WRITING CAUSE AND EFFECT PAPERS
Cause and effect papers use analysis to examine the reasons for and the outcomes of situations. They are an attempt to discover either the origins of something, such as an event or a decision, the effects or results that can be properly attributed to it, or both.
Cause and effect papers answer questions like the following ("A" is your topic):
- Why did A happen? (discovering the causes of A)
- What happened as a result of A? (discovering the effects of A)
- What might happen as a result of A? (predicting further effects of A)
You may write a cause and effect paper primarily about causes, primarily about effects, or a combination of both.
Before you begin writing or even researching, make a list of all the causes of this event you already know about. Ask questions like these: Why did this happen? What preconditions existed? Were the results foreseen? Could they have been foreseen? Then do some preliminary research, using what you already know to guide the direction of your reading. Change or add to your original list of causes to reflect new information gathered from your research. Done in depth, this kind of analysis is likely to uncover an almost unlimited chain of linked causes, far more than you can effectively address in one paper. Identify one to three of them as more important (or interesting, or overlooked) than the others. Then, acknowledging that multiple causes exist, limit your discussion to those most important (or interesting, or overlooked).
As you brainstorm possible causes, do not fall into the trap of thinking that, simply because one event followed another, that there was necessarily a causal relationship. (The mere fact that four youths were seen running away from the scene of an assault does not itself logically implicate them in the assault; they could have been running for help, chasing down the alleged criminal, or simply jogging by.)
Also, do not confuse a necessary precondition for a cause: A large number of costumed students milling about in downtown Chico on Halloween night may be a necessary precondition for a riot, but it is not, in itself, the cause of a riot.
As you write, use the transitions, or signal words, that tell readers you are demonstrating causal relationships between your ideas:
- Led to
The following example names the cause first, followed by the effect:
Because the technology program received independent funding from grants and federal Title I funds, it was relatively untouched by the school district's own budget cuts.
If you choose to write about effects, first brainstorm: Make a list of all the effects you know about, and use this list to direct your research to learn more. Have the effects had great impact on history, culture, or your own life? Or have they had a small impact with few results? Again, be sure you can demonstrate the causal relationship.
Just as there are usually several causes for anything, there are a multitude of effects that proceed from any one cause. Don't try to address a long chain of effects in one paper. Acknowledge that many effects of various kinds exist, and then limit your discussion to the most important ones.
Transition words that suggest to the reader that you are discussing effects include the following:
- As a result
- Thanks to
The following statement names a cause first, and then an effect:
Employees at companies that offer flexible work schedules are more productive and file fewer claims for mental-health benefits; consequently, the number of companies offering flextime is on the rise.
(As a matter of argument, you could claim that the example above shows two linked effects of the flextime policy: First, it caused employees to be more productive; and second, their enhanced productivity, in turn, caused more companies to adopt flextime. Linked causes and effects are typical of this type of paper.)
Cause and effect papers often make predictions based on known facts, trends, and developments. Prediction moves from the known and observable into the unknown and possible. Prediction tries to answer questions like these: What are the possible or likely consequences? Are these results likely to have great impact on my life or the lives of others? Are these results likely to have great impact on shaping public policy, society, or history? What preconditions would have to exist before my predictions could come about?
If you choose to make predictions, as is common, for example, in political science, education, science, and philosophy, be sure to use credible evidence and strong reasoning. If you do not handle predictions with finesse and ground them in established fact, they are apt to appear fantastic and unbelievable.
Avoid overstating your case; use language couched in an appropriate degree of uncertainty (might, may well be, is likely to, can expect, is entirely possible). Signal words and verb forms such as these suggest to the reader that you are making the move from observation to prediction:
- As soon as
- Likely that
- Can expect
- Possible that
Here is a prediction using two of the above transitions:
If the governor fails to clearly declare his position and take a leadership role in reforming the state's workers' compensation system, voters are likely to take matters into their own hands and call for a statewide referendum.
A cause and effect paper relies heavily on your analysis of the situation. Although there are many ways to interpret any situation and the effects that it has produced, in the end the convincing power of your paper depends on specific evidence, clear and convincing language, and logical development.
Cause and effect is an evergreen thing. Remember when we were just kids, and our parents always told us that if we disobey them, there would be consequences?
Well, it really does work this way.
Whatever you do, think, or say will lead to something particular. There is even a so-called "Butterfly effect" that basically means that minor things done somewhere can lead to big changes somewhere else in the world. It used to be an effect often discussed in weather broadcasts, but with time it became a metaphor for all kinds of changes.
Meanwhile, educational establishments aiming to train students to see the cause and effect decided to have special types of essays as a part of their academic process.
There are only two issues that come up when you talk about these essays: what structure they have and what topics can they talk about.
What makes a good cause and effect essay?
The structure is no different from any other essay you would write. This piece must consist of an introduction, main body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
However, the whole text should focus on four main points across the text:
- You need to study the cause of what happened.
There is always a reason behind every event. And there are no exceptions. So, your job is to study these causes and describe them in a nice and concise manner.
- Explain these causes.
After you look into the reasons why something happened, you need to explain what you found out to the readers. They do not read your mind, so you need to be very clear when explaining the situation. However, since you need to talk about it in the introduction, make sure to explain it all in a few sentences.
- Check out the effect this particular event has.
In the main body, you need to show what consequences come after some choice, decision, action, or a word.
It is better if you can dedicate one paragraph to one effect for better clarity of the problem.
- Connect the cause and its effects.
The readers need to see the big picture. So, your last goal is to connect the cause and effect in their eyes. You should also lead them to a certain conclusion or a takeaway line which they would remember once they finish reading it.
This is what you should know about the structure. However, it might not be your biggest concern. The topic might be harder to come up with. So, if you are having troubles thinking of what to talk about in your article, then read on: you might find exactly what you are looking for on our list.