A toxic algal bloom from fertilizer
runoff covers a third of Lake Erie
in the United States.
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Objectives T o learn how to write a cause-effect essay
To use effective transitions in cause-effect writing
To use verb tenses consistently
To recognize and avoid sentence fragments
What are the causes and
effects of pollution?
What Is a Cause-Effect Essay?
We all understand cause-effect relationships; for example, lightning can cause fire. As a student
you know that if you stay up late the night before a test to watch a movie and do not study, you may not
perform well on the test the following day. A cause-effect essay tells how one event (the cause) leads to
another event (the effect).
A cause-effect essay can do one of two things:
• I t can analyze the ways in which one or more effects result from a particular cause.
• It can analyze the ways in which one or more causes lead to a particular effect.
In other words, your essay may focus more on the effects of a cause or more on the causes of one
effect. Either approach provides a useful means of discussing the possible relationship between the two
events. It is not a good idea to mix several causes and several effects in an essay because your focus may
In cause-effect essays, it is easy to suggest that because one event preceded another event, the
former event caused the latter. Simply because one event follows another one sequentially does not
mean that the two actions are related. For example, people often complain that as soon as they finish
washing their car, it starts to rain. Obviously, washing a car does not cause rain. Writers need to be sure
that the causes and effects they describe are logically connected.
Unit 6 • Cause-Effect Essays
How Is a Cause-Effect Essay Organized?
There are two basic ways to organize a cause-effect essay: focus-on-effects or focus-on-causes.
If your assignment is to write a cause-effect essay on the topic of global warming, you could write two
kinds of essays:
• I n a focus-on-effects essay, you would write about the threatened habitat of polar bears as a
result of global warming and the melting of large parts of the Arctic Circle. Your essay might
include five paragraphs and look like this:
Effect 1: dangerous swimming conditions
• sea ice platforms farther apart
Effect 2: scarcity of food
• fewer hunting opportunities
Effect 3: reduced population
• Females with less body weight have lower reproduction rates.
• I n a focus-on-causes essay, you would write about the causes of global warming, such as
excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In this case, the organization for this essay could
have five paragraphs and look like this:
Cause 1: human activities
• carbon dioxide from vehicles
• not recycling (requires creating more products from scratch)
Cause 2: increased industrial activity
• greater carbon dioxide from burning fuels to run factories
Cause 3: deforestation
• Increased human population requires more space, so trees are cut down.
• F ewer trees mean less oxygen, which causes a higher percentage of
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Great Topics for Cause-Effect Essays
What is a great topic for a cause-effect essay? This type of essay may focus more on the causes or
more on the effects, but most writers answer this question by thinking of an effect or a final result. The
brainstorming stage then requires thinking about one or more causes of that effect.
When selecting topics for this type of essay, a good writer should consider relevant questions
• What is the end effect?
• Is there one primary effect, or are there several effects?
• Is there one primary cause, or are there several causes?
As you read this list of some general topics that lend themselves well to a cause-effect essay,
notice that the last two in each group do not use the obvious words cause or effect:
Focus on Causes
Focus on Effects
the causes of the high divorce rate in some countries
the effects of pollution in my country
the causes of World War I
the effects of high salaries for athletes
the causes of low voter participation in elections
the effects of the Internet on how businesses are run
the reasons new teachers quit
the impact of technology on education
why only a small percentage of people read
what happens when a large percentage of adults
cannot read well
Activity 1 Identifying Topics for Cause-Effect Essays
Read these eight topics. Put a check mark (✓) next to the four that could be good topics for
1. the reasons that the earth’s weather has changed so much in the last century
2. Bangkok versus Singapore as a vacation destination
3. a trip to visit my grandparents
4. the increasing use of computers in schools
5. explaining dietary guidelines for children
6. how to play the piano
7. why a student received a scholarship
8. why the birth rate is falling in many countries
Can you think of two additional topics that would be excellent for a cause-effect essay?
Unit 6 • Cause-Effect Essays
After you have selected a topic, your task is to determine whether you will focus more on the
causes of the issue or the effects of it. This process will also help you to select and develop supporting
details for your essay, which is an important step in constructing a solid essay.
When you brainstorm your plan for this essay, a useful technique is to make two lists. One list
has as many causes as you can think of. The second list has as many effects or results as you can think of.
The list that is bigger—the causes or the effects—should determine the primary focus of your essay.
Here is an example for an essay about the difficulty of learning English:
14 vowel sounds
some people study it for years.
unpredictable spelling system
people spend millions of dollars to learn it.
12 verb tenses
there are many jobs for teaching English.
Some people never learn it well.
vocabulary from German and from Latin
Some people have a weak vocabulary.
Activity 2 Brainstorming for Two Methods
One of the topics that we hear so much about in today’s society is stress. In this activity, you will use
the space in the boxes on page 138 to brainstorm ideas for an essay on the topic of stress. In the first
box, your organization will address the focus-on-effects method. In the second box, your organization
will address the focus-on-causes method. After you complete these tasks, work with a partner or a
small group to discuss your answers.
