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A simple guide on how to write a cause and effect essay

A cause and effect essay, also known as a casual analysis essay, is a common type academic writing that is aimed at showing the reason for the occurrence of a certain phenomenon, and the results of its happening. It basically aims to answer the questions “Why did this happen”? and “What has happened as a result of it”?

It is a very common type of writing, not only in natural and social sciences but also in arts. In fact, over 90% of college papers are of this type, and there’s a practical reason behind it: Cause and effect essays use a logical approach to analyze a phenomenon. The ability to understand why an event, situation, or element is occurring and identify or foresee its possible effects is the foundation of critical thinking and problem-solving. And these skills are highly needed in every profession that college students are cut out for.

Writing a cause and effect essay can be quite challenging. However, with the right approach to the task, you can master how to write a decent casual analysis paper. The approach involves two major steps:

  1. Coming up with the content
  2. Presenting it in an understandable and appealing manner

For the content, the first step is selecting the topic:

Identifying a cause and effect essay topic

The list of topics that fit into this form of writing is endless. In fact, there are over a thousand topics in your immediate vicinity such as The impact of the internet on print media, the effect of TV commercials on customer behavior, what caused the rise of activism for LGBT rights over the past decades etc. However, you need to select a topic that is suited to your subject, and more importantly, one that you can get evidence to support your causes and effects. Therefore, it is safe to stick to popular topics that have already been well researched on. This way you will get a lot of literature on various cause and effect. Good examples are historical topics such as the impact of World War 2 on technological advancement, or social topics such as the effect of bullying.

Alternatively, you can choose a topic that is currently “hot” in the field. These are always provided by research professors and are also readily available online. For example, human life support and its impact on various stakeholders is currently hot in the medical field. Though not as established as historical topics, there is usually a lot of ongoing studies on the areas of interest. These studies will support your argument. Another advantage is that the paper will be of interest to the academic fraternity, thereby increasing your chances of getting better scores, or even being published.

What to avoid when selecting a cause and effect topic

A common mistake made by many students is to confuse causation with correlation. In causation, there is a direct link between one phenomenon and the other. Correlation, on the other hand, involves two phenomena being closely related, but neither has a direct effect on the other. An example is a study that shows a higher prevalence of smoking among alcoholics. This study proves a correlation between the two and no causation. It is, therefore, wrong to say alcoholism causes cigarette smoking.

Another error is to select a topic with obvious or well-known factual causes and effects. This applies mostly to scientific papers. An example is a research on reduced vegetation cover in the Arctic or Sahara regions. The reasons are factual; the climate is harsh. It is similar to research on the effect of taking a fish out of the water. Therefore, pick a topic that is debatable, or even with a little controversy. It is just like argumentative writing. If everything is a fact, then you have nothing to argue for.

Identify the causes and results; List them down

Once you have locked down the heading of the paper, the next step is to get the body. The first step is to list down all the causes or results that you can think of, or find from any source. At this point, anything that sounds logical should make it to the list.

Evidence-based approach: find literature that supports your claims

The second step involves looking into each specific point and attempting to get literature that supports the specific cause or effect for it is the evidence and the point that will form the meat of the paper.

For every cause or effect, there must be a previously published paper, study or an experiment that supports it. This is the current standard in academic writing and forms the principle of what distinguishes a fact from a theory. This applies to casual analysis writing. In order to meet this requirement, the essay must cite multiple sources that support the argument brought forth. Therefore, you must do some research before writing.

Try to find academic papers that focus on a single cause or effect as they will give more valuable information. For instance, if you are arguing that environmental regulations are one of the cause for decreased profits in the paper industry, find a study that focuses on the impact of environmental regulations on the industry. If possible get more than one study to support every single point you want to put across.

Be selective; some research papers hold more weight than others

Different papers provide different levels of evidence. Some can be doubted, while some come out as downright facts. This depends on the research methodology used. For example, different papers might be looking at the effect of early exposure of children to violent TV programming. One study does a retrospective study by analyzing the social life of adults who watched violent TV programs as children. Another study uses the case-control approach: identifies a group of children who are not allowed to watch violent TV programs, that is the control group, and another group of children who are allowed, that is the case group. The two groups are then followed up to adulthood and their social lives are compared. Both types of research will prove the same point, but one holds more water.

This is more applicable to cause and effect thesis where the cited evidence should hold up. If the research methodology involves the collection of primary data, then the research design should have a scientific approach. It should be experimental and is possible, be a case-control study.

Presenting the information

Like any other form of communication, what you say may not be as important as how you say it. A well-researched paper may not be that useful if presented distastefully. Therefore, this is the section that makes or breaks the paper.

Two factors need to be adhered to when writing the paper: the outline of the paper and the language used.

The outline of a cause and effect paper

  1. Introduction
  2. Body; for thesis, this is divided into literature review, research methodology, data analysis and presentation, and discussion of findings.
  3. Conclusion

It is also good to jot down smaller subheadings of what you plan to write under each section before starting the process.

