Writing an Essay Showing Cause and Effect Pattern

Learning Objective:

  • Write a multi-paragraph cause and effect essay.

LESSON
Cause and effect essaysAn essay that covers why and/or how something happened. This type of essay requires that an event or action led to one or more consequences. will be among the most common writing assignments you come across in college. You may be asked to examine a cause, in other words, a thing or person that is the source or origin of certain effects. For instance, you may be asked to write an essayA short piece of writing that focuses on at least one main idea. Some essays are also focused on the author's unique point of view, making them personal or autobiographical, while others are focused on a particular literary, scientific, or political subject. describing how World War II affected the stature of the United States as a world leader in the twentieth century.

Effects can take the form of actionsA thing that is done, or the process of doing it., phenomenaHappenings or facts that can be observed. , statesThe condition that something is in., problems, illnesses, environments, and so forth. Cause and effect essays are important examinationsTo observe closely and carefully. of what are often complex issues. They can challenge preconceived notionsAn opinion formed ahead of time, without benefit of facts and experiences. about ideasA thought, opinion, or impression. and opinionsPoint of view that shows a personal belief or bias and cannot be proven to be completely true.. Cause and effect essays also help the writer and the reader better understand the "whys" and "hows" behind their thinking.

Further, these assignments require you to closely examine the relationship(s) between cause(s) and effect(s). What is "cause" and what is "effect" is not always obvious. Keep in mind causal chainsA series of events, each triggered by the one before. Causal chains have three parts: the initial cause, the final consequence, and all the steps that link the cause to the effect. Also called "the domino effect.", where what may begin as a cause becomes one of many further effects, and that what starts out as an effect may cause additional effects.

For example, showing how driving a car increases global warming is an example of a causal chain:

  1. Driving a car has the effect of releasing carbon dioxide.
  2. Carbon dioxide has the effect of trapping the sun's energy.
  3. The energy of the sun has the effect of raising the average global temperature.

So, driving a car leads to an increase in global warming.

In this lesson, you will learn eight steps to writing a cause and effect essay:

  1. Understand your assignment.
  2. Gather ideas.
  3. Create a working thesis.
  4. Develop an outline.
  5. Develop paragraphs that support your thesis.
  6. Write a conclusion.
  7. Write an introduction.
  8. Revise your essay.

Step 1: Understand your assignment.

When approaching an assignment, it is essential to understand what you are being asked to write. It is helpful to read any guidelines and instructions provided to you. Examine the essay promptInstructions for a writing assignment given by an instructor. carefully. Do you need to address causes or effects? Are you being asked to write an essay in which you are looking at an issue where many effects stem from one cause? Or are you tasked with writing about a situation where many causes lead to one effect? KeywordsWords that are important to understanding the meaning of a passage or reading., also called signal wordsWords or phrases that connect ideas and alert a reader to important relationships between subjects. For example, signal words in a cause and effect essay could include first, second, then, next, later, because, after, and due to. Signal words in a compare/contrast essay could include also, but, similarly, in contrast, unlike, in the same way, as well as, or on the other hand., such as why, factors, causes, effects, results, reasons, influences, consequences, and outcomes indicate that you need to write a cause and effect essay.

Example 1:

Cause: childhood obesity

Effects: A number of immediate and long-term health and psychosocial effects.

Example 2:

Effect: childhood obesity

Causes: cost and availability of healthy foods, changes in the education system (increased seat time and decreased recess/gym), changes in family structure, and perception of decreased safety.

Step 2: Gather ideas.

There are a number of idea-gathering strategies that may be helpful to you here. For example, a cause and effect graphic organizerPictorial tools used to brainstorm and arrange ideas before writing, such as webbing diagrams, flow charts, story maps, and Venn diagrams. could work. Draw a circle. Place the one cause in that circle. Then put all of the effects around it. It essentially becomes a webbingA prewriting technique where the author creates an informal visual layout of possible ideas and then draws lines to connect them into a type of "web." The objective is to see connections between events and characters. or clusterA prewriting technique where the author creates an informal visual layout of possible ideas, grouping them together. The objective is to create visual clusters of information on which to base a writing..

Conversely, you could place the effect in the circle and put all of the causes around it.

Other ideas could include creating a brainstormingA prewriting technique where the author lists multiple ideas as he or she thinks of them, not considering one more than another until all ideas are captured. The objective is to create one great idea, or many ideas, on which to base a writing. list. If you are working with a many causes lead to one effect essay, begin by writing the effect at the top of a piece of paper. Then spend some time freewritingA prewriting technique where the author begins writing without regard to spelling or grammar about ideas, topics, or even characters, descriptions of events, and settings. Often the writer will freewrite for a set period of time. The objective is to develop a storyline through the writing process itself. ideas about potential causes. You may find that additional causes branch off of other causes. The same can be done for a many effects stem from one cause essay.

Step 3: Create a working thesis.

