Organizing an Essay Cause and Effect
Often student writers are taught short-term solutions to the problem of organizing an essay. The
most common short-term essay is the "five-paragraph essay" format. The five-paragraph essay
uses the following organization:
Introduction--Background and thesis
First Body Paragraph--The first reason why the thesis is true
Second Body Paragraph--The second reason why the thesis is true
Third Body Paragraph--The third reason why the thesis is true
Conclusion--Recap of essay
It is important to understand that the five-paragraph essay is not necessarily bad. However, most
student writers are led to believe or falsely believe that all essays must follow the five-paragraph
essay format. Just a little thought makes clear that format is very limiting and limited and does
not provide an adequate organization for many types of writing assignments. That is why I have
crossed-out the description of the five-paragraph essay, so that you won't make the mistake of
thinking that it is the best way to organize your essays.
Instead, student writers should see that the form of an essay (its organization) needs to match the
purpose of the essay. To begin with, we should look at one of the most common tasks student
writers are asked to perform and the one of the organizational strategies effective for this task.
Explaining Cause and Effect
Often writers are asked to explain how certain conditions or events are related to the occurrence
of other conditions or events. When a writer argues that "one thing leads to another," he or she is
making a cause-and-effect argument. For example, in an Economics class, students might be
asked to explain the impact of increasing oil prices on the nation’s economy. Inherent in the
question is the assumption that increasing oil prices is a cause, which produces specific effects in
the rest of the economy. So, higher oil prices produce higher gasoline prices raising the cost of
shipping goods. Higher oil prices produce higher jet fuel costs raising the cost of travel, and so
on. "Higher oil prices" is the cause, and increased shipping costs and travel expenses are among
Writing tasks involving cause and effect analysis usually take one of two forms: explaining how
a known cause produces specific effects; explaining how specific effects are produced by a
previously unknown cause (which the writer has discovered). The second type of analysis is
commonly referred to as root-cause analysis. The first type of analysis is what the technology
and privacy topic requires.
To argue that certain conditions will lead to other conditions (that the loss of privacy will lead to
something else), first the writer needs to define clearly what those conditions are, and then the
writer needs to make clear how those conditions lead to other conditions. Finally, the writer
needs to explain what this cause-and-effect relationship means. This type of essay then has five
parts (not paragraphs!), with each part corresponding to a specific task the writer needs to
perform, and each part consisting of one or more paragraphs.
Purpose (not all necessary for every essay)
Background for the topic
Setting out the issues
Focusing the argument—the purpose of the essay
What the specific conditions are
Specific illustrations of these conditions
How these specific illustrations are representative of
(can stand in for) other situations
In this first part of the analysis, the writer needs to provide
enough detail for the reader so the reader can understand the
present situation. In addition, the writer needs to focus the
description of the situation in such a way as to prepare for the
"effect" that the writer is arguing for. For example, if the
writer wants to argue that the loss of privacy has led to (or
will lead to) a loss of individual freedom, then the description
of how technology affects our privacy should focus on
technologies that affect an individual’s freedom to act.
What the specific effect is (or effects are)
How we get from the specific conditions to the
Specific illustrations of these effects
How these specific illustrations are representative of
(can stand in for) others
In this second part of the analysis, the writer needs to walk
the reader through the logical steps the writer has used to
move from cause to effect. For example, if the writer argues
that loss of privacy leads to loss of individual freedom, the
writer needs to explain carefully how privacy and freedom are
linked. So perhaps the writer might claim that privacy allows
an individual to be free from the observation of others. With
our privacy becoming increasingly limited by surveillance,
we are no longer free from the observation of others. If we
believe that we are always being watched, we will probably
change our behavior and be less willing to take chances or act
independently. If we feel we cannot act independently then
we are no longer free.
Why this analysis is important
How we might act upon the ideas the writer has
In this third part of the analysis, the writer argues for the
importance of the argument’s findings, often by putting in
perspective the short-term or long-term consequences of the
"effect." In addition, in this part the writer usually makes
some sort of recommendation (what we should do). So if the
writer is arguing that loss of privacy leads to loss of freedom,
in this part the writer might speculate one what might happen
if this trend towards further loss of privacy continues. In
addition, the writer might describe some of the specific
actions we can take to safeguard our existing privacy, or how
legislation might provide such safeguards.
