evaluation, but you should focus on the points of comparison you think are the most significant. In other words, you probably shouldn’t talk about each and every category you chart.

    Exercise 9.3

    Try creating a categorization chart of your own. Working alone or in small collaborative groups, group your sources according to categories that make sense to you, perhaps the ones you developed in the previous exercise. On a piece of paper or on a computer using a spreadsheet or table-making software, create a chart that looks similar to the one in this section. Do you notice similarities or differences between your evidence you didn’t notice before? Are there any short-comings or other imbalances between your categories that might help you better target what you need in any additional research? What other sorts of observations can you make about your research?