How Do I Write a Cause-and-Effect Essay?

The Cause-and-Effect Essay

by Owen Fourie

~ Part One ~

A damaging storm is not my idea of fun. Few, if any, would regard it as such.

There are times when it is not clear what has caused the damage, and it becomes necessary to examine the appearance of the debris to determine what caused the mess. There might be some confusion as to whether it was caused by a tornado or by a downburst.

The experts will get to work scrutinizing the area for the telltale signs. The effects will reveal the cause.

If they see the destruction spreading out from a central point in straight lines, they will tell us that it was caused by a downburst. If they see a whorled pattern, they will tell us that it was a tornado that did it.

In observable phenomena, the effects will often show the cause; however, the subject of causality is not simple and straightforward. It is a vast area of study that is the concern of many disciplines such as philosophy, logic, physics, biology, theology, psychology, and law, to name a few.

What might appear to be the cause of any effect on the level of ordinary, observable human experience might not be so if we were to go into the study of quantum mechanics.

Choose an easy topic

In writing a cause-and-effect essay, unless you are dealing with causality on a high academic plane, you would be wise to keep to things that are easily understood and accepted.

Even then, you should be mindful that you are dealing with the tip of the iceberg. There is far more to the subject than you can grasp or write about in one essay.

Choose a topic that is familiar to you or that you can easily research. If you take something that is of current interest and of concern to many, you will find it easier to handle.

Perhaps there is a river or a stream in your neighborhood that is not as clear as it was a few years ago. What is causing this deterioration?

The dropout rate in colleges could be another point to consider. What is causing this? Research and write about such things unless you are specifically required to deal with an event in history, a phenomenon in science, or a development in literature.

Ask these questions as you research

Do your research. Look closely at the effects and study every aspect to determine the cause. Some of the questions that you should ask are listed below:

  • What are the effects?
  • To what extent are the effects felt?
  • What are the concerns of people affected by these effects?
  • What is the cause?
  • Are there several causes of one effect?
  • Is there only one cause of several effects?
  • Is it a necessary cause? In other words, is it something that has to be present for the effect to occur at all? For land plants to survive, soil and water are needed;
  • Is it a sufficient cause? It can produce the effect although there might be other causes that can produce the same effect. Your car will not start. A low battery is a sufficient cause, but there can be other causes such as a bad ignition switch;
  • Is it a contributory cause? Other causes have to be present for the effect to occur. It’s the championship game. You score the winning goal. Your contribution to the victory is not without the teamwork and the coaching that preceded it;
  • If it is an immediate cause, what is the remote cause? Any study of the causes of the First World War (1914-1918) will show that the immediate cause was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The remote causes, however, are to be traced in the growing nationalism and militarism, as well as imperialist ambitions and political alliances of the preceding years;
  • Is there a causal chain where there is a cause and an effect, and that effect becomes the cause of another effect, which in turn becomes the cause of another effect and so on?
  • Is this “after-this-therefore-because-of-this” reasoning (Latin = post hoc ergo propter hoc)? This is the Rooster Syndrome, which is to be avoided: The rooster thought that since the sun rose after he crowed, his crowing was the cause of the sun rising.

In Part Two of this article, we’ll look at the introduction to a cause-and-effect essay, the thesis statement, the body, and the conclusion.

What is your experience with writing cause-and-effect essays? What are your particular struggles? If you have studied causality, do you have any useful insights that you can give here? Are there other questions that should be added to the list suggested for research? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2010 by English Essay Writing Tips


Skip to comment form

    • sobia on June 24, 2011 at 00:51

    Could you kindly send me a list of slang words that should not be used in writing. I would really appreciate it. Thanks!

    1. Sobia: The best way to avoid using slang in your written work is simply to consult a dictionary when you suspect that a particular word might be slang. If it is in the dictionary, it will state that it is a slang word. However, if you cannot find it there, don’t use it.

      Here are some useful links:

      Online Dictionaries:
      In this article, you will find some links to online dictionaries.

      Online Slang Dictionaries and Language Links

      A slang word list!!

      10 slang words or phrases

        • sobia on June 25, 2011 at 02:25

        Thank you so much for your help. I will definitely consult a dictionary in future to make sure the word was not a slang.

        1. Sobia: You are very welcome.

    • sobia on June 24, 2011 at 00:48

    I am very interested in improving my writing skills. However, I am residing in Pakistan and don’t know if you accept students from Pakistan.

    1. Sobia: Students from Pakistan are indeed welcome.

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