What is a Cause and Effect Essay?
A cause and effect essay is the type of paper that author is using to analyze the causes and effects of a particular action or event. A curriculum usually includes this type of exercise to test your ability to understand the logic of certain events or actions.
If you can see the logic behind cause and effect in the world around you, you will encounter fewer problems when writing. If not, writing this kind of paper will give you the chance to improve your skillset and your brain’s ability to reason.
“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
In this article, we’ll find out how to create an outline for your cause and effect essay – the key to successful essay writing.
Types of the Cause and Effect Essay
Before writing this kind of essay, you need to draft the structure. A good structure will result in a good paper, so it’s important to have a plan before you start. But remember, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel: just about every type of structure has already been formulated by someone.
If you are still unsure about the definition of the essay, find that out with our guide: What is an Essay?
Generally speaking, there are three types of cause and effect essays. We usually differentiate them by the number of and relationships between the causes and the effects. Let’s take a quick look at the various kinds:
Many causes, one effect
This kind of essay illustrates how different causes can lead to one effect. The idea here is to try and examine a variety of causes, preferably ones that come from different fields, and prove how they contributed to a particular effect. If you are writing about World War I, for example, mention the political, cultural, and historic factors that led to the great war.
By examining a range of fundamental causes, you will be able to demonstrate your mastery of the topic.
Here is how to structure this type of essay:
- Cause #1
- Cause #2
- Cause #3 (and so on…)
- The effect of the causes
One cause, many effects
This type of cause and effect essay is constructed to show the various effects of a particular event, problem, or decision. Once again, you will have to demonstrate your comprehensive knowledge and analytical mastery of the field. There is no need to persuade the reader or present your argument. When writing this kind of essay, an in-depth knowledge of the problem or event’s roots will be of great benefit. If you know why it happened, it will be much easier to write about the effects.
Here is the structure for this kind of essay:
- The Cause
- Effect #1
- Effect #2
- Effect #3 (and so on…)
Chain of causes and effects
This is the most challenging type. You need to maintain a chain of logic that demonstrates a sequence of actions and consequences, leading to the end of the chain. Although this is usually the most interesting kind of cause and effect essay, it can also be the most difficult to write.
Here is the outline structure:
- Cause #1
- Effect #1 = Cause #2
- Effect #2 = Cause #3
- Effect #3 = Cause #4 (and so on…)
Cause and Effect Essay Outline Example
Let’s take a look at an example. Below, you will find an outline for the topic “The causes of obesity” (Type 1):
- Introduction: Nowadays, people are overweight because of their increasing consumption of unhealthy food, a lack of physical activity, and their refusal to work with fitness trainers.
- People are eating a lot of unhealthy food that is cheap, easy-to-consume and contains a lot of calories. (Include statistics: how many people regularly consume unhealthy food.)
- People don’t move enough. Causes: inactive jobs, laziness, and not enough information about the consequences.
- People don’t want to visit a specialist. If they did, they would be informed about the causes of obesity and offered a plan to solve the problem.
- Effect: Until those problems are solved, people will become more and more obese. (Include a prognosis about obesity rates over the next decade.)
- Conclusion: Junk food, a lack of physical activity, and a refusal to visit a doctor are the three leading causes of obesity. We hope that the situation will change. (Include some examples of what each person can do about the problem)
As you can see, we used a blended strategy here. When writing about the ever-increasing consumption of unhealthy food, it is logical to talk about the marketing strategies that encourage people to buy fast foods. If you are discussing fitness trainers, it is important to mention that people need to be checked by a doctor more often, etc.
How do I start writing once I have drafted the structure?
If you start by structuring each paragraph and collecting suitable examples, the writing process will be much simpler. The final essay might not come up as a classic five paragraph essay – it all depends on the cause-effect chain and the number of statements of your essay.
In the Introduction, try to give the reader a general idea of what the cause and effect essay will contain. For an experienced reader, a thesis statement will be an indication that you know what you are writing about. It is also important to emphasize how and why this problem is relevant to modern life. If you ever need to write about the Caribbean crisis, for instance, state that the effects of the Cold War are still apparent in contemporary global politics.
In the Body, provide plenty of details about what causes led to the effects. Once again, if you have already assembled all the causes and effects with their relevant examples when writing your plan, you shouldn’t have any problems. But, there are some things to which you must pay particular attention. To begin with, try to make each paragraph the same length: it looks better visually. Then, try to avoid weak or unconvincing causes. This is a common mistake, and the reader will quickly realize that you are just trying to write enough characters to reach the required word count.
Moreover, you need to make sure that your causes are actually linked to their effects. This is particularly important when you write a “chained” cause and effect essay (type 3). You need to be able to demonstrate that each cause was actually relevant to the final result. As I mentioned before, writing the Body without preparing a thorough and logical outline is often an omission.
The Conclusion must be a summary of the thesis statement that you proposed in the Introduction. An effective Conclusion means that you have a well-developed understanding of the subject. Writing the Conclusion can be one of the most challenging parts of this kind of project. You typically write the Conclusion once you have finished the Body, but in practice, you will sometimes find that a well-written conclusion will reveal a few mistakes of logic in the Body!
