Classification is the process of categorizing or arranging objects, ideas, or information into distinct groups based on shared characteristics or criteria.
We use classification in just about every academic discipline, with the goal of sorting and ordering information which makes it easier to achieve analysis, evaluation, and clarity on topics.
Below are some examples of famous classification frameworks from a wide range of disciplines.
1. Linnaean Classification System
Explanation: The Linnaean system, named after its originator Carl Linnaeus is a classification framework in the domain of biology. This system delineates a hierarchy of plants and animals, demonstrating their similarities and clustering them into family trees. The system includes rank order categories including: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. This taxonomic approach helps us to comprehend the relationship between various organisms, their shared traits and unique specifics. However, today, it’s considered to have many flaws, because it was created based on observable similarities rather than genuine genetic closeness.
2. Dewey Decimal Classification
Discipline: Library and Information Science
Explanation: The Dewey Decimal Classification, invented by Melvil Dewey, is a proprietary library classification system first published in the United States in 1876. The system uses numbers from 000 to 999 for different categories and subcategories. It’s further delineated with decimal points and numbers following these points. This structure helps us to organize all human knowledge, and allows people to quickly browse and access relevant books in libraries.
|Dewey Decimal Class||Subject|
|000||Computer science, general works, information|
|100||Philosophy and psychology|
|500||Natural sciences and mathematics|
|700||Arts and recreation|
|900||History and geography|
3. The Periodic Table
Explanation: The Periodic Table, curated by Dmitri Mendeleev, is a fundamental classification system in the field of Chemistry. The table organizes chemical elements based on their atomic number, electron configuration, and recurring chemical properties. Elements with similar characteristics fall into groups and, in many instances, align in a pattern that allows broad or general predictions about elements in the same group. The Periodic Table is a key tool for scientists to discern relationships and predict behaviors of various elements. Below are the first 10 elements on the table:
|Atomic Number||Element Symbol||Element Name||Atomic Mass||Electron Configuration|
|5||B||Boron||10.81||[He] 2s² 2p¹|
|6||C||Carbon||12.011||[He] 2s² 2p²|
|7||N||Nitrogen||14.007||[He] 2s² 2p³|
|8||O||Oxygen||15.999||[He] 2s² 2p⁴|
|9||F||Fluorine||19.000||[He] 2s² 2p⁵|
|10||Ne||Neon||20.180||[He] 2s² 2p⁶|
4. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Explanation: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an introspective questionnaire, developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, aimed at defining a personality type of an individual based on theoretical propositions. The basic types are categorized under four dichotomies: Extraversion or Introversion, Sensing or Intuitive, Thinking or Feeling, and Judging or Perceiving. The MBTI helps to gauge behavior, thought processes and, at times, helps authorities in the career counseling and professional development domain.
Here is an explanation of each type:
- E: Extraversion – Outgoing, social, and expressive.
- I: Introversion – Reserved, introspective, and quiet.
- S: Sensing – Practical, detail-oriented, and focused on the present.
- N: Intuitive – Abstract, imaginative, and future-oriented.
- T: Thinking – Logical, objective, and makes decisions based on facts.
- F: Feeling – Empathetic, values-driven, and makes decisions based on personal values and how others will be affected.
- J: Judging – Organized, planned, and prefers structure.
- P: Perceiving – Flexible, spontaneous, and prefers to keep options open.
The Myers-Briggs categories are generally seen to be at best pop psychology and, at worst pseudoscience, and most academic psychologists reject the categorization. Nevertheless, it’s popular in business, HR, and career counselling.
5. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Explanation: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow, is a motivational theory comprising a five-tier model of human needs. Often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid, it includes the following levels: physiological needs, safety needs, love and belongingness needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. This theory, branching out from the discipline of psychology, proposes that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and some of these needs take precedence over others.
6. Bloom’s Taxonomy
Explanation: Prominent in the field of education, Bloom’s Taxonomy, developed by Benjamin Bloom and colleagues, is a framework for categorizing levels of cognition, from basic remembering up to the higher-order thinking skills of analysis, evaluation, and creativity. This taxonomy helps teachers to create curricula and learning outcomes that target particular levels of thinking and skill levels, which graduate from simple to complex. For example, a student who demonstrates application may receive a C while a student who demonstrates analysis may receive a B.
7. Genres of Music
Explanation: Music genres offer a useful way to categorize various styles of music. They are typically determined by a combination of factors such as harmonic content, rhythm, instrumentation, and historical period. Examples of music genres include country, rock, jazz, and classical, among others. The classification of music into genres serves listeners by helping them navigate the vast world of music to find what appeals to their personal taste.
