If you have ever done laundry, you have probably divided and classified items. You sort your clothes: whites in one pile, colors in another, jeans all together. If you browse the car ads, you might look at SUVs, sedans, and sports cars. When we study science, we group together or categorize species, for example, in the animal kingdom: mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and amphibians. We express preferences when we choose preferred categories of music: rock, country, rap and so on. Classification is important because it helps us understand the world.
Sorting mechanisms help us organize and understand complexities. Imagine attempting to sign up for your college classes and finding an online list of all the classes the college offered but no categories, where English composition came before calculus but after world politics. Imagine going grocery shopping in a store where the shampoo was next to the apples, and the deodorant was next to the ground beef. Without items being divided in categories, the world would be chaotic. We expect apples to be in the produce section, shampoo and deodorant in the personal hygiene section, and ground beef in the meat section.
Understanding the Basics of Classification (elements appear in bold)
This is the first key to sorting a group into categories. In what ways can you divide the whole? Although animals can be divided scientifically, creative thinking can find new ways to classify. For example, animals could be classified as those with feet, those with wings, and those with fins to explain how they get around. In the previous example, how animals “get around” is the single principle on which the division is based.
After determining your single principle, make sure your categories have covered the whole. In other words, as the old expression states, “divide the whole pie.” Make sure all the items in the large group fit into one of the determined categories. In sorting the laundry, is there a category missing? Beside white, dark, and jeans, some would argue a fourth category, delicates, is needed.
Next, each category in the group must fit into that distinct and separate group. Determine the distinguishing features of each group and make sure the categories do not overlap. Do all animals move through the world with feet, wings or fins? For example, some animals with legs are rumored to “fly,” such as the flying squirrel, but actually the squirrel glides and doesn’t have wings. Bats, on the other hand, have feet but don’t walk on them; they use their wings to propel themselves. Finally, balance your categories with equal details, examples, and evidence. Don’t prefer one group and treat it in more depth than the others.