How to Write a Cause and Effect Essay
A cause and effect essay requires that you examine a particular situation or event and determine a causal relationship. Start by choosing a particular topic. Then, conduct your preliminary research and take notes to incorporate into your essay. When you are finished researching, create an outline based upon your thesis statement and write an initial draft. Edit your draft closely and ask another person to do so as well.
Getting Ready to Write
Take note of the assignment details.Carefully write down any of the assignment requirements as provided by your teacher. If you have an assignment sheet make sure to read through it carefully and note any questions that you have. At a minimum, you should know the due date, the assignment length, the formatting requirements, and the opening prompt.
- If you write down the details yourself make sure to keep this piece of paper in a safe location as you will need to consult it throughout the writing process.
Understand the goal of the assignment.Cause and effect papers do not always cover both of these elements. Find out if your essay is supposed to focus on causes, effects, or a bit of both. You will also want to determine if you are supposed to explore an assigned topic or come up with one yourself.
- For example, you may be asked to write about the causes of the American Revolution, which means that you will discuss taxation protests and other contributing factors. Or, you may be asked to write about the effects of the American Revolution, which means that you will discuss nation-building and other long and short-term effects. A combined cause and effect essay would combine both of these angles.
Narrow down (or broaden) your topic.If you need to choose your own topic it is a good idea to start by brainstorming. Write down any and all topics that jump to mind. Pick the top five that interest you the most. Consider how much information you can reasonably fit into your paper’s required page length. Try breaking a potential topic into multiple parts and choosing one.
- Double check that your idea is within the given subject parameters outlined by the teacher for the assignment.
- Consider writing about moments that are close to your own experience, such as events that have impacted your life. For example, you could discuss a war period that you lived through. Or, you could take on a controversial topic, such as the proven effects of eating fast food on a regular basis. Taking a historical angle and looking into events like the American Revolution is another possible approach.
- Be flexible in adjusting your topic breadth or depth as you work on your paper. At any point in the process you may need to add or delete particular discussions to fit the requirements. For example, if you are writing about the actions of George Washington during the American Revolution, you may need to narrow your focus and only discuss one particular choice that he made.
Read any assigned texts.If your teacher assigned articles or books to coincide with this essay assignment it is a good idea to start reading those as soon as you can. They may help you to narrow down a topic or they make help you to understand the topic that you’ve been assigned. You can also use your text notes as evidence when you actually start writing too.
- These texts are usually great places to research your topic further.
Conduct background research.Look at sources (books, articles, etc.) that explore your topic from a variety of perspectives. Cast a wide net initially by reading everything that you can. Narrow down your search as you find useful information. Make sure to take careful notes while you research so that you can cite properly later and avoid plagiarism.
- Check that your sources fall within the guidelines given by your teacher for the assignment.
- If you are covering a recent topic, such as the effects of fast food production, you may be able to use first-hand accounts, also known as primary sources, in your work.
Approach your teacher with questions.At any stage in the process if you have questions you should email your teacher (if possible) or talk with them after class. It is a good idea to write down your questions beforehand too. You can also talk with students who’ve worked with this teacher before to see if they can clarify the assignment for you.
- A good question might be, “Is there a minimum source number for this assignment?” Just make sure that the question that you ask is not already answered in the assignment sheet.
Constructing the Initial Essay
Develop a thesis statement.After you’ve looked over your notes you will want to come up with a thesis statement, or argument, to guide your paper. This is what you will try to prove throughout your essay. Your thesis should be debatable and should be supported by the facts that you uncovered during your research.
- A thesis statement can be a single sentence or multiple sentences, depending on what you need to cover. It cannot be a quote, a basic statement of fact, or a question.
- As you are trying to craft your thesis statement it is helpful to consider what your evidence indicates about your topic. What causes and/or effects are clearly illustrated by your sources? For example, if a number of your sources discuss stock market issues as a cause of the Great Depression, then you may argue that, “Stock market instabilities, in part, led to the Great Depression.”
Create an outline.Identify at least three broad themes or ideas that can support your main thesis. These themes will become separate body sections of your paper. You will then place smaller or more detailed ideas or concepts under these larger ‘umbrella’ ideas. In the end, every piece of the organization should contribute toward proving your thesis in some way.
- While 3 ideas are typical for a 5-paragraph essay, you may find you have more ideas you want to include. Depending upon your topic and the length of your paper, scale up the number of ideas as needed.
- Be pretty flexible with your initial outline as you will find areas that you will need to expand or cut when you actually start writing.
- It may seem easier at first but you never have to limit yourself to the five-paragraph essay format, unless your teacher expressly requests that you do so. Otherwise, feel free to add additional paragraphs, up until the page limit, to create a stronger argument.