8. Film Genres
Discipline: Film Studies
Explanation: Film genres represent the classification of films into groups that share common narrative elements, structures, visual settings, or thematic concerns. Some key examples of film genres include comedy, drama, horror, and action. This classification aids in differentiating films and guides the expectations of an audience regarding a film’s content and mood.
9. Social Class System
Explanation: The Social Class System is a form of social stratification, predominantly seen through an economic lens. The most common model includes three classes: upper class, middle class, and lower class. Each class refers to a group of people who share similar socio-economic conditions, often characterized by aspects like wealth, occupation, and education levels. This classification is pivotal in sociology, shaping the understanding of societal structure and economic disparity.
10. Learning Styles
Explanation: Learning styles are a classification system that theorizes different ways individuals prefer to learn and process information. These classifications include visual (learning through seeing), auditory (learning through listening), read/write (learning through reading and writing), and kinesthetic (learning through movement and experiences). This framework, developed within the fields of education and psychology, is intended to help educators maximize student engagement and achievement by tailoring education to align with an individual’s preferred way of learning. Learning styles taxonomies are largely debunked as pop psychology.
11. Language Families
Explanation: Language families, prevalent in the field of linguistics, are a way of grouping languages that have a common ancestral origin. These classification groups could range from a small handful of closely-related languages to vast collections comprising hundreds of languages spread across the globe. Major examples include Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, and Afro-Asiatic families. This system of classification assists in tracking linguistic evolution and historical migrations of various ethnic groups.
Below are some of the major language families:
|Language Family||Description||Notable Languages|
|Indo-European||Largest language family, originating from Eurasia.||English, Spanish, Hindi, Russian, German|
|Sino-Tibetan||Originated in East Asia.||Mandarin, Cantonese, Tibetan, Burmese|
|Afroasiatic||Originated in the Middle East and North Africa.||Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic, Berber|
|Dravidian||Originated in South India.||Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam|
|Niger-Congo||Largest language family in Africa.||Swahili, Zulu, Yoruba, Igbo|
|Austronesian||Originated from Taiwan and spread across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.||Malay, Indonesian, Tagalog, Malagasy|
|Austroasiatic||Originated in Southeast Asia.||Khmer, Vietnamese|
12. Cloud Classifications
Explanation: Cloud classifications are used in meteorology as a system to categorize clouds based on their appearance and altitude. The system involves ten primary types, which include cumulus, stratus, and cirrus. Each type is classified based on its shape, height in the sky, and whether it brings precipitation. By studying the characteristics and behavior of different cloud types, meteorologists can make predictions about weather patterns and potential changes in climate conditions.
|Primary Classification||Sub-Categories (Types)||Altitude Range|
|High Clouds||Cirrus (Ci), Cirrostratus (Cs), Cirrocumulus (Cc)||Above 20,000 feet (6,000 m)|
|Middle Clouds||Altostratus (As), Altocumulus (Ac)||6,500 to 20,000 feet|
|Low Clouds||Stratus (St), Stratocumulus (Sc), Nimbostratus (Ns)||Up to 6,500 feet|
|Clouds with Vertical Development||Cumulus (Cu), Cumulonimbus (Cb)||1,000 to 50,000 feet|
13. Rock Types
Explanation: Rock types are a classification system used in geology to categorize rocks based on their formation process, mineral content, and texture. There are three main groups: igneous rocks (formed from cooling magma or lava), sedimentary rocks (formed from accumulated sediment), and metamorphic rocks (formed when existing rocks are subjected to intense heat and pressure). This classification system helps geologists to understand Earth’s history, deciphering environmental conditions that existed when the rocks formed.
|Primary Rock Classification||Description||Common Examples|
|Igneous Rocks||Formed from the cooling and solidification of magma or lava.||Granite, Basalt, Obsidian, Pumice|
|Sedimentary Rocks||Formed from the accumulation, compaction, and cementation of mineral and organic particles.||Sandstone, Limestone, Shale, Conglomerate|
|Metamorphic Rocks||Formed when existing rocks are subjected to intense heat and pressure without melting.||Marble, Slate, Schist, Gneiss|
14. Human Blood Group System
Discipline: Medical Science
Explanation: The human blood group system is a way of classifying blood based on the presence or absence of antigens – substances that can trigger an immune response if they are foreign to the body. The primary systems are ABO and Rh, but numerous others exist. The ABO system includes four primary types: A, B, O, and AB. The Rh system classifies blood as either Rh positive or Rh negative. These classifications are crucial in medical science, especially in safe blood transfusion practices.
15. Food Pyramid and Nutritional Categories
Explanation: The food pyramid is a visual guide, developed by nutritionists, to illustrate the types and proportions of foods people should consume each day for good health. The pyramid is divided into levels of recommended consumption, with five primary groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and protein foods. This helps individuals to understand what foods they should consume to maintain a balanced diet.
