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9.2: Narration, Description, and Classification

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    Rhetorical modes are the different types and purposes in which we can effectively communicate through language. Sometimes writers incorporate a variety of modes in any one essay as their reader's and their own needs change. Sometimes even separate sentences will be in different modes. The modes covered in this chapter section are common modes readers and writer learn in grade school. These are generally used as types of sentences or paragraphs in college essays whereas in grade school, a student might write in one mode for the whole essay. We assume a certain familiarity with these modes in this review.

    The Purpose of Narrative Writing

    Narration means the art of storytelling, and the purpose of narrative writing is to tell stories. Any time you tell a story to a friend or family member about an event or incident in your day, you engage in a form of narration. In addition, a narrative can be factual or fictional. A factual story is one that is based on, and tries to be faithful to, actual events as they unfolded in real life. A fictional story is a made-up, or imagined, story; the writer of a fictional story can create characters and events as he or she sees fit.

    The big distinction between factual and fictional narratives is based on a writer’s purpose. The writers of factual stories try to recount events as they actually happened, but writers of fictional stories can depart from real people and events because the writers’ intents are not to retell a real-life event. Biographies and memoirs are examples of factual stories (generally speaking), whereas novels and short stories are examples of fictional stories.

    You may notice that much professional essay writing in feature articles in newspapers and magazines begins with a narrative to draw the reader in. This is the common "hook" in this sort of writing. The narrative is usually a short, factual story that causes some emotion to arise in the reader while pointing to the topic that the article will be about. As a way to wrap up the feature article, the writer many times returns to this narrative in the conclusion. In college writing, however, narrative writing is used much less often, and rarely is personal narrative (your own story) used in composition classes. If you plan to use personal narrative in a college essay, be sure to check with your instructor to make sure that doing so is acceptable for the assignment. The most common use of narrative writing in a college essay is as an introductory essay in your writing class so the teacher can get to know a little about you and your reading and writing. The other common use is the inclusion of a short narrative you read in an assigned text that you plan to use as an example in an expository essay. The other academic situation in which you may need to write a narrative is in a college application essay for when you apply to four-year schools or graduate schools. For examples of such essays, click here.

    Writing at Work

    When interviewing candidates for jobs, employers often ask about conflicts or problems a potential employee has had to overcome. They are asking for a compelling personal narrative. To prepare for this question in a job interview, write out a scenario using the narrative mode structure. This will allow you to troubleshoot rough spots, as well as better understand your own personal history. Both processes will make your story better and your self-presentation better, too.

    Writing a Narrative Essay

    When writing a narrative essay, start by asking yourself what you want to "show" or "illustrate" with your essay. Then free write about topics or experiences that might demonstrate what you want to show. Don't "tell" what you want to convey; rather, demonstrate it through the actions of and details about the character (you for a personal statement) . For more information about free writing, see Chapter 4.6, "Prewriting Strategies." The use of strong details is crucial as you describe the events and characters in your narrative. You want the reader to emotionally engage with the world that you create in writing.


    To create strong details, keep the human senses in mind. You want your reader to be immersed in the world that you create, so focus on details related to sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch as you describe people, places, and events in your narrative.

    Narration is the art of storytelling. As always, it is important to start with a strong introduction to hook your reader into wanting to read more. Try opening the essay with an event that is interesting to introduce the story and get it going.

    Example Personal Statement Narrative

    Please refer to this article to see some examples of personal statements.

    The Purpose of Description in Writing

    Writers use description to make sure that their audience is fully immersed in the words on the page. This requires a concerted effort by writers to describe their world through the use of sensory details. Description is used throughout college writing, but it's generally interspersed through the essay, especially in examples and definitions. It is unlikely that you would write a whole essay or even a whole paragraph of description in a composition class assignment, but the use of vivid, descriptive vocabulary will add spice and interest to anything that you write. That said, you will likely read essays and books that uses a lot of description to transport you to the place or thing that writer evokes. For examples, see the essay "How to Say Nothing in 500 Words."

    As mentioned earlier in this chapter, sensory details are descriptions that appeal to our sense of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Your descriptions should try to focus on the five senses because we all rely on these senses to experience the world. The use of sensory details, then, provides you the greatest possibility of relating to your audience and thus engaging them in your writing, making descriptive writing important not only during your education but also during everyday situations.

    Avoid empty descriptors if possible, however. Empty descriptors are adjectives that can mean different things to different people. Good, beautiful, terrific, and nice are examples. The use of such words in descriptions can lead to misreadings and confusion. A good day, for instance, can mean many different things depending on one’s age, personality, tastes, perspectives, or situations.

    Exercise 1

    On a separate sheet of paper, describe one of the following five items in a short paragraph. Use at least three of the five senses for each description.

