How to Write a Cause and Effect Essay

Have you been assigned a cause and effect essay and have no idea where to start? Your first step is to gain a clear understanding of what a cause and effect essay is, the purpose behind such a paper, and the process of planning that goes into writing such an essay.

Writing a cause and effect essay involves several steps from deciding on a topic and brainstorming to choose a cause and effect to conducting the research, crafting the thesis, writing an outline, and writing a draft.

Although a cause and effect essay may be one of the easiest essays to write, you may find your first one challenging if you don’t have experience in writing such essays or have poor writing skills. Read on to find out more about cause and effect essays, what they are and why they are written, and how to write an excellent piece of work.

What is a Cause and Effect Essay?

A cause and effect essay is an academic paper that analyses or examines a specific event or situation and explores its causes (why it happened) and its effects (the results of its occurrence).  One of the more common forms of essays in academic writing, a cause and effect essay focuses on the reasons for an event occurring and discusses the effects or the results of the event.

For example, the topic of a cause and effect essay could be global warming. In the essay, you could discuss the possible causes of global warming such as the destruction of the ozone layer through industrialization or deforestation, or you could discuss the effects of global warming such as rising sea levels due to the melting of the polar caps, the effect on the natural world, etc.)

What is the Purpose of a Cause and Effect Essay?

So, why do we write cause and effect essays? The purpose of this kind of essay is to find out the causes behind the occurrence of an event and how that event has affected the environment around it. It explores the reasons why a certain event took place and discusses the importance of the consequences or results of such an event.

The key characteristics of good topics for cause and effect essays include:

  • Relevance
  • Significance
  • Accuracy
  • Clarity
  • Engaging and thought-provoking

What are the Steps for Writing a Cause and Effect Essay?

The easiest way to write a cause and effect essay is to break it down into seven easy steps, as follows:

  1. Make a list of topics
  2. Choose a topic
  3. Brainstorm to choose a cause or effect
  4. Conduct the research
  5. Draft the structure of the thesis
  6. Write an outline of the essay
  7. Write the first draft of the essay

Let’s take a deeper look at each step in the process of writing a cause and effect essay and delve into some detail.

1. Make a List of Topics

Unless you have been given a specific topic, the first step in the process is to decide on a topic to write about. The best way to go about choosing a topic is to make a list – write down any topic that pops into your mind.

2. Choose Your Topic

Once you have made a list of topics you want to write about, decide on one. It’s a good idea to write about something you know about – this will make for a better and more coherent essay. Alternatively, choosing a topic you aren’t very knowledgeable about will allow you to do some research and learn something new.

3. Brainstorm to Choose the Cause or Effect

Once you have decided on your topic, you need to choose whether you want to write about the cause or the effect. If you have chosen to write about global warming, decide whether you want to discuss the causes (destruction of the ozone layer through industrialization or deforestation) or the effects (rising sea levels, melting of the polar caps, dying wildlife).

The easiest way to do this is to brainstorm with this simple exercise:

  • Make two lists – one for causes and one for effects.
  • Write down all the possible causes of global warming.
  • Write down all the possible effects of global warming.
  • Then decide which is more familiar or of interest to you and go with that one.

4. Conduct the Research

You have your topic and angle – now it’s time to start your research and the more research you do, the better your essay will be. Always use credible sources (sources written by experts on the topic) and avoid using personal blogs or unverifiable sources as references.

5. Draft the structure of the thesis

When it comes to drafting your thesis, the first thing to do is work out your thesis statement. A thesis statement will be at the end of your introduction and identifies the topic being discussed, the main points to be discussed in the essay, and why you care about the topic.

The second thing to do is to decide on the structure of your essay. There are two main ways to structure a cause and effect essay, namely a block or a chain structure. A block structure lists all of the causes first, followed by the effects, whereas a chain structure lists each cause immediately followed by the effect.

The block and chain types of structure are shown in the table below:

Introduction Introduction
Cause 1 Cause 1 + Effect of Cause 1
Cause 2 Cause 2 + Effect of Cause 2
Transition sentence/paragraph Cause 3 + Effect of Cause 3
Effect 1 Conclusion
Effect 1


6. Write an Outline of the Essay

The outline for a cause and effect essay depends on the instructions given, however, writing an outline is a good way of introducing the topic and your thesis statement and discussing the main idea that supports your thesis statement.

An outline of the essay usually consists of a short five-paragraph piece that includes:

  • An introduction paragraph that introduces the topic of the thesis.
  • A first supporting paragraph that discusses the main idea behind the thesis.
  • A second supporting paragraph that discusses secondary ideas behind the thesis.
  • An antithesis paragraph that covers any opposition there may be to the topic. For example, conspiracy theorists who claim global warming doesn’t exist.
  • A conclusion where the thesis is restated and any ideas or thoughts for future research on this topic are presented.

7. Write the First Draft of the Essay

Once you have completed all your research and written an outline of your thesis, it’s time to write the first draft of your cause and effect essay. It’s a good idea to take a break between writing the first and second draft – it clears your head and helps you to edit the first draft succinctly. It will also give you a clearer perspective and help you spot any grammatical errors that may have been previously missed.

Final Thoughts

Writing a cause and effect essay is an easy process if you follow the basic steps of how to write such a thesis from selecting your topic to draft your first outline. If you choose an engaging topic and thought-provoking and one that analyses a specific event or situation and explores its effects, you are bound to produce an excellent cause and effect essay that will leave the reader duly impressed.

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