Creating a working or tentative thesis statementAn early form of a thesis statement that can be developed into a more formal thesis statement by creating supporting details. is vital to the development and organization of your ideas and your essay. Your thesisAn overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis for a work. is what you are setting out to demonstrate through your writing. A working thesis is one that may need to be revised somewhat later as you develop the sound reasoning, examples, and illustrations to support it.

Your working thesis should fit the characteristics of a good thesis in general: it must be specific, clearly state your main ideaThe most important or central thought of a reading selection. It also includes what the author wants the reader to understand about the topic he or she has chosen to write about., and demonstrate for your reader why the topic is important. For a cause and effect essay, your thesis also needs to alert your reader that he or she will learn about the causes OR the effects.

Example 1:

Many effects stem from one cause:

Thesis statement: Today's parents have an obligation to help their children maintain a healthy weight because childhood obesity presents a number of negative health and psychosocial effects, both immediately and in the future.

Example 2:

Many causes lead to one effect:

Thesis statement: While many are quick to blame fast food and television for juvenile obesity, the actual causes are more varied and complex.

Step 4: Develop an outline.

Sometimes it is useful to simply sketch a rough outlineA preliminary plan for a piece of a writing, often in the form of a list. It should include a topic, audience, purpose, thesis statement, and main and supporting points. listing the causes or effects you plan on incorporating into your essay and create a more detailed outline after you have written the rough draftThe first version of a writing that will undergo rewriting, additions, and editing before it becomes the final draft.. This allows the outline to be used as a way of developing your essay and organizing your ideas as well as a revision tool that helps you check whether or not your organizational strategy makes sense.

Here is an example of a rough outline developed for this purpose on the topic of childhood obesity.

Cause: Childhood obesity

Effects: A number of immediate and long-term health and psychosocial effects

Outline:

  1. Introductory ParagraphThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis.
    1. Thesis statementA brief statement that identifies a writer's thoughts, opinions, or conclusions about a topic. Thesis statements bring unity to a piece of writing, giving it a focus and a purpose. You can use three questions to help form a thesis statement: What is my topic? What am I trying to say about that topic? Why is this important to me or my reader?: Today’s parents have an obligation to help their children maintain a healthy weight because childhood obesity presents a number of negative health and psychosocial effects, both immediately and in the future.
  2. Body ParagraphsThe part of an essay that comes after the introduction and before the conclusion. Body paragraphs lay out the main ideas of an argument and provide the support for the thesis. All body paragraphs should include these elements: a topic sentence, major and minor details, and a concluding statement. Each body paragraph should stand on its own but also fit into the context of the entire essay, as well as support the thesis and work with the other supporting paragraphs. (Effects)
    1. Immediate Effects
      1. High blood pressure
      2. Diabetes
      3. Depression
      4. Bullying
    2. Long-term Effects
      1. Heart disease and stroke
      2. Diabetes
      3. Depression and loneliness
  3. Concluding ParagraphThe end portion of a writing that contains a summary or synthesis of the ideas in the work. This includes a recap of key points and reminders of the author's purpose and thesis statement.
    1. Childhood obesity contributes to a number of dangerous, damaging, and potentially unavoidable short- and long-term physical and psychosocial effects. Parents have the opportunity to encourage and foster healthful eating and exercise habits in their children so they can avoid the devastating consequences of childhood obesity.

If you choose to organize your essay in this manner, it is important to clarify for your reader that while there could be multiple causes for the topic, in this case, childhood obesity, your essay is focused on the effects of that condition.

Step 5: Develop paragraphs that support your thesis

Once you have developed your thesis and sketched an outline, you can begin writing body paragraphsThe part of an essay that comes after the introduction and before the conclusion. Body paragraphs lay out the main ideas of an argument and provide the support for the thesis. All body paragraphs should include these elements: a topic sentence, major and minor details, and a concluding statement. Each body paragraph should stand on its own but also fit into the context of the entire essay, as well as support the thesis and work with the other supporting paragraphs. that support your thesis. Paragraphs should adhere to the MEAL conceptAn acronym that describes a method of organizing the paragraphs in an essay. Under this plan, each paragraph should have a Main point, Evidence, Analysis, and a Link to the next paragraph.:

Main IdeaThe most important or central thought of a reading selection. It also includes what the author wants the reader to understand about the topic he or she has chosen to write about.:  your topic sentence, identifying one of the many causes (or effects) supporting the thesis.

EvidenceFacts, statistics, or expert testimony that supports a claim.:  facts, expert opinion, or anecdotal evidence proving the causal relationship described in the topic sentence.

AnalysisTo analyze is to make a thoughtful and detailed study of something. An analysis is the end result of analyzing.:  explaining how the evidence supports the topic sentence.

LinkTo connect ideas together within a paragraph or to create a transition from one paragraph to the next, as well as back to the thesis.:  a transitionTying two events, passages, or pieces of information together in a smooth way. In writing, transitions are sometimes called links. from one paragraph to the next, as well as back to the thesis.

