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“Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!”1 (Chapter One). In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Alice follows a white rabbit into a world of contradictions and absurdities. Logic and critical thinking are key factors in writing a clear cause and effect essay. So, to avoid any analytical missteps, down the rabbit hole we go to explore cause and effect essays, their structure and outline, and to get some topic ideas.
An image of Alice and the White Rabbit from The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, pixabay.com
A cause and effect essay explores the relationship between events. Its purpose is to investigate how something came to be or how it happened. Using the proverbial image of dropping a rock into the water, the rock causes ripple effects in the water. Since a cause and effect essay is in the expository essay family, it should be written in an objective and academic tone.
Calling something proverbial means that many people relate to it and believe it to be true.
When writing a cause and effect essay, a common mistake is to assume that because one event happened before another, it caused the second event to occur. Correlation means that the two events happened together, such as wearing a new shirt while getting rained on, but faulty logic would say that wearing the new shirt caused the rain. The technical name for falling into this logical trap is the post hoc logical fallacy. Post hoc is a shortened version of the Latin term, “post hoc, ergo propter hoc,” which translates into “after this, therefore because of this.”
Causation is the ability of one factor to alter another. In other words, when two or more objects or events have an observable relationship where one directly influences the other. Therefore, it is essential to establish causation, or your essay will be open to dispute.
Transition and connection words used in cause and effect essays are signals that help establish a relationship between the main points and organize the order of events:
She practiced her favorite hobby every day. Therefore, she got better at it.
He was exhausted, so he took a nap.
Can you find any transition and connection signals in this article?
“Cause” signifiers include:
(A) is the cause of (B)
If (A), then (B)
(A) influences (B)
(A) leads to (B)
(A) is the reason for (B)
(A) resulted in (B)
Some “effect” signifiers are:
As a result
(A) is a result of (B)
(A) affects (B)
Tree with puzzle piece leaves, representing transition and connection signals, pixabay.com
If you can choose your own idea for an essay topic, pick one that interests you, so it will be fun to research and write. History, politics, science, and social sciences are the go-to fields to find a cause and effect topic idea. Here are a few suggestions:
What caused the Civil War?
How did manifest destiny affect Indigenous Americans?
Did Prohibition have long-term effects on alcohol consumption rates?
What effect did JFK’s assassination have on the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War?
What led to the Cold War?
How did the media affect political thought in the 1960s?
Do immunizations cause autism?
Are masks effective against Covid-19?
How does magnesium deficiency affect mental health?
Does social media affect interpersonal relationships?
How do media stereotypes affect Arabic Americans?
Do video games make people more violent?
Choosing a conspiracy theory to write about is tempting. However, unless you can find conventionally reliable sources to back your claim, your essay assignment will most likely not bring in a satisfactory grade. Using conspiracy theories to explore writing a cause and effect essay is an excellent practice. Rules are rules where finding reliable sources is concerned. As you wade through the evidence of your pet theory to write about it, it could help you develop critical thinking skills if you examine the proof through an objective lens. And who knows, maybe you will be the one to disprove the Magic Bullet Theory.
Format the cause and effect essay as a:
Block organization: List all causes first, followed by all effects (magnesium deficiency→depression, anxiety)
Chain organization: Link a single cause to its effect or effects before listing another cause and its effects (manifest destiny→war with Mexico, manifest destiny→mistreatment of Indigenous Americans)
A block organization format is usually used for shorter essays that don't require great detail. However, chain organization helps keep your writing organized when discussing multiple reasons and results.
Organize the cause and effect essay into one of these methods:
Focus on effects: investigates the effect or effects of a set cause. For example, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease result from a sedentary lifestyle.
Focus on causes: examines the cause or causes that lead to a specific effect. For instance, a sedentary lifestyle and smoking cause cardiovascular disease.
A cause and effect essay is structured in a typical essay fashion:
Introduction: Begin your essay with a hook, such as a quote, anecdote, or statistic, to engage the audience’s interest. Relate your subject to the hook to introduce the topic of your essay. Finish the introduction with a thesis statement that concisely details your argument and main points.
Body paragraphs: The number of body paragraphs will vary depending on your topic and cause and effect essay format, but there should be at least three.
Conclusion: Use your conclusion to leave a lasting impression on the audience by wrapping up your cause(s) and effect(s) in an organized and logical manner. Make sure to restate the thesis and avoid introducing new information.
A wooden path representing the logical path of the cause and effect essay, pixabay.com
Before you write an outline for the essay, brainstorm the topic. List all the different causes and effects you can think of, then research the subject to see if there are any that you've missed. Focus on reasons and results that go below the surface of the topic. Going beyond well-known causes and effects makes your writing stand out grade-wise. In addition, it is more engaging for the reader when you offer them something new to consider. You can then outline your essay in various ways depending on how you decide to format and organize it.
|Block Organization||Chain Organization|
|Introduction (Include Hook and Thesis)||Introduction (Include Hook and Thesis)|
|Body Paragraph(s): Cause(s)||Body Paragraph: Cause #1 and Effect(s) #1|
|Transition Sentence or Paragraph||Body Paragraph: Cause #2 and Effect(s) #2|
|Body Paragraph(s): Effect(s)||Body Paragraph: Cause #3 and Effect(s) #3|
|Conclusion (Summarize Main Points and Thesis)||Conclusion (Summarize Main Points and Thesis)|
Read over the sample cause and effect essay:
In his 1830 annual address to Congress, Andrew Jackson said plans to move Indigenous Americans west of the Mississippi River would “perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.”2 International laws that preceded the formation of the United States led the founding fathers and its citizens to believe it was their Christian duty to spread democracy and capitalism. The term manifest destiny evolved from centuries of religious thought and European conquest and refers to the nineteenth-century idea that white American settlers were driven to expand west by God, even if it meant taking land from indigenous settlements.
