What is a Cause and Effect Essay?
A cause and effect essay is the type of paper that author is using to analyze the causes and effects of a particular action or event. A curriculum usually includes this type of exercise to test your ability to understand the logic of certain events or actions.
If you can see the logic behind cause and effect in the world around you, you will encounter fewer problems when writing. If not, writing this kind of paper will give you the chance to improve your skillset and your brain’s ability to reason.
“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
In this article, we’ll find out how to create an outline for your cause and effect essay – the key to successful essay writing.
Types of the Cause and Effect Essay
Before writing this kind of essay, you need to draft the structure. A good structure will result in a good paper, so it’s important to have a plan before you start. But remember, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel: just about every type of structure has already been formulated by someone.
If you are still unsure about the definition of the essay, find that out with our guide: What is an Essay?
Generally speaking, there are three types of cause and effect essays. We usually differentiate them by the number of and relationships between the causes and the effects. Let’s take a quick look at the various kinds:
Many causes, one effect
This kind of essay illustrates how different causes can lead to one effect. The idea here is to try and examine a variety of causes, preferably ones that come from different fields, and prove how they contributed to a particular effect. If you are writing about World War I, for example, mention the political, cultural, and historic factors that led to the great war.
By examining a range of fundamental causes, you will be able to demonstrate your mastery of the topic.
Here is how to structure this type of essay:
- Cause #1
- Cause #2
- Cause #3 (and so on…)
- The effect of the causes
One cause, many effects
This type of cause and effect essay is constructed to show the various effects of a particular event, problem, or decision. Once again, you will have to demonstrate your comprehensive knowledge and analytical mastery of the field. There is no need to persuade the reader or present your argument. When writing this kind of essay, an in-depth knowledge of the problem or event’s roots will be of great benefit. If you know why it happened, it will be much easier to write about the effects.
Here is the structure for this kind of essay:
- The Cause
- Effect #1
- Effect #2
- Effect #3 (and so on…)
Chain of causes and effects
This is the most challenging type. You need to maintain a chain of logic that demonstrates a sequence of actions and consequences, leading to the end of the chain. Although this is usually the most interesting kind of cause and effect essay, it can also be the most difficult to write.
Here is the outline structure:
- Cause #1
- Effect #1 = Cause #2
- Effect #2 = Cause #3
- Effect #3 = Cause #4 (and so on…)
Cause and Effect Essay Outline Example
Let’s take a look at an example. Below, you will find an outline for the topic “The causes of obesity” (Type 1):
- Introduction: Nowadays, people are overweight because of their increasing consumption of unhealthy food, a lack of physical activity, and their refusal to work with fitness trainers.
- People are eating a lot of unhealthy food that is cheap, easy-to-consume and contains a lot of calories. (Include statistics: how many people regularly consume unhealthy food.)
- People don’t move enough. Causes: inactive jobs, laziness, and not enough information about the consequences.
- People don’t want to visit a specialist. If they did, they would be informed about the causes of obesity and offered a plan to solve the problem.
- Effect: Until those problems are solved, people will become more and more obese. (Include a prognosis about obesity rates over the next decade.)
- Conclusion: Junk food, a lack of physical activity, and a refusal to visit a doctor are the three leading causes of obesity. We hope that the situation will change. (Include some examples of what each person can do about the problem)
As you can see, we used a blended strategy here. When writing about the ever-increasing consumption of unhealthy food, it is logical to talk about the marketing strategies that encourage people to buy fast foods. If you are discussing fitness trainers, it is important to mention that people need to be checked by a doctor more often, etc.
How do I start writing once I have drafted the structure?
If you start by structuring each paragraph and collecting suitable examples, the writing process will be much simpler. The final essay might not come up as a classic five paragraph essay – it all depends on the cause-effect chain and the number of statements of your essay.
In the Introduction, try to give the reader a general idea of what the cause and effect essay will contain. For an experienced reader, a thesis statement will be an indication that you know what you are writing about. It is also important to emphasize how and why this problem is relevant to modern life. If you ever need to write about the Caribbean crisis, for instance, state that the effects of the Cold War are still apparent in contemporary global politics.
