The process of writing cause and effect essays is one that requires the writer to examine the cause(s) and/or result(s) of various events or situations and determine the inter-relationship(s).
Like most essays, the process begins by selecting a suitable topic. You will then need to do a certain amount of early-stage research, making notes you can use later in your essay as you go along. Once the research is complete, you will need to create a rough outline. Base this on your thesis statement and start writing a first draft. This draft will need to be edited upon completion and it is a good idea to ask someone else to also read your work.
Preparing for the Writing Element
Make notes about your assignment's requirements. Make a note of your tutor's specific requirements. If your tutor gave you an assignment or instruction sheet, read this carefully and make a note of any particular questions. You should at least know the starting prompt, required length, formatting style, and submission date for every assignment. Once you have noted these, keep the paper or document in a safe place since you will need to refer to it periodically as your project progresses.
- Understand your assignment's objectives
It is not always the case that essays of the cause and effect variety require you to cover both elements. Therefore, you need to establish if you are meant to cover either causes or effects or both of these. It is also important to know if you are meant to work on the topic that has been assigned to you or whether you need to choose your own topic.
You may, for instance, be required to explore what caused or led to the American Revolution. This implies you will need to discuss the protests against taxation and any other important factors that contributed to the event itself. Alternatively, the requirement may be for you to describe the effects of the revolution. This means you will probably need to discuss the efforts to build the nation and any other effects that resulted in the short and long term. An essay covering both causes and effects would integrate both elements.
- Your topic may need broadening or narrowing down
In the event you are required to select a topic, a brainstorming session to generate ideas is a good starting point. Make a note of any topics that come into your mind. Then choose the five that you find most interesting. Give some thought to the amount of information you can comfortably include in the length that has been stipulated. You could attempt to break down a possible topic into several parts and select one aspect. It is a good idea to pick out events or situations that you have personal experience of. You could write about a period of strife in your lifetime e.g. a war situation.
Alternatively, you might want to explore a topic that is controversial, e.g. the health effect on those who eat fast food regularly. Keep an open mind to adjusting the depth or breadth of your topic as work progresses. At various times, you may want to add or remove particular aspects to fit with your tutor's instructions. For instance, when writing about George Washington's role in the American Revolution, you could concentrate on just one decision he is noted for.
- Read through any texts that are assigned to you
It is advisable to read any texts that your tutor assigns to you at the outset. Doing so will help you better understand the topic and to narrow it down. Additionally, the notes you make should provide useful evidence when you commence writing.
- Research Your Topic
Check all available sources, e.g., articles, books, and so on where these provide different perspectives on your topic. Cast your net widely at first, which means reading any material you can find. Then keep fine-tuning your research as useful sources come to light.
Be sure to make notes while researching so that you can properly cite these later thus avoiding plagiarism. If the topic you are writing about is a recent one, e.g. the effects of consuming too much fast food, it is possible you will be able to use primary source material in your paper.
- Consult Your Tutor if You Have Any Questions
If any questions occur to you during the writing process, speak to your tutor after class or send them an email. It can help to write questions down beforehand. Additionally, you could speak to other students because they may be able to answer or clarify any of your questions.
For instance, you may want to know if a particular assignment should have a certain number of sources. Check that your questions are not already covered in the instructions.
Writing the Initial Draft of Your Essay
Create a thesis sentence/statement for your essay.Once you have consulted your research notes, you will need to develop a central argument or thesis statement as the basis for your essay. You will then need to try to prove this statement in the remainder of your essay. A thesis statement should stand up to debate and you should be able to support it with research sources i.e. evidence.
Thesis statements may be comprised of one or several sentences, with much dependent on what needs to be covered. However, they should not be a question, factual statement, or quotation.
When attempting to create a thesis statement it can help to think about what the evidence you found points to. Do your sources indicate any causes, effects or both?
- Write an essay outline
Start by identifying a minimum of three wide-ranging ideas or themes that support your central thesis. These will then form separate sections in the body of your essay. The next step is to fit smaller ideas under the main or “larger” ones. Ultimately, every idea should play some part in proving the thesis.
