Author: Ian McAllister
How to write cause and effect essays
Note: this is about college level essays, and I advise you not to go to college.
You must be careful that cause and effect are involved, and not a casual connection. For instance, in each USA presidential election year the population of rats increases sharply. You can draw graphs to show the relationship, but nobody will believe that one is the cause and the other is the effect.
There can be one cause for several effects, or several causes for one effect, or a chain of cause and effect relationships. You should consider the possibility that one cause might be required for an effect, or the effect always follows that cause, or that a group of causes might cause different effects. This stage requires logical thinking.
Real Life considerations
Perhaps you are just expected to serve up the cause and effect essays ideas already presented to you by your teacher/lecturer. In that case, you don’t need to do the preliminary work. An example would be “Describe the effects of the Enclosure system on agriculture.” This question will be marked from a list of ideas, with the number of marks allocated for each idea, and does not call for originality. You just parrot your lectures, but try to find a startlingly original introduction.
If you are at school, it doesn’t matter who you offend in your cause and effect essays. But if you are at college, there is a dossier on you. Employers, in general, don’t like people who think for themselves. But you can get blacklisted in some professions if you don’t toe the official line.
For instance, if you are a medical student and your cause and effect essays show links between vaccination and autism, or influenza vaccines and increased probability of catching influenza, it would mean black marks against you. Drug companies fund medical schools, and they don’t see why they should pay for people to go against them. So wait until you have graduated and set up your practice before letting anybody see that you can think for yourself.
Even then, if you go into medical research, don’t publish cause and effect articles that show that drugs are undesirable, unless you are prepared to sacrifice your career.
So you’ve got your ideas
On your bird’s nest or brain-map draw connecting lines to put ideas into groups, then number them in the order in which you plan to use them.
Cause and effect essays are usually written in chronological order, but sometimes are written in reverse chronological order… from effect to cause. Sometimes they are written with the ideas grouped from most important to least important. Don’t be put off by the number of choices – you’ll only use one of them for one essay, and you get to choose the one that suits you best.
Starting your cause and effect essays
As you will see in my book, I favor a dramatic start. Imagine that you are writing cause and effect essays for publication in a newspaper. People will glance at your introduction, then glance at the next article until they find an introduction that interests them. You have failed if your introduction allows them to move on.
A good plan for any essay or speech is “Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have told them.” But you can make it boring or interesting. Ways to make it interesting include starting with a relevant quote, frightening them, arousing their greed.
However you make it interesting, the first sentence of your cause and effect essays should summarize what you intend to prove, then the rest of the paragraph should give a summary of supporting facts.
In the following paragraphs of your cause and effect essays you may have to educate the reader about causes, or about effects. If you are going to talk about the effect of holes in the ozone layer, and the reader doesn’t even know about the ozone layer, you have some explaining to do.
What are cause and effect essays?
These try to explain why situations have arisen, or people behave in a particular way, or why historical events went the way they did. If your cause and effect essays are meant to take half an hour to write, you won’t need much proof – it must just sound plausible. If your cause and effect essays are college projects, you will need to keep a record of sources, to support your ideas.
- What are the effects of the SARS outbreak?
- What were the causes of the second world war?
- What are the effects of apartheid?
OK, can I get started now?
No there are a few cautions to cover yet, before you can start writing your cause and effect essays.
Be objective in cause and effect essays
If you have read my book about exam techniques you know that I advise you to use the first person (I, I, I) as much as possible. Don’t do that in cause and effect essays.
Don’t say “I think that the QWERTY keyboard was an effect of the design of typewriters.” Say “Typewriter keys jam together if you type too fast, so the QWERTY keyboard was invented to slow you down.”
An exception to this rule for cause and effect essays is if you have already listed other people’s opinions. You can then say “I, on the other hand, believe that…”
If you are working on a computer, write your cause and effect essays as they come to you, then go through and change all the first-person sentences.
Avoid Abstract Terms
At school, you can be as biased as you like. At college, you will be judged on your use of abstract and loaded words. Abstract words are words that nobody truly understands. If you say love, or freedom, or even cold, it’s unlikely that the words mean the same to me as to you.
Your cause and effect essays should avoid loaded words. If I told you that my boss said that my ideas were “youthful and visionary,” that would be the same as “childish daydreaming” – or wouldn’t it? If you are writing cause and effect essays for propaganda, you will have to learn just what loaded words readers will tolerate.
Think what objections the reader might have to your cause and effect essays. Then plan how you will answer each objection.
Hooray! Now you can start!
Your introductory paragraph has a summary sentence, followed by explanatory sentences. It is a good idea to follow this plan throughout your essay.
Start each paragraph with a new point. Then develop the point in the rest of the paragraph. Prove your contentions. Refer to sources. Give quotes.
Now you can finish your cause and effect essays
You normally finish your cause and effect essays with a summary of your arguments and often with a call to action. In this way, they may be persuasive essays. Your readers will remember the last paragraph better than the rest, so make sure that it is interesting reading.
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