In the Body, provide plenty of details about what causes led to the effects. Once again, if you have already assembled all the causes and effects with their relevant examples when writing your plan, you shouldn’t have any problems. But, there are some things to which you must pay particular attention. To begin with, try to make each paragraph the same length: it looks better visually. Then, try to avoid weak or unconvincing causes. This is a common mistake, and the reader will quickly realize that you are just trying to write enough characters to reach the required word count.
Moreover, you need to make sure that your causes are actually linked to their effects. This is particularly important when you write a “chained” cause and effect essay (type 3). You need to be able to demonstrate that each cause was actually relevant to the final result. As I mentioned before, writing the Body without preparing a thorough and logical outline is often an omission.
The Conclusion must be a summary of the thesis statement that you proposed in the Introduction. An effective Conclusion means that you have a well-developed understanding of the subject. Writing the Conclusion can be one of the most challenging parts of this kind of project. You typically write the Conclusion once you have finished the Body, but in practice, you will sometimes find that a well-written conclusion will reveal a few mistakes of logic in the Body!
Cause and Effect Essay Sample
Be sure to check the sample essay, completed by our writers. Use it as an example to write your own cause and effect essay. Link: cause and effect essay sample: advertising ethic issues.
Tips and Common Mistakes from Our Expert Writers
INTRODUCTION TO SYNTHESES
(mostly from Cassie Carter - with her kind permission)
- What is a synthesis?
Two types of syntheses
Standards for synthesis essays
How to write synthesis essays
Techniques for developing synthesis essays
Thesis statements, introductions, conclusions, and quotations
WHAT IS A SYNTHESIS?
A synthesis is a written discussion that draws on one or more sources. It follows that your ability to write syntheses depends on your ability to infer relationships among sources - essays, articles, fiction, and also nonwritten sources, such as lectures, interviews, observations. This process is nothing new for you, since you infer relationships all the time - say, between something you've read in the newspaper and something you've seen for yourself, or between the teaching styles of your favorite and least favorite instructors. In fact, if you've written research papers, you've already written syntheses. In an academic synthesis, you make explicit the relationships that you have inferred among separate sources.
The skills you've already been practicing in this course will be vital in writing syntheses. Clearly, before you're in a position to draw relationships between two or more sources, you must understand what those sources say; in other words, you must be able to summarize these sources. It will frequently be helpful for your readers if you provide at least partial summaries of sources in your synthesis essays. At the same time, you must go beyond summary to make judgments - judgments based, of course, on your critical reading of your sources - as you have practiced in your reading responses and in class discussions. You should already have drawn some conclusions about the quality and validity of these sources; and you should know how much you agree or disagree with the points made in your sources and the reasons for your agreement or disagreement.
Further, you must go beyond the critique of individual sources to determine the relationship among them. Is the information in source B, for example, an extended illustration of the generalizations in source A? Would it be useful to compare and contrast source C with source B? Having read and considered sources A, B, and C, can you infer something else - D (not a source, but your own idea)?
Because a synthesis is based on two or more sources, you will need to be selective when choosing information from each. It would be neither possible nor desirable, for instance, to discuss in a ten-page paper on the battle of Wounded Knee every point that the authors of two books make about their subject. What you as a writer must do is select the ideas and information from each source that best allow you to achieve your purpose.
Your purpose in reading source materials and then in drawing upon them to write your own material is often reflected in the wording of an assignment. For example, your assignment may ask that you evaluate a text, argue a position on a topic, explain cause and effect relationships, or compare and contrast items. While you might use the same sources in writing an argumentative essay as your classmate uses in writing a comparison/contrast essay, you will make different uses of those sources based on the different purposes of the assignments. What you find worthy of detailed analysis in Source A may be mentioned only in passing by your classmate.
