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How to Write Cause and Effect Essay

When your teacher assigns you a cause and effect essay, you can breathe a sigh of relief. With the exception of “What did You do for Your Summer Vacation,” cause and effect essays are one of the easiest essay models you’ll ever have to write.

What Is a Cause and Effect Essay?

It’s an academic paper that examines a situation and explores either its causes or effects. For example, let’s say your topic is global warming. You could either talk about the possible causes of global warming (industrialization, destruction of the ozone layer or a natural planetary process) OR you could talk about the effects of global warming (melting of the polar ice caps, sea levels rising, starving polar bears, etc.)

Simple enough, right? Here’s a detailed breakdown of how to ace your cause and effect essay:

Step 1: Make a List of Topics

Unless your teacher is assigning you a specific cause and effect essay topic, then the good news is you’ll be free to choose your own! The bad news is you’ll have to think of one and unless one is screaming to be written, this may take some effort. The best way to go about choosing a topic is to make a list. Don’t pre-edit your list. Just write down any topic that comes to mind.

  • WWI
  • Brangelina breakup
  • Legalization of gay marriage
  • Rising gas prices
  • Global warming
  • Closing of my favorite burger joint

Step 2: Choose Your Topic

Okay, you’ve made your list. Now it’s time to choose which one you’re going to write about. First, the best topic to choose is the one you already know something about. For example, the closing of your favorite burger joint might be the closest to your heart, but it might be difficult for you to squeeze an entire essay out of it. Can you really find out why it closed? What are the effects other than you missing their burgers?

However, if you feel like investigating and can make a shining work out of this topic, then go for it. Otherwise, it’s best to choose something else. Second, it’s best to choose something you’re interested in. That will definitely make the paper more fun to write and likely more interesting to read.

Step 3: Brainstorm to Choose Cause or Effect

Once you’ve chosen your topic, it’s now time to choose which angle you’re going to write from: the cause or the effect angle. Let’s say you chose the legalization of gay marriage. You can choose to examine either the causes or the effects. It might not be immediately obvious which is the better angle to take, so in order to choose, try a simple brainstorming exercise:

  • Make two lists, one for causes and one for effects
  • Write down all the possible causes of the legalization of gay marriage
  • Write down all the possible effects of the legalization of gay marriage

Which list seems more complete or more familiar to you? Which one feels like it will be easier to write? That’s the angle you’ll choose.

Step 4: Conduct the Research

Now that you’ve chosen your topic and your angle, you’re ready to do some research for your paper. When researching, choose credible sources (sources written by experts on the topic, not personal blogs or unverifiable sources). Remember, the more research you do, the more successful your essay is likely to be. As you read more on the topic, you’ll discover common trends and questions that tend to be discussed about your topic. This will be helpful when it’s time to write your thesis. And speaking of…

Step 5: Craft Your Thesis

The first thing you should do after choosing your topic is to work out your thesis statement. The thesis statement should answer the question: why should I care about this topic? For example, if you chose the closing of your favorite burger joint, your thesis statement shouldn’t be personal:

  • The closing of my favorite burger joint made me sad because I miss their burgers.

It should make people who have never even been there see the significance of its closing. For example:

  • The growth of large-scale franchises such as Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s makes it hard for smaller scale operations to compete, resulting in the closing of small businesses and ultimately, providing fewer choices to the consumer.

This shows the reader why they should care about the closing of the burger joint. It also serves as a springboard to lead you into the meat of your research and lets readers know what they can expect to learn from reading your paper.

Step 6: Write an Outline

The outline for a cause and effect essay depends on the additional instructions your teachers assign. However, they often want you to write a five-paragraph paper in which case the outline would be:

  1. Introduction paragraph- where you introduce your topic and state your thesis.
  2. Supporting paragraph 1- where you discuss one idea that supports your thesis
  3. Supporting paragraph 2- where you discuss a second idea that supports your thesis.
  4. Antithesis paragraph- where you entertain the opposing side’s argument (ex: if you chose global warming, you might write about how some deny its existence).
  5. Conclusion- here you may restate your thesis and present any ideas or thoughts for future research on this topic.

Good thesis statement

Or they may simply ask you to write a free-form essay in which case the most important thing is to organize your research so that it flows in a logical order. For example, if you’re writing on the cause of WWI, you’ll probably start with the mutual defense alliances between several nations, the effects of imperialism, the rise of militarism and nationalism culminating in the “trigger” which was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Step 7: Write Your First Draft

Once you’ve done all your research and outline, the first draft should be relatively easy to write. Top tip: Give yourself time to edit between your first and second draft. Make sure you have at least a day between when you wrote your first draft and when you go back to edit it. This will give you the perspective you need to spot errors in grammar, logic and other issues that prevent the paper from flowing smoothly.

Good luck and happy writing!

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