Unit 6 • Cause-Effect Essays
Activity 3 Studying an Example Cause-Effect Essay
This essay discusses some effects that weather has had on events in history. Discuss the Preview
Questions with a partner. Then read the essay and answer the questions that follow.
1. Can you name a time when the weather had an effect on an event that you attended? Was it a
positive effect or a negative effect?
2. In the 1200s, the warrior Kubilai Khan tried to invade Japan by sailing from the Asian mainland to
Japan. A certain kind of weather event prevented the invasion. Write three guesses in the diagram
about what this weather was. Do not consult the Internet, a book, or a person.
Effect: No invasion of Japan
3. Go back in time. Imagine you are a captain of a troop of 500 soldiers and you want to attack your
enemy at night. However, it is raining heavily. What are three possible effects of the rain?
Cause: Heavy rain at battle time at night
How Weather Has Changed World History
It is tempting, and often comforting, to think that humans
control their fates. The decisions that people make in their daily lives
can affect many things, and the course of their lives cumulatively
reflects these many small decisions. On the other hand, people cannot
control every aspect of their environments, and forces beyond human
control frequently intervene in human affairs. Notwithstanding many
people’s opinion that the weather has little influence in their lives besides
determining what clothes they wear on a particular day, the weather has
in fact caused world history to radically shift in important ways that are
still felt today.
Numerous examples from world history document the
long-term effects of weather in the formation of cultures and nations.
In the thirteenth century, Khubilai Khan ruled over the vast Mongol
empire, which spanned from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Black
fate: the plan for the
future that has been
decided and that you
a course: a route or
over time by many
parts or additions
to intervene: to
become involved in
something in order
to influence the final
Sea in the west, from present-day Siberia in the north to Afghanistan
in the south. To expand his reign further, Khubilai Khan mounted two
invasions of Japan. Two monsoons, however, caused him to end his
attacks. Delgado (2008) describes legendary accounts of this event: “The
legend, oft repeated in countless history books, speaks of gigantic ships,
numbering into the thousands, crewed by indomitable Mongol warriors,
and of casualties on a massive scale, with more than 100,000 lives lost
in the final invasion attempt of 1281” (p. 4). Because of this unexpected
defeat, Khubilai Khan decided to stage a third invasion of Japan, but
he died before he could fulfill this ambition. Without these monsoons,
Japan might have been defeated by the Mongols and thus lost its identity
as a unique culture, with far-reaching consequences for Asian and world
In the early years of America’s Revolutionary War, which began
in 1775, it appeared likely that the British would crush the armies of
her colonial territory and incorporate it back into the empire. The
British troops were a well-trained and disciplined army that was feared
worldwide. In contrast, the American troops were newly trained,
sometimes poorly organized, and lacked sufficient resources to fight
effectively. General George Washington could have easily been defeated
in the Battle of Long Island on August 22, 1776. Historical records show
that Sir William Howe, the British commander, was clearly defeating
Washington on Long Island and was actually winning handily (Seymour,
1995). Nonetheless, the weather intervened when a heavy fog rolled in,
so the American forces were able to retreat, regroup, and survive to fight
Unit 6 • Cause-Effect Essays
to document: to
maintain a written
record of; to write
to span: to extend from
one point to another
a reign: a time of political
for kings, queens, or
to mount: to prepare
something so that it
a monsoon: a strong rain
storm that happens at
a certain time of the
a casualty: an injury or
death in a severe event
such as an accident or
to stage: to plan,
organize, and make
ambition: a strong desire
for power, wealth, or
another day. Because of this fog, the United States was not defeated in its
struggle for freedom. Consequently, today’s United Kingdom of England,
Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland does not include the United States.
The United States is not a commonwealth of a mother country, as Canada
and Australia are, though the United States still has strong ties to its
When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia in the early nineteenth
century, he met with early successes that appeared to guarantee that he
might eventually rule the world as his personal domain. His soldiers
captured Moscow and destroyed the city, which encouraged him to
push farther in his military campaigns. However, because of his dreams
of glory, Napoleon overlooked the simple fact that Russian winters are
extremely cold. When the temperatures fell below freezing, many of his
soldiers and their horses died in the brutal weather. As Belloc (1926)
writes in his classic study of the Napoleonic wars, “The cold was the
abominable thing: The dreadful enemy against which men could not
fight and which destroyed them” (p. 217). As a result of the failure of
Napoleon’s Russian campaigns, his own rule ended relatively soon after.
His defeat led to a reorganization of power throughout the European
nations, as well as to the rise of Russia as a major world power.