USING YOUR SOURCES
Your purpose determines not only what parts of your sources you will use but also how you will relate them to one another. Since the very essence of synthesis is the combining of information and ideas, you must have some basis on which to combine them. Some relationships among the material in you sources must make them worth sythesizing. It follows that the better able you are to discover such relationships, the better able you will be to use your sources in writing syntheses. Your purpose in writing (based on your assignment) will determine how you relate your source materials to one another. Your purpose in writing determines which sources you use, which parts of them you use, at which points in your essay you use them, and in what manner you relate them to one another.
TWO TYPES OF SYNTHESES
THE ARGUMENT SYNTHESIS: The purpose of an argument synthesis is for you to present your own point of view - supported, of course, by relevant facts, drawn from sources, and presented in a logical manner. The thesis of an argumentative essay is debatable. It makes a proposition about which reasonable people could disagree, and any two writers working with the same source materials could conceive of and support other, opposite theses.
STANDARDS FOR SYNTHESIS ESSAYS
2. Keep in mind that original thought and insightful analysis are required for a 4.0, 3.5, or 3.0 paper; 2.5 and below evaluations tend not to present original ideas.
3. A 4.0, 3.5, or 3.0 paper will create a "dialogue" between the essay author's ideas and her sources, and also among the sources themselves. 2.5 and below evaluations will often summarize one point at a time, with the essay author's idea stated at the end. If you imagine a synthesis essay as a room in which the synthesis writer is joined by the authors of her/his sources, the 4.0, 3.5, or 3.0 essay has everyone engaged in conversation or debate, with everyone commenting on (or arguing against) each other's ideas directly. In the 2.5 and below essay, each person in the room stands up in turn, gives a speech, and sits down, with little or no question and answer period in between or afterward.
4. Take special care to address your audience in an appropriate manner. Make sure you establish your credibility on the subject and that you provide sufficient information to make your argument (thesis) convincing.
- 5. Organize your paper logically:
- A. State your thesis clearly and make sure that it reflects the focus of your essay.
- B. Make sure your main points are clearly stated (use topic sentences), and connect each point to your thesis as explicitly as possible.
- C. Divide paragraphs logically.
- D. Provide appropriate transitions both within and between paragraphs.
7. Select words precisely. When in doubt, use a dictionary!
8. Make sure sentences are clear and unambiguous. Avoid passive voice. Double-check to see that sentences are adequately varied in length and style, and that there are no fragments or run-ons. Also proofread carefully to correct any other sentence errors.
9. Proofread carefully to identify and correct mechanical errors, such as errors in plurals or possessives, subject-verb agreement, shifts in verb tense or person ("you"), comma errors, spelling errors, and so on.
10. Quadruple check your MLA documentation. Are your parenthetical citations correct? Is your Works Cited list correct according to MLA style, and does it include all sources cited in your essay?
11. Be sure to give your essay a descriptive and attention-getting title (NOT "Synthesis," for goodness sake!!!).
12. Make sure your essay is formatted correctly and posted to your web site correctly.
HOW TO WRITE SYNTHESIS ESSAYS
- Consider your purpose in writing. Read the topic assignment carefully. What are you trying to accomplish in your essay? How will this purpose shape the way you approach your sources?
- Select and carefully read your sources, according to your purpose. Re-read the sources, mentally summarizing each. Identify those aspects or parts of your sources that will help you in fulfilling your purpose. When rereading, label or underline the passages for main ideas, key terms, and any details you want to use in the synthesis.
- Formulate a thesis. Your thesis is the main idea that you want to present in your synthesis. It must be expressed as a complete sentence and include a statement of the topic and your assertion about that topic. Sometimes the thesis is the first sentence, but more often it is the final sentence of the first paragraph.
- Decide how you will use your source material and take notes. How will the information and the ideas in your sources help you to fulfill your purpose? Re-read your sources and write down the information from your sources that will best develop and support your thesis.
- Develop and organizational plan, according to your thesis. (See Techniques for Developing Synthesis Essays immediately below.) How will you arrange your material? It is not necessary to prepare a formal outline, but you should have some plan in mind that will indicate the order in which you will present your material and that will indicate the relationships among your sources.