Introduction

This includes the background of study and thesis statement. The background of study should be very precise and insightful. The aim is to get readers to understand the context of the paper. For example, if the paper is about the impact of the industrial revolution, give readers a brief understanding of what the world was like in that century, and how the revolution took place. This should be done in a captivating way so as to draw the readers and create interest in the subject. Remember, first appearances always matter.

Thesis statement, on the other hand, focuses on what you are about to discuss; the causes and effects of the phenomena. You need to convince the reader that the event was not isolated, it was triggered by some events and also it resulted in a chain of several events. Use a convincing language to sell your thoughts and make it believable.

Essays will not have a clear separation between the background of study and thesis ostatement. But it is always good to write the two in different paragraphs.

The language used in the introduction

For every paper, know the purpose of the paper, its target audience, and the tone. This will determine your writing style. The language used in the introduction should showcase your authority on the subject matter and convince the readers that your words are factual. As for tone, it should be formal but also aimed at evoking the right kind of emotion. For instance, if the paper is about child abuse, you should be able to bring out the cruelty and inhuman nature of the action and make the reader empathize.

Writing the body; cause and effect essay structures

The body is where all the important content comes in. Every cause or effect and its supporting literature needs to be discussed in this section. In order to deliver this information in an organized and understandable manner, you need to employ a writing structure. Otherwise, it would be bombarding the reader with voluminous data that does not add up in the end. The two commonly used writing structures are the block structure and the chain structure.

The block structure

In this writing format, you list all the causes of the event, followed by the event, and then outline all the effects. An example of such a structure: introduction, cause 1, cause 2,3,4,…, event, effect 1, effect 2,3,…. This is suitable for short essays as it is brief, and does not go into the details of each specific cause or effect.

The chain structure

This involves describing each point in a serialized manner; showing the cause, how it led to the event, and possibly how the event led to the results. It establishes the link between one event and the other. An example would be: introduction, cause 1 > event > result; cause 2 > event > result.

This is a preferable way of presenting your information. It creates a flow of events that can be linked together and therefore readily proving the cause and effect relationship. This structure is suitable for long essays and theses. I would strongly recommend using this structure, even in short essays if possible.

Explain the chain of events in a seamless manner

The flow of events should be uninterrupted. Explain in detail how one event gradually built up and eventually caused the other. For example, a paper on global warming should explain how a car engine releases carbon dioxide, and how these levels build up as they are released by multiple vehicles till they reach high levels in the atmosphere. Then further explain how this greenhouse gas has insulating properties, thereby preventing heat loss from the planet which would otherwise have escaped in the absence of the gas, thus resulting in a rise in temperature which is now referred to as global warming’.

The ideas should flow like a conveyer belt. Any interruption makes the point incomplete, or worse, make it look made up.

Use transitional phrases to link up the events

As you may have noticed, I used the words thereby’, thus resulting’, and then further’ in the example. You need to use these phrases to completely link up the events. Phrases such as secondary to, led to, consequently, and many more should be a key part of your writing.

Literary support for every idea conveyed

After stating the cause or effect in the chain structure, the next statement should be evidence supporting your claim. Discuss the findings of other studies that support your assertion. Feel free to go as deep as possible into these studies as the holy grail of the paper. Showcase the strengths of the study and how it conclusively supports your point. Select a few bold phrases from various publications and quote them word for word. And at the end, have a summary sentence that draws conclusions from the evidence. Remember this is an argumentative form of writing. You, therefore, need to sell your ideas.

For a thesis in which primary data was collected, the findings from your data analysis, and not supportive literature will form the core of the discussion. But the tone of the discussion remains the same.

Adhere to in-text referencing formats

Use the appropriate in-text referencing according to your institution guidelines. When citing more than one paper to support the same idea, bring them up in an organized manner. The criteria used can be chronological, categorical or based on the level of importance. In this kind of writing, it is better to base them on the level of importance. This enables your claims to grow stronger with every additional paper presented.

Conclusion

After convincingly conveying all your ideas, bring it all together in the conclusion. Mention key points from your discussion with its supporting evidence. Then tie it up with the introduction to have a bird’s eye view of the whole phenomenon, with its causes and effects. Finally, give your take on the subject matter.

When writing the conclusion, bear in mind that a good number of readers never go through the whole paper, but rather skip to the conclusion. Therefore, ensure that you capture all your main ideas in summary form. Also, the conclusion has to be as captivating as the introduction, and in some way poetic. Leave the readers educated and amazed.

In summary, cause and effect essays are common essays that every scholar needs to be conversant with. It may be the first, but definitely not the last time you have to write one of them. The outline is pretty straightforward, and with practice, it is easy to master the art of evidence-based writing. So go ahead and follow this simple guide, and hopefully, you will come up with a decent paper.

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