How our understanding of the larger issue might be
changed by the writer's analysis
Appeal to the reader—how this situation affects us
Cause and Effect Essay
What is a cause and effect essay?
Cause and effect essays are concerned with why things happen (causes) and what
happens as a result (effects). Cause and effect is a common method of organizing
and discussing ideas.
Follow these steps when writing a cause and effect essay
1. Distinguish between cause and effect. To determine causes, ask, "Why did this
happen?" To identify effects, ask, "What happened because of this?" The
following is an example of one cause producing one effect:
You are out of gas.
Your car won't start.
Sometimes, many causes contribute to a single effect or many effects may result
from a single cause. (Your instructor will specify which cause/effect method to
use.) The following are examples:
liked business in high school
salaries in the field are high
have an aunt who is an accountant
am good with numbers
choose to major in accounting
reduce work hours
employer is irritated
more time to study
more time for family and friends
However, most situations are more complicated. The following is an example of a
Thinking about friend…forgot to buy gas…car wouldn't start…missed math
exam…failed math course.
2. Develop your thesis statement. State clearly whether you are discussing causes,
effects, or both. Introduce your main idea, using the terms "cause" and/or
3. Find and organize supporting details. Back up your thesis with relevant and
sufficient details that are organized. You can organize details in the following
Chronological. Details are arranged in the order in which the events
Order of importance. Details are arranged from least to most important or
Categorical. Details are arranged by dividing the topic into parts or
4. Use appropriate transitions. To blend details smoothly in cause and effect essays,
use the transitional words and phrases listed below.
because, due to, on cause is, another is, since, for, first, second
consequently, as a result, thus, resulted in, one result is, another is, therefore
When writing your essay, keep the following suggestions in mind:
Remember your purpose. Decide if your are writing to inform or persuade.
Focus on immediate and direct causes (or effects.) Limit yourself to causes
that are close in time and related, as opposed to remote and indirect
causes, which occur later and are related indirectly.
Strengthen your essay by using supporting evidence. Define terms, offer
facts and statistics, or provide examples, anecdotes, or personal
observations that support your ideas.
Qualify or limit your statements about cause and effect. Unless there is
clear evidence that one event is related to another, qualify your
statements with phrases such as "It appears that the cause was" or "It
seems likely" or "The evidence may indicate" or "Available evidence
To evaluate the effectiveness of a cause and effect essay, ask the following
What are the causes? What are the effects? Which should be emphasized? Are
there single or multiple causes? Single or multiple effects? Is a chain reaction
Choosing the essay topic for cause and effect essay type is not difficult, here are
some sample essay topics:
Effects of Pollution
The Changes in the Ocean
The Civil Rights Movement and the Effects
Please, make sure you choose the essay topic that is really important for you.
Choosing the correct essay topic makes your cause and effect essay more
interesting and successful.
Cause and Effect Essay
How Do I Write a Cause-Effect Essay?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it (and since your composition grade hangs in the balance,
the ARC’s advice is to accept it enthusiastically), is to write a cause-effect essay. You’ll need a thesis, of
course, but before you can develop one, you’ll need to establish a few cause-effect parameters.
1. What effect or effects will you be analyzing in the essay? 2. What causal chain leads to the effect? 3.
What primary cause (also known as the main cause, or necessary cause, or first cause) is the basis for
the causal chain, and thus, the basis for the effect? (It’s imperative to establish a causal chain, but it’s
not enough. There can be more than one chain; there can be more than one effect; but there should
only be one primary cause.) 4. What relationship will you be trying to establish between cause and
effect (your topic), and why (your thesis)?
