When you eat a really good pizza, you say, “yum” and likely reach for another slice. That’s basic cause and effect. The pizza was good, so you responded and ate more. You’ve probably partaken in so many examples of cause and effect without even knowing it, so you already have the basic recipe to create an amazing piece of writing. But how do you turn all that into a zesty cause and effect essay?
Sometimes called reason and result essays, cause and effect essays are a type of essay that explores how an event or situation came into being (the cause) and what happens or transpires because of that event or situation (the effect). The purpose of these types of essays is to explore the “why” or “how” of a situation.
You might see some slight variations in the structure of a cause and effect essay, but for the most part, you’re looking at a pretty rigid outline.
A basic cause and effect essay structure would look like:
- Describe the event or situation your essay will explore.
- Include a thesis statement that illustrates your thoughts on the main cause or effect of the event or situation.
- Body Paragraphs (Causes)
- Start with what you feel is the main cause of the event, providing evidence to back up your argument.
- Follow that up with descriptions of secondary causes.
- Body Paragraphs (Effects)
- Discuss the main effect that came out of the causes that you illustrated in the previous paragraphs.
- Provide evidence to back up your argument.
- Subsequent paragraphs can then discuss other effects worth noting.
- Reiterate your thesis statement.
- Consider further questions that could be explored within your cause and effect analysis, including other effects or other potential causes
Shorter cause and effect essays (especially in timed essay situations) tend more toward discussing just the cause or just the effect.
For example, a prompt might ask you to explain why cheeseburgers cost so much. In that case, you’d mostly be writing about the cause of that increased price, as the high cost is already the implied effect.
Alternatively, the prompt might ask you to discuss how high cheeseburger prices have affected society, which would have you writing mostly about the effect of high burger prices.
You have a really solid idea of what should go into a cause and effect essay, but it never hurts to see an example in action. Maybe it’ll help you generate new ideas for your own cause and effect essay.
As with other essays, the intro paragraph acts as the space for you to introduce your subject. With a cause and effect essay in particular, the intro is important for setting the stage. You can’t just launch into a discussion of cause and effect and expect the reader to get it.
The homeless epidemic is a serious problem in nearly every major city across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are over 500,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night. It’s a difficult challenge to tackle precisely because it is so multi-faceted, both in terms of its causes and its far-reaching effects. Homelessness affects not only the people who must struggle to survive on the street but also the business owners or residents in the neighborhoods. While many factors have contributed to the rise in homeless rates, one of the most profound is the lack of adequate social support services.
This is the real meat and potatoes of the article. Despite the structure mentioned above, you can go about the body paragraphs in a few different ways. Similar to compare and contrast essays, you can use a block structure (grouping all the causal information together before getting into the effects) or a point-by-point structure (considering one cause and effect at a time).
A lack of free or affordable housing could be considered an obvious cause of homelessness. On a purely practical level, if a city can provide enough homeless shelters and other forms of affordable housing, the people who would otherwise sleep on the streets can sleep far more safely with a consistent roof over their heads. Social support services, whether they are funded publicly or privately, would be able to tackle many of the immediate and long-term challenges that face people experiencing homelessness.
The effects of homelessness are equally complex and can be mirror images of the root causes. Because the person is experiencing homelessness, this may put profound strain on personal relationships. Drug abuse can become an issue, as the person seeks some way of coping with the pain and hardship of living on the streets. This leads to a downward spiral that drives the person deeper and deeper into the depths of crippling poverty and isolation.
Some people think conclusions can feel tacked on, so avoid doing that. Make your conclusion matter, whether that’s asking new questions or looking toward the future of your topic. What are ideas that you could see sprouting from your essay?
Every city, every neighborhood faces unique challenges when it comes to homelessness. While the specific root causes can vary between individuals, the lack of adequate social services is a leading contributor. The right social services can address, reduce, or even remove some of these other underlying causes. With powerful effects for both the individual and society at large, homelessness is a pressing issue and one that must be approached with tact and compassion.
Coming up with a topic (for really any essay) is the hardest part. There is such a massive breadth of subject matter to choose from. As always, find something that you find some interest or personal investment in. If the subject matters to you, it will show in your writing.
If you need to grease those gears and get your mind working, here’s some food for thought to get you started.
- School bullying: What are some of the contributing factors that lead someone to become a bully in the first place? What impact can bullying have on its victims?
- Social media addiction: Do personal or cultural factors play a bigger role in whether someone becomes addicted to social media in the first place? What are the effects that such an addiction can have on a student’s life?
- Rush hour traffic: Focusing on a specific area or roadway, why can traffic get really bad during a certain time of day? If these factors were addressed, would traffic flow more smoothly?
- Childhood obesity: Obesity rates are at an all-time high. Why is this the case? What has changed in the last few decades? What are some of the most pressing health issues for children who are obese?
- Climate change: Are individual choices, like drinking from a reusable bottle, making as much of an impact in slowing or preventing climate change as larger factors, like industry practices? Who are the biggest polluters?
- Music streaming: It used to be the case that most people would buy their music in some form, like on cassette or as an MP3 download, but music streaming services have become the norm. Why did this happen? What does it mean for artists and the music industry as a whole?
- Vaping among teens: Many health professionals are getting increasingly concerned about the vaping trend among teenagers. How did this trend come about? Are the supposed health risks as bad as they sound?
Some topics that you may have considered for other types of essays can be adapted to cause and effect essays, too. Look through our list of argumentative essay topics for more ideas. Just remember that you may want to avoid certain essay topics if you really want to stand out!
Your head might be spinning with all that information, and it’s okay. It’s a lot to take in. Even with all of that, cause and effect essays can be hard to really get a handle on. Hopefully, some handy tips will keep you on track or help you get on that track in the first place.
Okay, that sounds a little more existential than intended, but it’s a good way to get yourself in the mindset of cause and effect, which can help you generate a topic and develop your essay.
Why typically gets you to the cause of something. Why is the pizza on the floor? The cause: The cat knocked over the plate.
By comparison, what happened can get you closer to the effect. What happened when the pizza got on the floor? The cat had a nice pepperoni snack.
That might admittedly sound a little simplistic, but it’s a great place to get started, especially if you find yourself unsure how to navigate between cause and effect. Why did that thing happen? What happened because of that thing?
Because of how everything tends to be interlinked, you’ll rarely have an event or situation that has just one cause or one effect. If anything, one effect can become a cause that branches into another effect, and so on. The pizza got on the floor, the cat ate some of it, and now the cat is taking an early nap from being so full.
Similarly, multiple causes can contribute to an effect. The pizza fell on the floor partly because of the cat, partly because your friend left it sitting precariously on the kitchen table.
That level of complication and the potential domino effect of things are what make cause and effect essays so interesting. Considering all those facets is part of what will add nuance to your writing.
Despite the above, don’t worry about covering every single cause contributing to every single effect. That can lead to some strange tangents and an endless essay. Before you know it, your essay about the effects of World War II will somehow turn into an essay about pasta sauce.
Allow room for all those different wrinkles, but if you find yourself getting carried away, refocus on your thesis. If what you’re exploring is way outside the bounds of your thesis, it might be worth cutting it (save that pasta sauce writing for another day).