Cause and Effect

Learning Objectives

  • Describe techniques for highlighting cause and effect

Cause and effect is a rhetorical style that discusses, not surprisingly, which causes lead to which results. What are the causes of cancer (effect)? What are the effects of smoking (cause)?

You may find that you are assigned to write a cause and effect essay for a writing class, but you might also encounter cause and effect assignments in other disciplines. For example, you may be asked to write about the causes of the decline of a particular company in your business class, or you may be asked to write about the causes of the rise in obesity rates in the United States for your nursing class.

Icons showing the cause lead to effects.

Figure 1. A cause and effect essay is structured around the goal of discovering and discussing events that lead to certain results.

When writing a cause and effect essay, you should be sure that you have researched the specific causes and are confident that you’re demonstrating why they lead to particular results. You may either concentrate on causes, effects, or a combination of both.

NOTE: It’s important to remember that just because an event occurs before an effect does not mean that they are related. You may be mistaking chronological order or correlation for causality, which can lead you to some faulty logic. For example, just because people who own dogs walk more, doesn’t mean that owning a dog causes people to walk more. (It may be that people who like walking and walk a lot are more likely to own dogs.)


There are three basic formats for writing a cause/effect essay:

  1. Single effect with multiple causes–air pollution is the effect, and students would identify several causes.
  2. Single cause with multiple effects–bullying is the cause, and students would establish several effects it has on children.
  3. Causal Chain–This is a more complex format. Causal chains show a series of causes and effects. For example, the global COVID-19 pandemic caused a decrease in pedestrian fatalities from car crashes. How? The pandemic caused more people to shelter in place and reduced driving overall. With fewer cars on the road, pedestrian deaths from cars were reduced.

Climate change is a good example of a causal chain topic. Population increase is causing an increase in traffic and greenhouse gases. It is also causing an increase in deforestation for housing, roads, and farming. Deforestation means fewer plants to take up the CO2 and release O2 into the environment. Each item causes an effect. That effect causes another effect. All of this contributes to climate change.


Cause and effect essays often begin with a general introduction to the topic, then follow with a thesis statement that includes the main cause and main effect or effects. They often use words like as a result of, because, since, consequently, due to, or therefore.

The essays are often organized by either 1] explaining the cause and then the effects or 2] explaining the effects and then the causes.

For example, if your essay were about how high schoolers jam-packed schedules, high demands, and early mornings cause increased anxiety, you could start by talking about a day in the life of a high-school student, then talk about the effects.

No matter which method you choose, be sure to support the claims and connections in your cause and effect essay fully with appropriate evidence. In your conclusion, reiterate the thesis and connection between the cause and effect, and help the reader understand the most important takeaway of the essay. Remember to answer the “So what?” question for your reader.

Sample Essay

Now that you have had the chance to learn about cause and effect essays, it’s time to see one in practice. Here you’ll see a traditional or typical sample cause and effect essay from a beginning writing class. In this assignment, the student was asked to write a cause and effect essay on a topic he chose and to follow APA guidelines for the essay.

link to Learning

For a variety of easy to print graphic organizers that will help you organize your cause and effect essay, go to the Education Oasis website and click on Cause and Effect. You can click on any of the 10 charts and print a copy or save one to your desktop.