The sample essay uses the Focus on Causes method, as indicated by a single effect that “evolved from” set causes in its thesis. It is formatted into a block organization. Its hook is a historical quote that illustrates the mindset of the time.
Due to the limited scope of this article, the discussion will begin with Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254). He was responsible for condensing and clarifying the arguments surrounding terra infidelibus, which translates into “land belonging to infidels.” Through terra infidelibus, Pope Innocent IV decreed that although the Catholic Church and Christian rulers had an inborn and God-given right to indoctrinate non-believers, the “infidels'” lands should not be taken from them unless they refused to follow the Church’s “natural law."3 As time passed and the Catholic Empire expanded, land disputes between competing Eurocentric Christian rulers became problematic. Using terra infidelibus as a guide, a series of decrees known as the Romanus Pontifex were issued beginning in 1436, each updated version chipping away at the rights of the conquered indigenous peoples. Consequently, Pope Nicholas V issued a Romanus Pontifex to the king of Portugal in 1455 that set a standard of brutality. This “Doctrine of Discovery,” as it came to be known, gave predated “permission . . . to invade, search out, capture, conquer and subjugate all . . . pagans whatsoever and wherever they exist, together with their kingdoms . . . possessions and whatever goods . . . and to bring their persons into perpetual slavery.”4 The Doctrine of Discovery was ultimately used as a legal precedent in dealing with the indigenous peoples of the United States.
Since the sample essay is an overview of the subject, it chooses a specific point on the causes' timeline to begin its discussion. Transition and connection signals help the ideas of the article connect and flow. A transition sentence lets the reader know the article will shift from the causes to the effect.
In the Supreme Court case Johnson v. McIntosh (1823), Chief Justice John Marshall noted that indigenous people had already lost their rights when the Europeans conquered the “unoccupied lands” of North America.5 The definition of unoccupied meaning not occupied by European Christians. It followed that when the Continental Army defeated the British, the newly-formed United States was entitled to continue to rule over the land and use it as it saw fit. As a result, indigenous people had the right to live on the land but not sell it.5 With this and two additional rulings grouped as the “Marshall Trilogy,” manifest destiny was born.
Again, using transition and connection signals, the effect paragraph hones in on the direct result of the reasons listed.
Belief in the superiority of Christian doctrine and European values formed international laws that put indigenous peoples at a distinct disadvantage. In addition, the desire to expand the Catholic Empire influenced various European nations to claim new territories as their own. These international laws eventually led to the concept of manifest destiny, which stated that it was a God-given duty to extend Western culture and convert non-believers into the Christian faith. Manifest destiny allowed the United States government and citizens to justify taking land established by indigenous people in their push west during the nineteenth century.
A final connection signal is used to state the argument and leave a lasting impression in the audience's mind. The conclusion summarizes the main points and restates the thesis. Note that although the topic deals with an emotional subject, the sample essay is written using an objective tone.
Logical doodles, pixabay.com
1Carroll, Lewis. The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. 1865
2Jackson, Andrew. "President Andrew Jackson's Message to Congress on Indian Removal." Archives.gov. 1830
3Lind, Douglas. "Doctrines of Discovery." Washington University Jurisprudence Review. 2020
4Davenport, Frances Gardiner, Ed. Romanus Pontifex. European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, 1917. Papal Encyclicals Online. 2017
5National Library of Medicine. "1823: Supreme Court Rules American Indians Do Not Own Land." nlm.nih.gov.
A cause and effect essay is an expository essay that explores the relationship between events.
Good cause and effect essay topics include:
To write a cause and effect essay, decide if your topic is best suited to focus on its causes or its effects, then be formatted as:
A cause and effect essay is structured as a typical essay, including an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The organization of the body paragraphs varies depending on how you format your essay.
The purpose of a cause and effect essay is to investigate how something came to be or how it happened.
What is a cause and effect essay?
A cause and effect essay is an expository essay format that explores the relationship between events.
What is correlation?
Correlation is when unrelated events occur simultaneously.
What is causation?
Causation is when one event causes another event to happen.
True or False: Transition words link ideas together.
False: Transition words help the reader move from one idea to another.
Does a chain organization list causes and effects separately from each other?
No. A chain organization links each cause to its effect(s) within a paragraph.
How is a cause and effect essay that focuses on a topic's causes written?
A cause and effect essay that focuses on a topic's causes examines the cause(s) that lead to a specific effect.
How is a cause and effect essay that focuses on a topic's effects written?
A cause and effect essay that focuses on a topic's effects examines the effects of a set cause.
are all examples of what?
They are all examples of transition and connection signals.
What do connection signals do?
Connection signals organize and emphasize your main points by linking them together.
What is "post hoc" short for?
"Post hoc" is short for "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" (after this, therefore because of this).
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