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Humanities Libertexts

4.9: Cause and Effect

  • Page ID
    4683
  • Skills to Develop

    • Determine the purpose and structure of cause and effect in writing
    • Understand how to write a cause and effect essay

    The Purpose of Cause and Effect in Writing

    It is often considered human nature to ask “why?” and “how?” We may want to know how our child got sick so we can better prevent it from happening in the future, or why our colleague received a pay raise because we want one as well. We want to know how much money we will save over the long term if we buy a hybrid car. These examples identify only a few of the relationships we think about in our lives, but each shows the importance of understanding cause and effect.

    A cause is something that produces an event or condition; an effect is what results from an event or condition. The purpose of the cause and effect essay is to determine how various phenomena relate in terms of origins and results. Sometimes the connection between cause and effect is clear, but often determining the exact relationship between the two is very difficult. For example, the following effects of a cold may be easily identifiable: a sore throat, runny nose, and a cough. But determining the cause of the sickness can be far more difficult. A number of causes are possible, and to complicate matters, these possible causes could have combined to cause the sickness. That is, more than one cause may be responsible for any given effect. Therefore, cause and effect discussions are often complicated and frequently lead to debates and arguments.

    Tip

    Use the complex nature of cause and effect to your advantage. Often it is not necessary, or even possible, to find the exact cause of an event or to name the exact effect. So, when formulating a thesis, you can claim one of a number of causes or effects to be the primary, or main, cause or effect. As soon as you claim that one cause or one effect is more crucial than the others, you have developed a thesis.

    The Structure of a Cause and Effect Essay

    The cause and effect essay opens with a general introduction to the topic, which then leads to a thesis that states the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event.

    The cause and effect essay can be organized in one of the following two primary ways:

    Start with the cause and then talk about the effects.

    Start with the effect and then talk about the causes.

    For example, if your essay is on childhood obesity, you could start by talking about the effect of childhood obesity and then discuss the cause, or you could start the same essay by talking about the cause of childhood obesity and then move to the effect. Regardless of which structure you choose, be sure to explain each element of the essay completely. Explaining complex relationships requires the full use of evidence, such as scientific studies, expert testimony, statistics, and anecdotes.

    Because cause and effect essays determine how phenomena are linked, they make frequent use of words and phrases that denote such linkage. See Table 4.4: Phrases of Causation for examples of such terms.

    Table 4.4 - Phrases of Causation

    as a result

    because

    consequently

    due to

    hence

    since

    therefore

    thus

    The conclusion should wrap up the discussion and reinforce the thesis, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of the relationship that was analyzed.

    Tip

    Be careful of resorting to empty speculation. In writing, speculation amounts to unsubstantiated guessing. Writers are particularly prone to this trap in cause and effect arguments due to the complex nature of finding links between phenomena. Be sure to have clear evidence to support the claims that you make.

    Exercise 4.8

    Freewrite for five minutes on one of the following broad topics below. Focus on a narrower issue about that topic and its effects.

    Health and nutrition
    Sports
    Media
    Politics
    History

    Writing a Cause and Effect Essay

    Choose an event or condition that you think has an interesting cause and effect relationship. Introduce your topic in an engaging way. End your introduction with a thesis that states the main cause, the main effect, or both.

    Organize your essay by starting with either the cause then effect structure, or the effect then cause structure. Within each section, you should clearly explain and support the causes and effects using a full range of evidence. If you are writing about multiple causes or multiple effects, you may choose to sequence either in order of importance. In other words, order the causes from least to most important (or vice versa), or order the effects from least important to most important (or vice versa).

    Use the phrases of causation when trying to forge connections between various events or conditions. This will help organize your ideas and orient the reader. End your essay with a conclusion that summarizes your main points and reinforces your thesis. See Appendix: Readings: Examples of Essays to read a sample cause and effect essay.

    key takeaways

    • The purpose of the cause and effect essay is to determine how various phenomena are related.
    • The thesis states what the writer sees as the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event.
    • The cause and effect essay can be organized in one of these two primary ways:
    • Start with the cause and then talk about the effect.
    • Start with the effect and then talk about the cause.
    • Strong evidence is particularly important in the cause and effect essay due to the complexity of determining connections between phenomena.
    • Phrases of causation are helpful to signal links between various elements in the essay.

    Essay 1: Expository essay (15%)

    In week 7, you will need to submit an expository essay on one of the following topics. Consider these topics as you work through the rest of this chapter and the next. You will need to choose onetopic from one of the rhetorical modes below and write a 750- to 900-word essay. You will need to produce a logically organized essay with a thesis statement, well developed and logically organized paragraphs (with topic sentences), and an introduction and conclusion. You will need to support your ideas using one to three sources and include an APA reference list and citations as outlined in the JIBC APA Style Guide. You need to also demonstrate appropriate use of grammar and correct spelling. Remember, your essay should not just be a story; it should demonstrate logical organization and idea development.

    Narrative: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized narrative essay.

    A moment of success or failure
    An experience that helped you mature

    Illustration: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized illustration essay.

    The media and the framing of crime
    Child obesity
    The effect of violent video games on behaviour

    Description: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized description essay.

    How to reduce weight
    How to remain relevant in your workplace
    How to get a good night’s sleep

    Classification: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized classification essay.
    Ways of boring people
    Methods of studying for a final exam
    Extreme weather

    Process analysis: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized process analysis essay.

    How to complain effectively
    How to apply the Heimlich manoeuvre, or other lifesaving technique
    How a particular accident occurred

    Definition: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized definition essay.

    Right to privacy
    Integrity
    Heroism

    Compare and contrast: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized compare and contrast essay.

    Two ways of losing weight: one healthy, one dangerous
    Two ways to break a bad habit
    An active and a passive student

    Cause and effect: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized cause and effect essay.

    Plagiarism and cheating in school. Give its effects.
    Bullying. Give its effects.
    A personal, unreasonable fear or irritation. Give its causes.

    You need to submit this assignment to your instructor for marking. (15%)

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