Causes First, of course, there is the primary cause. This is the necessary cause without which the effect
could not occur; it’s the first link in any causal chains that follows. Then there are the sufficient causes,
which by themselves might produce the effect you’ve chosen to discuss in your paper, yet still find their
root farther back along the chain in the primary cause. Example: Say that your topic is the causes for the
effect of roommate feuds. • Contributing causes might be sloppiness, bad music, and staying up all
night. • Trace that back a bit further in the chain and you may find a sufficient cause like the differences
between two roommates (one’s sloppy, one’s neat; one likes Mozart, the other likes Snoop Dogg, one’s
a morning person, the other’s a night owl). • Many people stop here, and sometimes this is as far as you
can go. But often a sufficient cause isn’t the primary cause. Isn’t it possible, in other words, for two
people who are substantially different to co-exist? If you don’t think so, your sufficient cause may in
fact be your primary cause (and
you may have identified the point of your cause-effect analysis: People who are substantially different
should not be expected to co-exist). If, on the other hand, you’re not such a pessimist and you believe
that people who are substantially different can in fact co-exist, you’ll want to trace the cause of
roommate enmity back a bit further than how different the two people are— perhaps to their
unwillingness to cooperate, to compromise, to adjust (and again, you’ll have discovered not only a
primary cause but also the point of your essay: People who are substantially different can co-exist, as
long as they are willing to work at it).
Effects Not every cause-effect paper is about causes. Some may in fact center on the effects of a single
cause. Example: Consider the topic of acid rain: there may be several effects worth discussing, all
leading to the point of the essay: that acid rain is causing enough damaging effects in our world that it’s
worth taking the steps necessary to eliminate the problem. Eliminating that problem, of course, would
be another paper—one that examines the causes of acid rain (thus making acid rain the effect of the
paper). In the case of acid rain as cause, you might still want to briefly review what makes acid rain—in
other words, you’d be acknowledging that acid rain doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Acid rain thus
temporarily becomes the effect caused by all sorts of environmental hazards, foremost among them air
pollution. Your conclusion, then, could move back to that original cause, our insensitivity to our own
environment, which is the primary cause in the chain leading to acid rain, and point to that cause as the
culprit that needs to be addressed if we’re to see an end not only to acid rain but to the environmental
effects you’ve discussed in your essay.
Things to Watch for How do you know when you’ve gone far enough? Let’s go back to the acid rain
example. Suppose that we take as the primary cause industrialization in the second half of the 20th
century. Already we’re probably at the outskirts of what is feasible for an English 105 composition. And
is this the primary cause, or does human greed fit into the picture somewhere even farther back along
the causal chain? Sometimes too much of a good thing is just that: Don’t lose control of an essay by
trying to cover something too broad. Focus your analysis. Narrow your topic. Talk to the ARC, or best
of all, talk to your professor.
A few other traps to avoid: Don’t end up writing a process paper (getting caught up in the causal chain
for its own sake—what’s the significance of your argument?). Don’t end up writing a comparisoncontrast or classification-division paper (easy to do with something like the first example of the feuding
roommates). Make sure you’ve got all those questions listed at the beginning of this handout covered,
and you should be pretty safe. Finally, watch out for that famous missing link in the causal chain. A
causal chain without one of its links is like evolution without those innovative amphibians: how would
we ever have made it out of the water without them?
Structuring the Cause Essay II. Introduction • Provide thesis, basis for causal chain, and identify effect or
effects; the key question is, What caused this? II. Body • Discuss various links in the causal chain, either
tracing it backwards from effect to first cause, or beginning with the first cause. • Use transitions to
ANALYZE the process rather than simply providing what amounts to a glorified play-by play narration
(also know as process) • Present the causes chronologically and without missing links. III. Conclusion •
Return to thesis, then speculate on possible first causes to right a bad effect or possible other causes
that might have destroyed or otherwise altered the good effect.
Structuring the Effects Essay I. Introduction • Provide thesis and basis for effects, describe primary
cause; may use more than one paragraph. The key question is, What effects result from this cause? II.
Body • Discuss each effect, tracing its path back to the causal chain and the root cause. III. Conclusion •
Return to thesis; speculate on possible first cause to right each bad effect
CAUSE AND EFFECT ESSAY
1. Write a 650-word essay explaining one of the
Too much sunshine causes skin cancer.
Stress is responsible for many illnesses.
Social media destroys relationships.
Cell phone use has taken over teenagers' lives.
Online shopping causes people to spend more
Remember that you are to use at least two outside
sources that you will document within the text of
your paper. This is not an opinion paper so do not
use personal pronouns. Click the "Essay #4: Cause
and Effect" assignment link above to submit the
document. Read the posted documents for
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