Cause and Effect Essay Sample
Be sure to check the sample essay, completed by our writers. Use it as an example to write your own cause and effect essay. Link: cause and effect essay sample: advertising ethic issues.
Tips and Common Mistakes from Our Expert Writers
Focus Question: How can a cause-and-effect essay be organized in different ways?
“During the last lesson, we read ‘The Effects of Being an Athlete’ and completed a graphic organizer that listed specific effects of being an athlete. Take a few minutes to revisit this essay. When you’re finished rereading it, go back and identify what you consider to be the essay’s thesis statement.” After students have finished revisiting the essay, ask them to point out the thesis statement; then ask them to identify the evidence that the author uses to support the thesis. For example, in the paragraph about increasing physical abilities, the author gives facts showing that participating in a sport increases speed, muscular mass, stamina, lung capacity, and elasticity.
“Now take out the thesis statement and list of causes/effects that you wrote during the last lesson. Just as ‘The Effects of Being an Athlete’ provides support for its claim, you need to support your own thesis with facts, examples, and details.”
Give students time to research information to support their ideas. While some students may have topics for which they can generate their own details and examples, other topics may require outside research. If possible, plan to hold class in a computer lab or a place where students can conduct online research. Help students stay focused by having them generate a list of specific key words or phrases that they will search to support their thesis statements. Approve this list and ensure its focus before they begin.
If necessary, review with students the guidelines for research. They must give credit to the source for any facts and statistics they use in the paper that are not their own work. They must also put in quotation marks any words or phrases that they copy directly from a source. (A good resource for citation guidelines is at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/589/02/.) Remind students that while the Internet is widely available to the public, any information found there and used directly in a paper must be appropriately documented.
Once students have completed their research, say, “Now that you have completed some research, you are ready to outline your paper.” Provide copies of the Cause-and-Effect Essay Outline and the appropriate graphic organizer for students, depending on whether they have chosen a cause or an effect as their topic (LW-8-2-2_Cause-and-Effect Essay Outline.docx, LW-8-2-2_Cause with Multiple Effects Graphic Organizer.pdf, and LW-8-2-2_Effect with Multiple Causes Graphic Organizer.pdf).
Note: You may decide to use only the outline if students do not need as much scaffolding.
The graphic organizer and/or outline will guide students to organize their ideas. Explain that cause-and-effect essays may be structured in various ways. For example, in Lesson 1, students discussed how multiple causes could affect a student’s performance on a test. In contrast, the essay, “The Effects of Being an Athlete,” analyzes how an activity can produce multiple effects.
Instruct students on how to complete the organizer and/or outline. Encourage them to come up with an interesting fact, example, or anecdote to introduce their topic. Emphasize that the introduction is the “hook” that will make readers want to read their paper and that their thesis statement should generally be at the end of their introduction.
One way to describe the introduction is to compare it to an inverted triangle or the top section of an hourglass. Often the introduction is more general in the beginning and slowly becomes more specific as it transitions to the thesis statement, which should be the most specific part of the introduction. As students complete the cause/effect section of the organizer and/or outline, explain that each cause/effect will be a separate body paragraph with a topic sentence. Model with a paragraph topic sentence from “The Effects of Being an Athlete”: “The first major effect of practicing a sport is that you will develop physical abilities.” Point out that this sentence tells the reader exactly what to expect in the first body paragraph.
Explain that they should find a logical order for their paragraphs. For example, organizing from the least important to the most important cause/effect might be ideal for many essays. For some, sequential order might work well. Encourage students to choose the order that will best present their ideas.
Tell students that their research should support each topic sentence. Finally, explain that the conclusion should summarize their main points and restate their thesis.
Collect the organizers and/or outlines and provide verbal or written feedback regarding their ideas, research, and outlines.
After students have received feedback on their organizers and/or outlines, they are ready to write their rough drafts. Give each student a copy of Cause-and-Effect Transitions (LW-8-2-2_Cause-and-Effect Transitions.doc). Explain to students that transitions are like dots of glue that hold the ideas of their paper together. The chart lists common transitions used for different purposes in a paper. Choose examples and discuss how different words show different relationships between causes and effects and therefore when you would use one over another. Have students read over the chart, and ask about words they have questions about before completing the exercises at the bottom of the page. Review the exercise to show the effect of the transitions. Tell students to use the chart as a resource while they complete their drafts.
Give students time to write their rough drafts in class or assign them as homework. Explain that they will have an opportunity to get feedback on their drafts and revise them before writing the final draft.
- Students who might be going beyond the standards can read and analyze “Corn-Pone Opinions” by Mark Twain, available at http://www.paulgraham.com/cornpone.html. This is written at a higher readability level and has a less traditional organization format for cause-and-effect analysis.
- Students who might require additional practice could choose an essay from the following Web site to make a visual representation of the causes and effects expressed: “Students’ Cause-and-Effect Essays—Models” in Advanced Composition for Non-Native Speakers of English. http://www.eslbee.com/cause_effect_essays_models.htm
- Students who have not been exposed to much research will benefit from a tutorial at the school library.
- For extra practice with transitions, students can add transition words in the blank arrows of the Athletic Graphic Organizer (LW-8-2-1_Athletic Graphic Organizer.pdf and LW-8-2-1_Athletic Graphic Organizer KEY.pdf).