The Cause-Effect Essay

Cause-and-effect writing gives reasons and explanations for events, conditions, or behavior. It answers the need most of us have to understand the world around us.
When planning a cause-and-effect essay, begin by listing the event or condition you want to address. Then brainstorm to generate ideas about either its causes or its effects. Do additional research on your topic if necessary.
Think carefully about the causes and effects you have listed. As part of prewriting you may find it helpful to diagram or demonstrate these relationships graphically. Check to be sure you have not drawn any faulty conclusions. Your conclusions are faulty if the cause-and-effect relationship does not exist or if it is unreasonable or not clearly established.
Ask yourself the following questions:
o Have I assumed a cause-effect relationship when there is none?
Causal Relation:
Necessary Cause - one that must be present for the effect to occur.
Ex. Combustion is necessary to drive a gasoline engine.
Sufficient Cause - one that can produce an effect unaided, though there may be more than one sufficient cause of a given effect.
Ex. A dead battery is enough to keep a car from starting--but faulty spark plugs or an empty gas tank will have the same effect.
Contributory Cause - one that helps to produce an effect but cannot do so by itself.
Ex. Running a red light might help to cause an accident....though other facts -- pedestrians or other cars in the intersection -- must also be present.
o Have I assumed only one cause when many causes may be appropriate?
o Have I incorrectly assumed a causal relationship between two events that immediately follow each other?
o Did I distinguish between long-term and short-term causes and effects. A short-term cause or effect is a single, immediately identifiable event; a long-term cause or effect may be less easy to pinpoint but in the long run more important?
o Did I distinguish between primary (most important) and secondary (ancillary) effects?

When you begin drafting your essay, you may want to use your cause-and-effect diagram as the basis for an outline. Review your notes and identify the most significant causes or effects. It may help to ask yourself the following questions: Who was responsible? Who was affected? Did the event have economic or social ramifications?

Compose a thesis statement that clearly states your topic. Because cause-and-effect essays need a readily identifiable structure, you will almost always write the essay in chronological order. Sometimes, however, you will use reverse chronological order. For example, you might begin with an effect or a series of effects and trace them back to their original cause. Whatever organization you use, write paragraphs with strong, clear topic sentences and relevant supporting details.
As you write, be careful not to overstate your case. Because many causal relationships cannot be proven conclusively, you may want to qualify your statements.
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