Smarthinking Writer's Handbook
Understanding causes and effects is essential in nearly all aspects of life. People analyze causes and effects without even realizing it as they make important decisions or solve everyday problems like “Why am I grumpy on Thursdays?” Writing cause and effect essays helps you develop good decision-making skills to use in many circumstances life brings your way.
Cause and effect essays describe the underlying causes and/or the major effects of a situation or event. You may run across these essays in writing courses, but they’re popular in history and science courses as well. A cause and effect essay usually follows one of three possible approaches:
Causes: Describe the factors that cause a certain situation, event, or problem to happen
The purpose of these essays varies with each assignment. In some cases, the purpose is only to inform or to demonstrate knowledge about a chain of events or an underlying process. You’d meet this purpose if you needed to describe the causes of the Great Depression. In other cases, the purpose is to persuade an audience to avoid certain causes that lead to negative effects, such as “effects of smoking.” Some topics can be approached with various purposes; for example, “effects of social media” can be neutral or persuasive depending on the instructor’s requirements.
Before making an outline, verify whether the body paragraphs should focus on causes, effects, or both, and check the required length to help you decide how many body paragraphs are necessary. There is no magic rule insisting that every cause and effect essay should discuss three or four causes or effects, so you’ll need to use your own discretion. You may want to share an outline with a tutor or instructor for feedback about the overall plan before writing the first draft.
Each type of topic requires slightly different background information.
The first example focuses on three causes of the Great Depression, and the second example focuses on effects. The assignment instructions will usually give clues about what type of thesis is appropriate.
One of the main factors that caused the Great Depression was the stock market crash of 1929.
The word choices make it obvious that the paragraph will focus on a particular event that caused the Great Depression.
Readers need to see facts and details to convince them that certain causes or effects are plausible. For example, if you wanted to show that social media hurt academic performance, you would need to include statistics or examples that prove teens actually get worse grades or test scores when they use social media too often. You would also need to explain exactly how and why social media affects academic performance, perhaps by citing outside sources as evidence of each cause or effect or by using your own experiences and personal knowledge for support. No matter what kind of details you use, your supporting sentences will show cause and effect with words such as because, as a result, due to, therefore, consequently, stems from, causes, affects, leads to, results in, and effects.
As with most papers, the conclusion should avoid introducing new causes or effects.
Think About It
Answering these questions will help you brainstorm ideas for body paragraph topics and supporting details as well as your introduction and conclusion as you write a cause and effect essay.