Craft a solid introduction.Your introduction is the first paragraph of your essay and it has a great deal of work to do. It must grab the reader’s attention. It needs to introduce the reader to the general topic. And, it must present the thesis statement to the reader, usually in the final sentence or two. For a cause and effect essay you will want to make clear whether or not you plan to cover both of these areas or just one.
- You can get a reader interested in your subject by opening with a vivid quote, exciting source, or quick anecdote. Just keep it brief. Your intro should only be a fairly short paragraph in comparison to the body ones.
Write your body paragraphs.This is where you flesh out your outline. Each paragraph should cover one particular element of your argument. In the cause portions of your essay you will need to explain the event in question and make initial connections to the effect portion that is coming up. In the effect portion you will need to explain to the reader how you get from point A (cause) to point B (effect).
- Don’t forget to add at least a paragraph explaining to the reader why these connections are important to them on an individual or group level. You could also mention this in the cause-and-effect paragraph. This is as an opportunity to make an educated statement about what the long and short term implications of this cause/effect cycle will be. Basically, why should we care?
Emphasize the cause and effect timeline.As you move through your body paragraphs, make sure that you emphasize that the cause that you are discussing occurred before the effect. And, as you are writing about an effect, make sure that you can prove it occurred after that particular cause. You want to avoid a situation where your causes and effects are so intertwined that they are without a causal relationship.
- For example, if you argue that the Great Depression caused a rise in unemployment you will need to have statistics to support this perspective. After all, unemployment existed before and after the event in question, so the causal relationship is what must be clarified.
Acknowledge or rule out other explanations.You must convince your readers that you are aware of alternative arguments or approaches. Don’t overreach or over-promise as you describe the cause and effect relationship. Instead, use your evidence to show that, while other causes or effects may exist, the most important relationships are the ones that are found within your paper.
- For instance, if you are writing about the causes of the Great Depression you will want to discuss the stock market but also the income gap. Or, if you choose to focus solely on the Great Depression/stock market relationship then somewhere in your paper you’ll want to acknowledge the other possible causes while stating that you’ve chosen this particular focus.
- Points you are proving may be major or minor. The goal is simply to explain how they affect the causal relationship.
Craft a solid conclusion.Use your concluding paragraph to sum up your thesis and major supporting points. However, do so very briefly as this paragraph should be roughly the same length as the introduction. You might also give some indication as to how your findings could change in the future if conditions or interpretations alter in some way.
Intermix specific details and bigger-picture statements.Throughout your body paragraphs you will want to develop and present natural pairings of detailed evidence and broad summary or interpretive remarks. Without the details your paper will be too vague. Without the interpretive comments your reader will just see a list of facts lacking analysis.
Polishing Your Final Draft
Leave it alone.When you’ve finished your first draft of your paper, step away from it for at least a little while. Waiting to revise for a day or two is ideal, although that may not be possible under a deadline. Getting your mind away from your essay is beneficial in that it allows you to come back at it with a fresh perspective. You’ll see errors and areas for expansion that you never would have considered before.
- This is another reason why it is best to not procrastinate when writing an essay of this type. You will need ample time to complete the process in a patient way in order to create your best possible work.
Ask a friend to read it.As soon as you know that you’ll need to write an essay it is a good idea to approach a friend or classmate and ask them to spend a bit of time looking over your rough draft. Before you hand over your draft it is a good idea to let you reader know if there are any particular ‘trouble areas’ that you would like them to focus on.
- You might say, “Please focus on the word choice as that is a weakness of mine.”
Read it again and revise.Once you’ve given your paper some down time and had another person look it over you will then need to start the personal revision process. Find a quiet place where you can sit down and closely read over your essay word-by-word. Look for both macro (large, major) and micro (smaller, details) issues and make these changes.
- Some people find it helpful to print out your paper at this point and make your revisions on a hard copy. This can also protect you in the event that you experience any computer troubles.
- One strategy is to split your revisions into two parts: one revision for grammar and spelling and another to examine the organization and content of your paper.
Pay attention to the transitions.When you are writing a ‘split’ topic essay, such as a compare/contrast or cause/effect, it is particularly important to make your transitions clear and obvious to the reader. This will signal to your reader that you are switching from one area to another. Good transition words include, “therefore,” “consequently,” “thus,” and many others.
- It is sometimes helpful to read your paper aloud while editing. This allows you to catch errors that might otherwise slip by you.
- You can also ask your teacher to look over your first draft as well, if they are willing to do so.
- Be very careful not to plagiarize or commit any type of academic honesty. Produce your own work and ask your teacher for help if you need it.
- Make sure to save your paper as you continue to work. Computer problems do happen and you don’t want to lose your work as a result.
Sources and Citations
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Video: How To Write A Cause And Effect Essay (Definition + Topics + Outline)
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