To write a cause and effect essay, you’ll need to determine a scenario in which one action or event caused certain effects to occur. Then, explain what took place and why! This essay allows us to identify patterns and explain why things turned out the way that they did.
How do I choose a topic and get started? Try choosing a major event, either in your own life or an event of historical significance. For example, The Great Depression.
Cause of The Great Depression: stock market crash
How would we elaborate? We'd discuss the behaviors, carelessness, errors, and even cultural attitudes that led to the crash—explaining why it was devastating.
Effects of the Great Depression: joblessness & poverty
What should we say about the effects?
- Businesses went under—explain HOW the crash caused this
- Describe poverty in detail—explain how this could’ve been handled more efficiently or even avoided
Narrowing a Large Topic
In a short essay, it might be difficult to tackle the cause and all of the many effects of a big event like the Great Depression. To narrow a cause and effect topic down to a manageable size, ask yourself…
- What's the main (most important) cause? Most people attribute it to the stock market crash, so that's a good place to start.
- Can I break the different types of effects down into categories? Yes! I'll break my ideas down into categories like: economic, social, employment, practical, and morale effects. (example below)
- Which category interests me the most? "Practical effects" is the most interesting. I'll narrow the topic of my paper down so that my essay will now be about how the stock market crash affected the practical ways that people lived their lives during the Great Depression.
Can that category be broken down even further to make the topic more manageable? I'm actually interested in the ways that the Great Depression affected the farming industry. I want to talk about the new skills and methods that farmers were forced to learn and implement, as a result of their difficult situation.
Narrowing a Large Topic - Example
Can I break the different types of effects down into categories? Yes! I'll break my ideas down into categories like: economic, social, employment, practical, and morale effects.
money loses value
public resourcefulness increases
companies lose value
employers pay lower wages
farming techniques change
men emasculated by job loss
banks lose the public's trust
orphanages fill up
forced to work longer hours
public wastes less, finds creative ways to save
Student Sample: The Desired Look: Nothing But Bones
WRITING CAUSE AND EFFECT PAPERS
Cause and effect papers use analysis to examine the reasons for and the outcomes of situations. They are an attempt to discover either the origins of something, such as an event or a decision, the effects or results that can be properly attributed to it, or both.
Cause and effect papers answer questions like the following ("A" is your topic):
- Why did A happen? (discovering the causes of A)
- What happened as a result of A? (discovering the effects of A)
- What might happen as a result of A? (predicting further effects of A)
You may write a cause and effect paper primarily about causes, primarily about effects, or a combination of both.
Before you begin writing or even researching, make a list of all the causes of this event you already know about. Ask questions like these: Why did this happen? What preconditions existed? Were the results foreseen? Could they have been foreseen? Then do some preliminary research, using what you already know to guide the direction of your reading. Change or add to your original list of causes to reflect new information gathered from your research. Done in depth, this kind of analysis is likely to uncover an almost unlimited chain of linked causes, far more than you can effectively address in one paper. Identify one to three of them as more important (or interesting, or overlooked) than the others. Then, acknowledging that multiple causes exist, limit your discussion to those most important (or interesting, or overlooked).
As you brainstorm possible causes, do not fall into the trap of thinking that, simply because one event followed another, that there was necessarily a causal relationship. (The mere fact that four youths were seen running away from the scene of an assault does not itself logically implicate them in the assault; they could have been running for help, chasing down the alleged criminal, or simply jogging by.)
Also, do not confuse a necessary precondition for a cause: A large number of costumed students milling about in downtown Chico on Halloween night may be a necessary precondition for a riot, but it is not, in itself, the cause of a riot.
As you write, use the transitions, or signal words, that tell readers you are demonstrating causal relationships between your ideas:
- Led to
The following example names the cause first, followed by the effect:
Because the technology program received independent funding from grants and federal Title I funds, it was relatively untouched by the school district's own budget cuts.
If you choose to write about effects, first brainstorm: Make a list of all the effects you know about, and use this list to direct your research to learn more. Have the effects had great impact on history, culture, or your own life? Or have they had a small impact with few results? Again, be sure you can demonstrate the causal relationship.
Just as there are usually several causes for anything, there are a multitude of effects that proceed from any one cause. Don't try to address a long chain of effects in one paper. Acknowledge that many effects of various kinds exist, and then limit your discussion to the most important ones.
Transition words that suggest to the reader that you are discussing effects include the following:
- As a result
- Thanks to
The following statement names a cause first, and then an effect:
Employees at companies that offer flexible work schedules are more productive and file fewer claims for mental-health benefits; consequently, the number of companies offering flextime is on the rise.
(As a matter of argument, you could claim that the example above shows two linked effects of the flextime policy: First, it caused employees to be more productive; and second, their enhanced productivity, in turn, caused more companies to adopt flextime. Linked causes and effects are typical of this type of paper.)
Cause and effect papers often make predictions based on known facts, trends, and developments. Prediction moves from the known and observable into the unknown and possible. Prediction tries to answer questions like these: What are the possible or likely consequences? Are these results likely to have great impact on my life or the lives of others? Are these results likely to have great impact on shaping public policy, society, or history? What preconditions would have to exist before my predictions could come about?
If you choose to make predictions, as is common, for example, in political science, education, science, and philosophy, be sure to use credible evidence and strong reasoning. If you do not handle predictions with finesse and ground them in established fact, they are apt to appear fantastic and unbelievable.
Avoid overstating your case; use language couched in an appropriate degree of uncertainty (might, may well be, is likely to, can expect, is entirely possible). Signal words and verb forms such as these suggest to the reader that you are making the move from observation to prediction:
- As soon as
- Likely that
- Can expect
- Possible that
Here is a prediction using two of the above transitions:
If the governor fails to clearly declare his position and take a leadership role in reforming the state's workers' compensation system, voters are likely to take matters into their own hands and call for a statewide referendum.
A cause and effect paper relies heavily on your analysis of the situation. Although there are many ways to interpret any situation and the effects that it has produced, in the end the convincing power of your paper depends on specific evidence, clear and convincing language, and logical development.