A cause and effect essay is one in which the writer makes a claim for why something happens (the cause) or what the result of something is (the effects). The essay may also deal with both causes and effects.
Choosing a topic
Some may find it helpful to do some pre-writing exercises before beginning a cause and effect essay. The first step is choosing a topic. This might be a current or historical event such as a war, or it might be a societal problem or issue such as pollution or childhood obesity.
The next step is deciding whether the paper will be about causes, effects or both and determining what those causes and effects are. This can quickly start to seem overwhelming. Most complex events and issues have many causes and many effects. Narrowing the topic is an important skill in all types of writing including cause and effect essays. Choosing just two or three of the most important causes and effects will make the essay manageable.
A thesis statement tells the main idea of the paper and is usually placed in the introduction. A thesis for a cause and effect paper should name the causes and effects that the writer will be discussing in the paper. Here are a few examples. The first is for an essay that focuses on causes and the second is for an essay that focuses on effects:
Childhood obesity is caused by easy availability of fast food and too much time spent watching television and playing video games.
The effects of childhood obesity are rising public health costs and shorter life spans.
If the essay is about both causes and effects, those two sentences can be combined:
Childhood obesity is caused by easy availability of fast food and too much time spent watching television and playing video games, and the effects of childhood obesity are rising public health costs and shorter life spans.
The body of the paper should focus on developing each of the causes and effects named in the thesis statement in the same order that they are listed there. Outside research may be used at this point to support the writer’s contention. For example, the writer of the childhood obesity essay may use studies linking childhood obesity to shorter life spans.
Each paragraph should focus on one cause or effect. The writer may spend several paragraphs discussing each cause or effect if necessary.
Cause and effect essays may be complex, and outlining is a helpful organizational tool. Outlining can be done before or after a draft is written, and it can be as formal or as informal as needed. An outline that simply consists of a list of paragraphs and a few words describing their main ideas may be sufficient. Breaking down a paper in this way can help the writer determine whether each paragraph focuses on a single main idea and if the paper progresses in a logical way.
Cause and effect essays tend to be formal in tone. Like all formal academic writing, they should be written in third person point of view. This means avoiding the use of I, my and similar words as well as you and your and using words like he, she, it, they and one instead. Writers should also avoid slang and addressing the reader directly.
In the final paragraph, the writer should briefly go back over the main causes and effects discussed. The conclusion should not introduce any new causes or effects.
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