- Write the first draft of your synthesis, following your organizational plan. Be flexible with your plan, however, and allow yourself room to incorporate new ideas you discover as you write. As you discover and incorporate new ideas, re-read your work frequently to ensure that your thesis still accounts for what follows and that what follows still logically supports your thesis.
- Document your sources. Use MLA-style in-text citations and a Works Cited list to credit your sources for all material you quote, paraphrase, or summarize. For example, if I wanted to note in my essay the difference between name-calling and argumentum ad hominem as personal forms of attack, I would credit the article on "Politics: The Art of Bamboozling" fromWARAC by offering a citation that includes the author's last name and the exact page number where she discussed this notion (Cross 302). At the end of the essay, I would have a complete bibliographic citation for the "Politics" article.
- Revise your synthesis. Insert transitional words and phrases where necessary. Integrate all quotations so they flow smoothly within your own sentences. Use attribution phrases to distinguish between your sources' ideas and your own ideas. Make sure the essay reads smoothly, logically, and clearly from beginning to end. Check for grammatical correctness, punctuation, and spelling.
TECHNIQUES FOR DEVELOPING SYNTHESIS ESSAYS
Summary can be useful - and sophisticated - if handled judiciously, selectively, and in combination with other techniques. At some time you may need to summarize a crucial source in some detail. At another point, you may wish to summarize a key section or paragraph of a source in a single sentence. Try to anticipate what your reader needs to know at any given point of your paper in order to comprehend or appreciate fully the point you are making.
EXAMPLE OR ILLUSTRATION: At one or more points in your paper, you may wish to refer to a particularly illuminating example or illustration from your source material. You might paraphrase this example (i.e., recount it, in some detail, in your own words), summarize it, or quote it directly from your source. In all these cases, of course, you would properly credit your source.
TWO (OR MORE) REASONS: The "two reasons" approach can be an extremely effective method of development. You simply state your thesis, then offer reasons why the statement is true, supported by evidence from your sources. You can advance as many reasons for the truth of your thesis as needed; but save the most important reason(s) for last, because the end of the paper is what will remain most clearly in the reader's mind.
STRAWMAN: When you use the strawman technique, you present an argument against your thesis, but immediately afterward you show that this argument is weak or flawed. The advantage of this technique is that you demonstrate your awareness of the other side of the argument and show that you are prepared to answer it. The strawman argument first presents an introduction and thesis, then the main opposing argument, a refutation of the opposing argument, and finally a positive argument.
CONCESSION: Like the strawman, the concession technique presents the opposing viewpoint, but it does not proceed to demolish the opposition. Instead, it concedes that the opposition has a valid point but that, even so, the positive argument is the stronger one. This method is particularly valuable when you know your reader holds the opposing view.
COMPARISON AND CONTRAST: Comparison and contrast techniques enable you to examine two subjects (or sources) in terms of one another. When you compare, you consider similarities. When you contrast, you consider differences. By comparing and contrasting, you perform a multifaceted analysis that often suggests subtleties that otherwise might not have come to your attention.
To organize a comparison/contrast analysis, you must carefully read sources in order to discover significant criteria for analysis. A criterion is a specific point to which both of your authors refer and about which they may agree or disagree. The best criteria are those that allow you not only to account for obvious similarities and differences between sources but also to plumb deeper, to more subtle and significant similarities and differences. There are two basic formulas for comparison/contrast analysis:
|I. Introduce essay, state thesis||I. Introduce essay, state thesis|
|II. Summarize passage A||II. Introduce Criterion 1|
|A. View on Criterion I||A. Passage A's viewpoint|
|B. View on Criterion 2||B. Passage B's viewpoint|
|III. Summarize passage B||III. Introduce Criterion 2|
|A. View on Criterion 1||A. Passage A's viewpoint|
|B. View on Criterion 2||B. Passage B's viewpoint|
|IV. Discussion and conclusion||IV. Discussion and conclusion|