As these three examples unambiguously demonstrate, the
weather has caused numerous huge shifts in world history as well as in
power balances among cultures and nations. Without the rainy storms
of the monsoon season, Japan might be the eastern outpost of Mongolia;
without the appearance of dense fog, the United States might still be a
territory of the United Kingdom; and without winter snow, Muscovites
might speak French. Today weather forecasters can usually predict with a
high degree of accuracy when thunderstorms, hurricanes, tsunamis, and
tornadoes will strike, but the course of history cannot be fully isolated
from the effects of the weather.
to crush: to destroy
fog: a type of weather
similar to a cloud very
near the ground
to retreat: to go back
a tie: a connection
domain: land that a
ruler or government
to capture: to catch;
to overlook: to fail to
notice or know about
bad; causing fear
a forecaster: a
person who predicts
something, often the
Belloc, H. (1926). Napoleon’s campaign of 1812 and the retreat from
Moscow. New York: Harper.
Delgado, J. (2008). Khubilai Khan’s lost fleet: In search of a legendary
armada. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Seymour, W. (1995). The price of folly: British blunders in the War of
American Independence. London: Brassey’s.
1. What is the topic of the essay?
2. What is the writer’s thesis?
3. What is the cause that the writer describes in the essay?
4. What are some of the effects that the writer describes?
5. Write one detail that strongly supports the thesis statement.
6. How is this essay organized?
☐ focus-on-causes method
☐ focus-on-effects method
7. Can you think of any information that the author should have included to make the message of the
Building Better Sentences: For further practice, go to Practice 3 on pages 239–240 in the Appendix.
Building Better Vocabulary
Practicing Three Kinds of Vocabulary from Context
Read each important vocabulary word or phrase. Locate it in the essay if you need help remembering
the word. Then circle the best synonym, antonym, or collocation from column A, B, or C.
Type of Vocabulary Important Vocabulary
Unit 6 • Cause-Effect Essays
4. on account of
9. span ___ Greece
from England to
near England and
with England or
10. ___ in a dispute
11. a brutal ___
12. defeat ___
Analyzing the Organization
Use the words from the box to complete the outline of “How Weather Has Changed World History.”
Reread the essay on pages 139–141 if you need help.
• t he Battle of Long Island in the American Revolutionary War, during which fog helped the American
forces to retreat
• the course of history cannot be fully isolated from the effects of weather.
• H. Belloc, who documents the effect of the Russian winter
• the weather has changed world history in important ways still felt today.
• Japan’s cultural identity would have changed if Khan had succeeded in his invasion.
Title: How Weather Has Changed World History
A. Describe how people think they control their fates.
B. Suggest, however, that people cannot control every aspect of their environments.
C. Thesis statement:
II. Body Paragraph 1
A. Provide the example of Khubilai Khan and his invasion of Japan.
B. Cite the study of J. Delgado, who describes Khubilai Khan’s failed invasion.
C. Discuss how
III. Body Paragraph 2
A. Provide the example of
B. Cite the study of W. Seymour, who documents the circumstances of the battle.
iscuss how the United States might have remained a member of the British Commonwealth, if
not for a heavy fog.
IV. Body Paragraph 3
A. Provide the example of Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia.
B. Cite the study of
C. Discuss the consequences of Napoleon’s defeat in relation to Russia’s rise as a world power.
A. Summarize the three examples from the body paragraphs.
B. S uggest that, although weather forecasters can predict the weather with more accuracy than in
Strong Thesis Statements
for Cause-Effect Essays
A strong thesis statement for a cause-effect essay indicates whether the essay focuses on causes or
on effects. Sometimes the thesis statement uses the words cause(s) or effects(s), but this is not necessary
if either the cause or the effect is implied in the statement. In addition, a thesis statement sometimes
includes a number, such as three causes or two effects, but this is also optional.
Example thesis statement
Many customers prefer to shop online for three important reasons.
T he increase in obesity in our country is due to food commercials, cheap fast food, and video
T his essay will discuss the effects of watching too much TV on children’s family life,
interpersonal skills, and school life.
Most people are not aware of the positive effects of simply walking for 20 to 30 minutes per day.
Writing Strong Thesis Statements for Cause-Effect Essays
Write a thesis statement for each topic. When you finish, compare your answers with a partner’s.
1. the causes of bullying
2. the effects of being an only child
3. the causes of choosing a vegan diet
4. the effects of society’s love for computers
Transitions and Connectors
in Cause-Effect Essays
Transitions and connectors are important in cause-effect essays because they help indicate
causation or effect regarding the topic. Perhaps the most familiar cause-effect transition word is because:
“X happened because Y happened.” Precise use of transitions helps the reader to follow the writer’s
reasoning about cause-effect relationships.
Unit 6 • Cause-Effect Essays
The transitions for both a focus-on-causes essay and a focus-on-effects essay are the same
because both kinds of essays discuss one or more causes or one or more effects.
Transitions and Connectors Commonly Used in Cause-Effect Essays
as a consequence
on account of
as a result
(the) effect (of X)
owing to (for this) reason
(X can be) attributed to (Y)
(a key) fa ...
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