Your initial essay outline should be reasonably flexible since there will probably be sections that need expanding or removing as work progresses. While the five-paragraph format may at first seem suitable, you do not have to restrict yourself to this configuration unless you have been specifically requested to. Just add as many sections as you need to build a strong argument, at least as far as the word or page count permits.
- Write a strong introductory paragraph
The introductory paragraph is the first one in an essay so there are many functions it must accomplish. First, it must get the attention of the reader and introduce them to the topic. It must also set out the thesis statement, usually as the last one or two sentences of the paragraph. In the case of a cause effect essay, you will need to clarify if you will be covering just one element or both. Interesting quotes, a short anecdote, or exciting news are good techniques for getting readers interested in a topic. But keep things brief. Compared to body paragraphs, an introduction should be relatively short.
- Create your essay's body paragraphs
It is here you put flesh on your initial draft or outline. Each body paragraph should address one specific point or part of your argument. When addressing the cause element, the situation or event will need to be explained and you will need to point out the connection with the effect. When dealing with the effect(s), it will be necessary to show your readers how the cause(s) lead to the effect(s). One paragraph at least will be needed to explain the importance of the connections. This can be viewed as a good opportunity to offer an intelligent statement about the short and long-term implications of the cause and effect cycle. Essentially, “why does this matter?”
- Describe the timeline for the cause and effect topic
When working through the body paragraphs, it is important to remember to show how a cause occurred prior to the described effect. Additionally, when discussing a particular effect, remember to prove it is the specific result of a cause. The trick is to avoid getting your causes and your effects so interlinked that there is no clear relationship.
If, for instance, you are arguing that increased unemployment was an effect of the Great Depression, you should have credible statistics to back up this idea. Remember there was unemployment before this event and after, so it is important to clarify the specific relationship.
- Eliminate or acknowledge other possibilities
Your essay should convince readers that you understand other approaches or arguments. Be realistic in your description of cause effect relationships. Use evidence to demonstrate that although there may be other causes and/or effects, the ones you are putting forward are the most valid or important.
If, for example, you are describing what caused the Great Depression, you may want to devote some discussion to income discrepancy as well as the stock market. Alternatively, if focusing only on the relationship between this event and the stock market, then you will probably want to mention other potential causes in some part of your paper.
- Make sure your conclusion is solid
The conclusion of a cause effect essay should be used to summarize the thesis statement and main points. However, this should be reasonably brief, e.g., similar in length to the opening paragraph. You may want to mention how your conclusions could alter at a later time if interpretations or conditions change.
- General and specific information/observations should be inter-mixed
In the course of writing your essay, it will be necessary to develop and demonstrate natural links between solid evidence and more general or interpretive comments. Your essay may seem vague without sufficient detail and it may appear to lack analysis if you do not offer some interpretive observations.
Completing and Polishing Your Final Paper
- Leave your work aside for a while
Once your initial draft is complete, leave it aside for a short time at least. The ideal scenario is to wait a day or two before reviewing it but deadlines do not always allow this luxury. It helps to take your mind off an essay for a while so that you can return to it in a fresh frame of mind. You should spot mistakes and areas for improvement that you previously missed.
Furthermore, this is a good reason to complete an essay in a timely manner. It means you will have sufficient time and patience to complete your assignment in the best way possible.
- Ask another person to read your work
Once you find you have an essay assignment to complete, it is advisable to ask a fellow student or friend to make time to read your first draft. Tell that person in advance if there are any areas of concern they should pay special attention to.
- Reread your work and revise it
After your essay has rested for a while and someone else has looked over it, you will need to begin the process of revising it. Find yourself a quiet spot so that you can focus on reading back over your work one word at a time. Look out for both large and small errors and correct these.
A lot of writers like to print a copy of their written work and mark revisions on the paper copy. This method also prevents delay in the event of problems with your computer.
- Attend carefully to transitions
If your essay requires you to “split” the topic e.g. in the case of causes and effect or compare and contrast essays, it is even more critical to ensure transitions are clear to readers. Transitions signal a move from one point or idea to the next. For example, words like “consequently,” “therefore” and “thus” are effective transitions.