Step 6: Write a conclusion

The conclusionThe end portion of a writing that contains a summary or synthesis of the idea in the work. This includes a recap of key points and reminders of the author's purpose and thesis statement. needs to summarizeTo give a short version of the main points of a text. and synthesizeTo combine ideas, as in the writing at the end of an essay that ties all the discussion and evidence together into a unified concept. , or bring together, the most important detailsIndividual items or ideas that are part of a larger whole. of your essay. It should also give your reader a new way of looking at your main idea. It reminds the reader of your thesis and reinforces the main points you have made.

Step 7: Write an introduction

There are four elements of an effective introductionThe first paragraph of an essay. It must engage the reader, set the tone, provide background information, and present the thesis.:

  1. HookIn writing, a device used to grab a readers' attention, often in the form of interesting, surprising, or provocative information.
  2. ToneThe feeling or attitude that a writer expresses toward a topic. The words the writer chooses express this tone. Examples of tones can include: objective, biased, humorous, optimistic, and cynical, among many others.
  3. BackgroundInformation that describes the history or circumstances of a topic.
  4. ThesisAn overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis for a work.

An effective introduction hooks the reader with a compelling idea, sets the tone for the rest of the essay, provides any necessary background or context for the reader, and presents the thesis.

Step 8: Revise your essay.

When you have a draft of your essay, reviseThe process of making changes to a work by editing and proofreading it to improve, correct, and increase clarity. it by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Have I followed the assignment?
  2. Is this a many effects stem from one cause essay or a many causes lead to one effect essay? What is my main cause or what is my main effect?
  3. Do my body paragraphs support my thesis?
  4. Is all my support relevant?
  5. Do I need more or less support?
  6. Have I included the transitions necessary to guide the reader from point to point?
  7. Does my conclusion summarize and synthesize the most important details?
  8. Does my introduction hook the reader and provide adequate background/introduction to my topic?

This is also where developing a more formal outlineAn outline that is traditional and structured, follows a set pattern, and uses a combination of Roman numerals, letters, and numbers to show a hierarchy of information based on the major and minor details or ideas. based on what you actually have written in the draft can help you discover weaknesses or areas in need of more detail and support.

A more detailed outline of this essay on childhood obesity might look something like this:

Formal Outline

  1. Introductory Paragraph
    1. Thesis statement: Today’s parents have an obligation to help their children maintain a healthy weight because childhood obesity presents a number of negative health and psychosocial effects, both immediately and in the future.
  2. Body Paragraphs (Effects)
    1. Immediate Effects
      1. Health Effects
        1. Obesity can result in the development of cardiovascular diseases, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
        2. Obesity can put children in danger of pre-diabetes, a condition linked to increased potential for development of diabetes.
        3. Obesity is linked to sleep apnea, a condition that contributes to insomnia, fatigue, and mental illness.
        4. Obesity is known to negatively impact bones and joints.
        5. Obesity contributes to a child’s inability to participate in vital physical activities.
      2. Psychosocial Effects
        1. Obesity has the potential to bring on sadness, low self-esteem, and depression.
        2. Obesity (and its related effects of hypertension and sleep apnea) can lead to anxiety.
        3. Obesity may influence and impact the forming of essential peer groups and a difficulty forming friendships.
        4. Obesity may give rise to feelings of isolation due to inability to participate in vital physical activities with schoolmates or peers.
        5. Obese children are more likely to be bullied by their schoolmates or peers.
    2. Long-term Effects
      1. Health Effects
        1. Obesity is associated with higher rates of heart disease later in life.
        2. Obese children are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes as adults
        3. Obesity increases the likelihood of adult stroke.
        4. Obesity is linked to the adult development of osteoarthritis.
        5. Children who are obese are at greater risk for continued obesity as adults.
      2. Psychosocial Effects
        1. Obesity increases the risk of long-term depression.
        2. Obesity increases the risk for long-term anxiety.
        3. Obese individuals experience increased loneliness due to difficulty in forming and sustaining long-term relationships.
        4. Obese individuals are more likely to experience social isolation.
        5. Obesity often invites criticism and judgment from peers, coworkers, family members, and communities at large.
  3. Concluding Paragraph
    1. Childhood obesity contributes to a number of dangerous, damaging, and potentially unavoidable short- and long-term physical and psychosocial effects. Parents have the opportunity to encourage and foster healthful eating and exercise habits in their children so they can avoid the devastating consequences of childhood obesity.

Remember, you may need to add information, remove information, or reorganize your writing. Being a careful reviewer of your own work is key to a quality essay. When you have completed this step, be sure to go back one more time to verify that your grammarA set of rules about how words are used in a particular language., spelling, and punctuationMarks such as such as a comma (,), period (.), question mark (?), and exclamation mark (!), among others, that help break a writing into phrases, clauses, and sentences. Different types of punctuation marks give the reader different impressions of the writer’s purpose in that sentence. are correct.

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