16. Classification of Economies
Explanation: Economies globally are often categorized, within the discipline of economics, as developed, developing or underdeveloped based on various factors such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), industrialization, standard of living, etc. Developed economies are typically marked by high GDP and a high standard of living, while developing economies are in the process of industrialization with lower comparative income. Meanwhile, the underdeveloped economies often lack industrialization and have a low living standard.
17. Classification of Historical Periods
Explanation: The classification of historical periods is a way historians categorize blocks of time to aid in the study and understanding of history. These divisions are marked by notable changes in human societies, such as the Stone Age, Middle Ages, and Renaissance. This classification helps to organize events, people, and cultures within a specific timeline, providing a structured way to understand the progression of human civilization.
|Historical Period||Time Frame||Characteristics|
|Ancient History||Up to c. 500 AD||Early civilizations, writing systems, early empires (e.g., Egyptian, Greek, Roman).|
|Medieval Period||c. 500 AD to c. 1500 AD||Feudalism, Crusades, Gothic art, rise of Christianity and Islam in various regions.|
|Early Modern Period||c. 1500 AD to c. 1800 AD||Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, Age of Discovery, colonial empires.|
|Modern History||c. 1800 AD to Present||Industrial Revolution, World Wars, technological advancements, globalization, digital revolution.|
18. Book Genres Classification
Explanation: Book genres are distinct categories that classify literature based on the content, tone, or technique. The genres encompass a broad range of categories, including fiction, non-fiction, mystery, fantasy, historical fiction, biography, etc. This classification helps readers to choose books based on their interests, and it aids publishers and authors in marketing books to the appropriate audience.
19. Architecture Styles Classification
Explanation: Architectural styles are a way of classifying architecture characterized by the features that make a building or structure historically identifiable. These can be sorted into categories based on similarities in form, construction, materials, style or period. Some examples include Baroque, Gothic, Modern, and Post-Modern styles. This classification helps architects, historians, and enthusiasts to trace the chronological and technological evolution of architecture across ages and cultures.
20. States of Matter
Explanation: The states of matter represent the distinct forms in which matter can exist, primarily classified into four categories: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Each state is distinguished by differences in properties such as energy of particles, volume and shape adaptability, and intermolecular forces. This classification is foundational in the realm of physics and significantly influences the understanding of material properties in various scientific fields.
21. Art Styles & Movements
Discipline: Art History
Explanation: Art styles and movements categorize art based on shared artistic ideology, technique, or timeframe. Well known styles and movements include Renaissance, Impressionism, Cubism, and Abstract Expressionism, each distinguished by unique characteristics in art creation. This classification plays a vital role in the study of art history, enabling an understanding of how art reflects or affects cultural shifts and societal change over time.
22. Types of Ecosystems
Explanation: In the field of ecology, ecosystems are classified into categories based on the nature and dynamics of their biotic and abiotic components. Main types include terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, and deserts, and aquatic ecosystems like freshwater, marine, and coral reefs. Each ecosystem brings together organisms that interact with each other and their environment, highlighted by unique biodiversity and specific function in Earth’s biosphere. Effective categorization of ecosystems facilitates better ecological conservation and management approaches.
23. Sectors of the Economy
Explanation: Economies are commonly divided into sectors to denote the economic activities in which people are engaged. This classification system includes five key sectors: primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary, and quinary. The classification of an economy into sectors provides a structured way to analyze the economic activities of a region or country, illustrating how the population earns its living. This categorization provides economists, policymakers, and businesses valuable insights into economic productivity, employment, and growth trends, affording effective strategic planning and policy formulation.
24. Types of Societies in Societal Evolution
Explanation: In sociology, societies are often classified based on their historical and societal evolution. This classification ranges from hunter-gatherer societies, characterized by small, mobile populations that subsist on hunting and foraging, through pastoral and agricultural societies that have domesticated animals or cultivate crops, up to industrial societies that rely on mechanized production, and post-industrial societies, where services, information, and the production of ideas dominate. This framework helps sociologists analyze societal development, cultural shifts, and transformations in social structures over time.
25. Historical Eras
Explanation: The classification of historical eras refers to the division of world history into distinct periods, each characterized by specific events, developments, or personalities that influenced the course of history. These include periods such as the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and the Modern Era, among others. This system serves historians and students of history to better comprehend historical contexts, societal changes, and the overall chronology of human progress.
Classification systems offer organization to our understanding of the world, arranging vast amounts of information into structured categories for greater comprehension. They provide a basis for the analysis of relationships between different entities, whether physical objects, concepts, or phenomena.
However, one of the most interesting aspects of classification systems is just how many need to be adjusted, improved upon, or abandoned altogether as our knowledge and understanding of the world develops.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]