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What Is a Cause-Effect Essay?

By T. Carrier
Updated May 23, 2024
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Essays are forms of composition designed to provide information and to prove an assertion. One type, the cause-effect essay, asserts that a cause-and-effect relationship esists between two distinct events. In other words, the circumstances of event A led to event B occurring. Another type of cause-effect essay is one in which multiple effects from a singular cause are discussed, or vice versa.

Generally speaking, a cause-effect essay often takes the form of five-paragraph essay writing. Therefore, the essay might begin with an introductory paragraph that provides a general overview of the topic and gives a narrative outline for the paper. If the essay is persuasive in nature, the main sentence in this paragraph will often consist of a thesis statement that makes some assertion, such as linking a cause to an effect. Although the exact number of middle paragraphs may vary, the paper's body is reserved for elaborating on the general information provided in the introduction by offering research facts, quotes, and analysis. The last paragraph in this type of essay will usually provide a summary of the essay's main points, while offering some concluding thoughts.

The first key step in composing persuasive cause-effect papers is establishing the cause. This involves providing a detailed account of the event. For example, if an individual wanted to argue that the bombing of naval base Pearl Harbor led to the United States’ entrance into World War II, then the writer must first detail the circumstances and actual events of the bombing.

In turn, the writer must establish the end result, or the effect. Taking the above example, the writer would outline when and how the United States entered the war. A brief background of the war itself might also be provided.

The bulk of a persuasive cause-effect essay involves linking the cause to the effect. This process entails researching and compiling as many linking factors as possible. Ideally, each linking factor should be contained within its own paragraph or section. For the Pearl Harbor example, a paragraph might be devoted to issues like public outcry and government policies regarding foreign aggression, among other factors. The focus in these sections is on proving that the instigating event led to the effect above any other possible causes.

While a cause-effect essay may take the form of persuasion, this type of essay can also function as an explanatory essay. For this type of format, the writer might take an event or action — such as the 1929 American stock market crash — and detail all of the effects of that event. As such, an essay about the stock market crash might explain the economic, political, and cultural happenings that occurred after that event. In addition to explaining multiple effects, a cause-effect essay might also outline several causes for an occurring event or action. The market crash essay might thus detail numerous factors that contributed to the crash.

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