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Humanities Libertexts

14.1: Why Write a Causal Analysis or Cause/Effect Essay?

Causal analysis, or cause and effect, is used in both everyday and professional life, so being able to recognize and incorporate cause/effect data is important as it is used in multiple applications including problem solving. When studying accidents or plane crashes, investigators attempt to determine the sequence of events that led to the crash. What caused it? When deciding to spend all of that taxpayer money to build the train system in the valley, supporters first gather data showing the current effects of all of the traffic on the city. Then they provide the probable effects of the train system on the valley based upon similar results from other cities. These are just a couple of ways that causal analysis is utilized in society, so it is important to be able to understand it.

With the causal analysis essay, students are introduced to source-based writing. If 90% of the papers students will write in college are in third person, 98% of the papers will be source-based. With the causal analysis, students will be expected to identify credible sources for their papers. They will read and assimilate the information, then incorporate it in their work as evidence and support.

Choosing a topic

Many students find the causal analysis essay hard to write. They struggle with a few aspects. First, they struggle to identify an appropriate topic. The topic needs to cover a true cause/effect relationship. Here are some examples:

  • Effects of overuse of cell phones
  • Effects of air pollution on inner-city children
  • Causes of childhood diabetes
  • Causes of bullying

These topics identify clear cause/effect relationships. In other words, x most definitely causes y, or y is a direct result of x. These topics are focused enough to provide sufficient information to complete a three to four page essay with in-depth analysis of the topic and support from outside sources.

Students make a few mistakes when choosing a topic. One mistake students make is to pick a topic that is too broad; for example, students choose topics like the causes of climate change or the effects of the Great Depression. Books have been written about topics like this. These topics provide too much information to cover in a short paper. Instead of an in-depth analysis, the essay is shallow and rushed. Students need to avoid broad topics like these.

The second mistake students make is confusing causes and reasons. A cause has a direct effect. It explains how it occurred. For example, let's say that you put a glass of water in a freezer that is cold enough to freeze water; what will the outcome be? You get ice. There are laws of physics that operate in this world, and water must obey them. That is how the world works. However, a reason explains why it occurred. The focus of a reason is why something happens. Let's say that you don't study for a test the night before you take it, what will the outcome be? We don't know. This time the outcome is not automatic. While not studying is a bad idea, it does not mean you will fail the test. It is not an inevitable outcome. The reason you may fail the test is because you chose not to study, but you might be confident about this particular information and feel it is unnecessary to study. Thus, students need to pick topics where the relationship between the cause and effect can be clearly established.

Finally, the third mistake students make is confusing causation and correlation. Things can happen at the same time without there being a direct cause/effect relationship. Let's say that there is a five-year study that covered an increase in inflation in the United States. At the same time, the study noted that sales in flat-screen televisions had increased. Does that mean that the increase in inflation caused an increase in TV sales? Probably not. There may be a relationship between the two, but one does not directly cause the other.

Thus, choosing a topic that shows a clear causal relationship is extremely important.

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