A cause and effect essay explores why something happens and what results.

A cause and effect essay explores why something happens (its cause) and what results (the effect).

When writing a cause and effect essay you’ll need to distinguish cause from effect. In theory you can identify causes by asking "What is it that made this happen?". Then you identify effects by asking "What happened?". For example, I’m wet because I’ve been out in the rain. The effect is my being wet. The cause of my being wet is having been outside while it was raining. This is a somewhat trivial example, an essay about me being out in the rain is unlikely to win prizes!

In reality it may be much harder to separate causes from effects. Sometimes many causes may contribute to a single effect, for example cancer can be the result of various contributing causes including genetic predisposition and exposure to carcinogenic substances in the environment (of which there are numerous sources). On the other hand many effects may result from a single cause, for example the closure of a factory may cause job losses and the hardships that go with that, but it could also affect the economy in numerous other ways, for example by reducing the competition for other competing businesses or taking away the market of a main supplier. Main effects may in turn lead to secondary effects, so that one has to untangle a chain of events.

One cause and effect essay topic that makes an interesting example is that of climate change. The effect is climate change, but that in itself is complex and different in different parts of the world, with changes in temperature, rainfall and the frequency and severity of high winds and storms. The causes are complicated too. You might, for example, say that climate change is in part due to the ozone hole, but that has it’s causes, such as pollution. What’s more climate change itself is, or is likely to be, the cause of some pretty drastic events, from tsunamis, to increased sea-levels that could flood coasts and even whole islands, to changes in agricultural conditions and wildlife.

Clearly you should define the scope of your cause and effect essay topic relatively early on, in order that it doesn’t get out of hand. It would be better to limit your essay so that you cover some area in detail. If you try to write a little bit about everything then your essay will end up either being enormously long or rather superficial, or possibly both. What’s more researching a wide-ranging cause and effect essay topic would be a long and difficult task.

There may be times when you’ll need to qualify your statements about cause and effect. The exact nature of the relationship between events may not always be clear and you might want to discuss this in the light of examples, research and statistics.

When you’ve defined the scope of your cause and effect essay topic you’ll also need to decide on your purpose: that is whether you’re writing to persuade or inform. This will depend on the topic chosen and whether it is in any way contentious or otherwise open to debate, or whether you are discussing established facts.

Because of the difficulties that can arise in distinguishing causes and effects it’s important to introduce your essay carefully and clearly. Introduce your main idea and tell the reader what the scope of the essay will be. State what are the main cause(s) and effect(s) you will be discussing. You may find it useful to revise your essay introduction after you’ve finished the main body. See the main section on essay writing to find out more about writing your cause and effect essay.