How to Write a Cause and Effect Essay – Refining the Topic is Critical
Every essay has a topic, of course. The cause/effect essay is not different, but the topic itself may result in three possible. It is in these refinements that an organizational structure can be established, so that the final product is logical and coherent. One of the biggest issues for these types of essays can be the structure, but also the topic, because, as you shall see, the topic itself can become unmanageable. Here, then is a look at this type of essay and what a student can do to create a good one.
Choosing and Refining a Topic
Obviously, if the topic has been given by an instructor, there are no options. When the student is given a larger category, however, and has the latitude to select an essay topic within, the possibilities can become endless. Let's suppose, forexample, that students have been assigned a cause and effect essay and the topic category is pollution. This is a huge field with so many options. These are the steps involved in a topic choice:
- What type of pollution interests you most? The field is automatically narrowed. Let's assume you have decided on pollution of our oceans.
- Will you address only causes? If so, then your topic is further narrowed. Now you will confine your research to the known perpetrators; garbage, including plastic, chemical run-offs from farms and corporations, oil spills, and so forth.
- Will you address only effects? In the event, your research will take a different bent. You will now be looking at such things as the destruction of the coral reefs, the dying out of large numbers of animals due to the toxic nature of plastic, and chemicals, etc.
- Will you address both causes and effects? In this case, you will be writing a lengthy essay and researching both causes and effects and attempting to draw correlations between each cause and its specific effects. Here is where things can get a bit complicated.
- The destruction of coral reefs is an effect of human behavior (the cause).
- That destruction itself, however, becomes a cause for other effects. As coral reefs die, so does that plant and animal life that sustained itself on that reef.
- As those life forms die off, other forms of life then experience severe population declines. This goes on and on, because the ocean is an entire ecosystem.
You will have to draw the line somewhere, or your topic gets out of control. So, be certain that, as you do your research, you have a pre-established stopping point, when you are dealing with a cause and effect "chain".
The traditional outline has long been the most popular method of organizing information into sub-topics which then become paragraphs for the body of an essay. While this may be the preferred method of most students, the cause/effect essay lends itself to a different type of organizer that may make writing the essay easier.
Consider a graphic organizer that might look like this: on the left side of your paper, list all of the causes of ocean pollution. From that list, draw an arrow to the right and then list all of the effects. Because you have multiple causes and multiple effects, it might be wise to draw and arrow from each behavior to its effect(s). If those effects then become causes and you are going to include a longer "chain" you will do the same thing, with arrows to the far right column of final effects that you will present.
Writing the Essay
As with many essay types, students often struggle with the issue of how to start a cause and effect essay. The answer is really quite simple:
- Begin with the body paragraphs
- Using your graphic organizer, write a paragraph that describes each cause and the effects it has had.
- You will have as many paragraphs as you have causes
- If you are only addressing causes, each cause still merits a paragraph; the same goes for an “effects only” essay.
The introduction is always written after the body, because as you write, you are solidifying your thesis in your mind. In the case of ocean pollution, you are describing a really serious problem with horrendous long-term consequences. Your thesis statement, then, should relate to the long-term consequences of our behaviors in this regard. Your opening statement, however, should probably not be your thesis. That comes later in the introduction. Find some really horrible statistic or prediction that will shock the reader immediately, and you will have achieved one of your goals – to engage the reader in this topic immediately!
Your conclusion may speak again to the dangerous long-term consequences, but it may also propose some “big-idea” solutions or attempt to persuade the reader to take some individual action related to this threat.
Cause/Effect Essays Take Effort and Time
A good cause/effect essay will require several steps as outlined above. These are not pieces of writing that you simply “whip up” the night before they are due. There is a topic to refine; there is research to conduct, and there is that all-important organization of information. And all of this is just in preparation for the actual writing!