    1. Night

    2. Beach

    3. City

    4. Dinner

    5. Stranger

    Figure: Image by Pixabay

    The Purpose of Classification in Writing

    The purpose of classification is to break down broad subjects into smaller, more manageable, more specific parts. We classify things in our daily lives all the time, often without even thinking about it. Media, for example, can be classified into print, internet, and broadcast, in just one way to classify the topic (by form of transmission). Because media is so complicated, there are a number of other ways in which it can be classified as well. Smaller categories, and the way in which these categories are created, help us make sense of the world. In college writing, a portion of an essay or a paragraph may serve to classify and distinguish something. Or words as simple as adjectives, such as fiction or nonfiction, can be used to classify something. Writers generally give more space to classification in essays on topics that are complicated or in which people tend to gloss over important differences that conflate (confuse together) ideas. Classification is an analytical approach that allows the reader to discus a topic in a systematic way. It is used in classic argumentation, process analysis, compare and contrast, and cause and effect essays.

    Much of what we read in college is about classification. In the various hard and social sciences, we read about classifications of biological entities, types of analysis, theories of behavior, and much, much more. Classification helps us organize information and knowledge in our minds so that we can develop our schema and understanding of a topic. Sometimes classifications can be too rigid, however, and can keep up from seeing the connections between ideas. However, it's important to practice classifying when needed because it develops our ability to analyze.

    When writing about classifications, be sure to use strong details and explanations for each subcategory to help explain the differences between categories. Also, be sure to give examples to illustrate your points.

    Student Sample Classification Essay

    Types of Diets

    A diet can be described as a plan for drinking and eating that is fixed to the amount and the type of foods and drinks that one has to ingest in order to achieve a specific lifestyle. There are several types of diets that can be divided according to their aims, such as: diets which concern making changes with one's weight, diets which are prescribed to people with certain diseases, and diets which one follows according to his or her views and values.

    The most popular diets are those which concern the changes in weight. The main factors affecting the popularity of this type of diet are the fashion industry and popularization of a healthy lifestyle. One of the diets that is popular with people who want to maintain the weight they currently have or lose it is the zone diet. This is where the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are balanced in a ratio of 4:3:3 respectively (Pellizzon, Ricci 36). This means if the food has 40% carbohydrates, then it should have 30% proteins and 30% fats. A person who wants to lose his or her weight should take food with unrefined carbohydrates, fats such as avocados and olive oils, as well as nuts.

    Another type of diet that is related to weight changes is the Weight Watchers’ diet. People who would want to skip exercises to burn calories adopt this diet as well as maintaining a network of like-minded friends who form an association. The weight watchers can either meet physically or online or encourage each other on how to lose weight. This diet is more psychological than nutritional.

    Many diseases are associated with lifestyle and, therefore, many diets are prescribed by doctors to people who suffer from certain diseases, such as the Atkins diet, which focuses on insulin level control. It is mostly found in food rich in fats and proteins (Wakana, et al. 24). People with high insulin levels avoid foods rich in refined carbohydrates because they trigger energy levels in the body making it release more insulin.

    People suffering from epilepsy and other brain disorders are advised to take the kinetic diet. This means they reduce the uptake of carbohydrates and ingest foods that are rich in fats. This allows the body to burn fats as fuel as opposed to carbohydrates. These fats are broken down to produce ketones, which are essential for brain metabolism. However, this diet should be avoided by people suffering from diabetes 1 because their consumption may result in a diabetic coma, which may lead to death.

    The third type of diets is one related to views and values. One of the most popular diets associated with religion and ethics, not science, is vegetarian. Many people are vegetarians by choice or because of their religious affiliations (Mohsen, et al. 69). Vegetarians can be divided into different categories such as semi-vegetarians, pesco vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, living food diet vegetarians, lacto-ovo vegetarians, fruitarian vegetarians and lacto-vegetarians. The majority of vegetarians are categorized as Lacto-ovo vegetarians, that is, they do not eat animal products except honey, dairy, and eggs. Vegetarians have a longer life expectancy, suffer less from diseases and have a lower body weight compared to people who eat meat.

    A vegan diet is more philosophical than nutritional. People who observe this diet avoid all animal products mostly for environmental, compassionate and ethical reasons. They argue that if everybody consumed plants’ products, then animals, who share the same life as human beings would suffer less and the environment would remain healthy (Wakana, et al 25).

    There are people who observe the raw foodism diet (Pellizzon, and Ricci 38). They consume organic foods and drinks, which are not processed in any way. They eat uncooked food, which is mostly plant products. The four main types of raw foodists include the raw carnivores, raw omnivores, raw vegans, and raw vegetarians.

    The type of diet people choose depends on reasons that propel them to follow a diet. Those people who want to take preemptive measures and avoid lifestyle diseases adopt a diet which helps them to keep balance among carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Some people had to keep a specific diet, such as people who suffer from diabetes 1. Others follow diets that correspond with their views. There is no better or worse diet. One should choose a diet according to his or her aims.

    Contributors and Attributions

    This page most recently updated on June 6, 2020.

    This page titled 9.2: Narration, Description, and Classification is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .