The cause-and-effect essay is a common assignment for students of all ages, from elementary school through college. Teachers use the cause-and-effect essay as a tool for teaching students not only how to write logically, but also how to think logically. The cause-and-effect essay, by its very nature, demands a structured format and thinking process. The end result should be an essay that is clear in its arguments and conclusions and very persuasive.
Choose a topic that forms the basis of a solid cause-and-effect relationship. For example, if you chose the Irish potato famine as your topic, you could easily explore the key causes or effects of this event. Avoid topics with murky cause-and-effect relationships.
Brainstorm ideas about your topic's causes or effects. Research can help you identify an extensive list of primary, secondary and possible causes or effects. Most short essays will require you to limit your thesis to either the causes or the effects of your topic. A lengthier research paper may allow for discussion of both.
Map out your list of causes or effects graphically. If you have several causes, use simple lists and charts to organize them into primary and secondary causes.
Check that your logic is sound. For example, your research may identify the landlord-tenant farming system as a cause of the Irish potato famine, but it's not the only cause. Other causes include potato crop failure and an apathetic British government. Be careful about making unrealistic conclusions. It's too simplistic to say that slavery caused the Civil War. This was just one factor that instigated this historic event. Also, don't assume that because one event followed another, the earlier event caused the latter. Other factors might have been at work.
Use your cause-and-effect diagram to write your outline. Identify the most significant causes or effects. Identify which causes are probable or possible but not definite.
Limit your essay to material that you can reasonably support and defend. You can do this by discussing only the primary cause of a topic or narrowing your focus to the effects of an event on a particular place or person. There are virtually no restrictions on how to explore a particular topic; your job is to find the most compelling way to make your argument within the parameters of your essay.
Write a clear thesis statement that identifies the causes or effects that you will investigate in the essay. A possible thesis for the Irish potato famine might be: "The three main causes of the Irish potato famine were crop failure, the population's overdependence on the potato as a food source, and the landlord-tenant farming system." A strong thesis is one that you can support with credible research.
Write your essay in a structured, logical manner. Most cause-and-effect essays are easy to write in chronological order. Sometimes it makes sense to work backward, starting with the event and tracing it back to its root causes. Another way to organize your essay is to lead with your most important cause, then discuss the other causes in descending order. Some writers prefer leading with the less significant causes and building up to the most important cause.
Write your essay paragraphs with clear topic sentences and relevant details and facts that support your thesis. Use in-text citations to identify your sources, and include a "Works Cited" or references page at the end of your paper. Check with your teacher or professor for guidelines on citing sources.
Conclude your paper with a paragraph that summarizes how your main arguments support your thesis.
If you can't prove a cause-and-effect relationship, use qualifiers such as "possibly," "probably" or "perhaps."
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