How to Write a Cause and Effect Essay

Understanding causes and effects -- why thing occur and what the consequences are -- is necessary for scientists, psychologists, historians, investigators, educators and medical workers to perform their jobs, and it helps all people make better life decisions. A cause-effect or causal analysis essay gives students the opportunity to examine such relationships and explain the connections in a meaningful way.

Choose an Appropriate Topic

Cause-effect essays typically examine either causes or effects. Choose an interesting subject and brainstorm the reasons for -- or causes of -- a specific outcome or effect. For example, a business major might discuss the causes of a company's success, focusing on its marketing strategy, growth plan and customer service. This examination would help the student understand what makes a business work. A parent writing an essay might write about the negative effects of spanking, using research that shows how it increases aggression and fails to change behavior in the long term.

Develop a Strong Thesis

Create a thesis statement -- a single sentence explaining the causes or effects your paper focuses on and why it matters that readers understand this relationship. For instance, a thesis statement that "Bank failures, governmental economic policies and drought were the primary causes of the Great Depression" explains that the paper will cover these causes. Likewise, an effect paper's thesis might read, "Plagiarism in school can result in loss of credit on an assignment, a failing grade for a course or even expulsion from school." The thesis statement should explain the cause-effect relationship your essay will explore.

Develop and Organize the Body

Set up the body of the essay so you have one paragraph for each of the causes or effects from your thesis. If your paper explains a chain of events, you might organize the paragraphs chronologically. For example, you might write that the first effect of a polluted water supply in a town was minor illness, then more serious illness and, eventually, death. You might begin with the most blatant causes or effects and move to the less obvious. Another option is to arrange causes and effects by significance, by putting the most important one first. An essay about the causes of the American Civil War could begin with slavery and then move on to other ideas, such as states' rights. Include transition words such as "since," "therefore" and "because" to clarify the causal relationship among the ideas you present.

Include a Powerful Introduction and Conclusion

Begin your analysis with a vivid hook that gets the reader interested in your topic, such as a quote, statistic or brief story. A paper explaining why so many lottery winners end up broke and miserable might open with a narrative about winning and how so many people believe millions of dollars will solve their problems, for instance, setting up the paper that shows the actual effects. At the end of the paper, add a concluding paragraph to summarize the causal relationship and return to your hook, connecting all the concepts in the analysis. A hypothetical essay about lottery winners, for example, would create that connection by returning to the myth that winning the lottery makes people financially secure for life. Some cause-effect essays lend themselves to the "call to action" ending. For example, an essay about the dangerous consequences of too much fast food could end with a plea for readers to limit their intake.

About the Author

Kristie Sweet has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado.

Photo Credits
  • YanLev/iStock/Getty Images