There is nothing Casual about Causal-Analysis!
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Guidelines for Writing the Cause/Effect Essay
- Typed MLA formatted Cause/Effect essay, 4 Pages of text
- Plus typed MLA formatted Works Cited page
- Must include in-text citations that identifies when you use the sources in the Works Cited page, at least one per body paragraph
- 4 Sources (two from library databases), no wikis or blogs
- Provide copies of the sources used in the paper: web pages and web sites; scanned pages from printed sources, copies of sources from databases, etc.
- Papers will not be accepted without these minimal requirements.
- Global warming
- Same-sex marriage
- The Second Amendment's meaning
Why a Causal Analysis or Cause/Effect essay?
With the Causal Analysis essay, students are introduced to source-based writing. If 90% of the papers students will write in college are in third person, 98% of the papers will be source-based. With the causal analysis, students will be expected to identify four credible sources for their papers. They will read and assimilate the information, then incorporate it in their work as evidence and support.
While students will probably not write a cause/effect essay in their professional life, being able to recognize and incorporate cause/effect data is important. When studying accidents or plane crashes, investigators attempt to determine the sequence of events that led to the crash. What caused it? When deciding to spend all of that taxpayer money to build the train system in the valley, supporters first gathered data showing the current effects of all of the traffic on the city. Then they provided the probable effects of the train system on the valley based upon similar results from other cities. These are just a couple of ways that causal analysis is utilized in society, so it is important to be able to understand it.
Choosing a topic
Many students find the cause/effect essay hard to write. They struggle with a few aspects. First, they struggle to identify an appropriate topic. The topic needs to cover a true cause/effect relationship. Here are some examples:
- Effects of bullying
- Effects of air pollution on inner-city children
- Causes of childhood diabetes
- Causes of bullying
These topics identify clear cause/effect relationships. In other words, x most definitely causes y, or y is a direct result of x. These topics are focused enough to provide sufficient information to complete a three to four page essay with in-depth analysis of the topic and support from outside sources.
Students make a few mistakes when choosing a topic. One mistake students make is to pick a topic that is too broad; for example, students choose topics like the causes of climate change or the effects of the Great Depression. Books have been written about topics like this. These topics provide too much information to cover in a short paper. Instead of an in-depth analysis, the essay is shallow and rushed. Students need to avoid broad topics like these.
The second mistake students make is confusing causes and reasons. A cause has a direct effect. It explains how it occurred. For example, let's say that I put a glass of water in a freezer that is cold enough to freeze water, what will the outcome be? I get ice. There are laws of physics that operate in this world, and water must obey them. That is how the world works. However, a reason explains why it occurred. The focus of a reason is why something happens. Let's say that I don't study for a test the night before I take it, what will the outcome be? We don't know. This time the outcome is not automatic. While not studying is a bad idea, it does not mean I will fail the test. It is not an inevitable outcome. The reason I may fail the test is because I chose not to study, but I might be confident about this particular information and feel it is unnecessary to study. Thus, students need to pick topics where the relationship between the cause and effect can be clearly established.
Finally, the third mistake students make is confusing causation and correlation. Things can happen at the same time without there being a direct cause/effect relationship. Let's say that there is a five year study that covered an increase in inflation in the United States. At the same time, the study noted that sales in flat-screen televisions had increased. Does that mean that the increase in inflation caused an increase in TV sales? Probably not. There maybe a relationship between the two, but one does not directly cause the other.
Thus, choosing a topic that shows a clear causal relationship is extremely important.
Writing the Causal Analysis/Cause Effect Essay
The cause/effect essay can be split into four basic sections: introduction, body, conclusion and Works Cited page. There are also three basic formats for writing a cause/effect:
- Single effect with multiple causes–air pollution is the effect, and students would identify several causes;
- Single cause with multiple effects–bullying is the cause, and students would establish several effects it has on children;
- Causal Chain–this is complicated, and I try to steer students away from this format. Causal chains show a series of causes and effects. For example. dust storms between Tucson and Phoenix can be deadly causing a chain reaction of accidents. The dust is the initial catalyst. It causes car A to stop. Car B crashes into Car A. Car C crashes into Car B., etc. 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 less 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.
The introduction introduces the reader to the topic. We've all heard that first impressions are important. This is very true in writing as well. The goal is to engage the readers, hook them so they want to read on. One way is to write a narrative. Topics like bullying or divorce hit home. Beginning with a real case study highlights the issue for readers. This becomes an example that you can refer to throughout the paper. The final sentence in the introduction is usually the thesis statement.
Another way to introduce the topic is to ask a question or questions. What are the main causes of schizophrenia? Who is susceptible? The student would then begin a brief discussion defining schizophrenia and explaining its significance. Once again, the final sentence would be a thesis statement introducing the main points that will be covered in the paper.
The body of the essay is separated into paragraphs. Each paragraph covers a single cause or effect. For example, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the two main causes of schizophrenia are genetic and environmental. Thus, if I was writing about the causes of schizophrenia, then I would have a body paragraph on genetic causes of schizophrenia and a body paragraph on the environmental causes. The climate change example would have separate paragraphs that explain each cause/effect relationship: population increases, increases in air pollution due to traffic exhaust and manufacturing, increases in food production and agriculture, deforestation, all causes for climate change and all intricately linked.
A body paragraph should include the following:
- Topic sentence that identifies the topic for the paragraph,
- Several sentences that describes the causal relationship,
- Evidence from outside sources that corroborates your claim that the causal relationship exists,
- MLA formatted in-text citations indicating which source listed on the Works Cited page has provided the evidence,
- Quotation marks placed around any information taken verbatim (word for word) from the source,
- Summary sentence(s) that draws conclusions from the evidence,
- Remember: information from outside sources should be placed in the middle of the paragraph and not at the beginning or the end of the paragraph;
- Be sure and use transitions or bridge sentences between paragraphs.
- Draw final conclusions from the key points and evidence provided in the paper;
- Tie in the introduction. If you began with a story, draw final conclusions from that story;
- If you began with a question(s), refer back to the question(s) and be sure to provide the answer(s).
Works Cited page
- A Works Cited page is a type of bibliography that is formatted according to the Modern Language Association's (MLA) guidelines;
- Citations are double spaced and placed in alphabetical order by the author's last name;
- If there is no author, then the title is used;
- The first line of each entry is placed on the left margin with subsequent lines of that entry indented a half inch.
Answer the following prompts regarding the Cause/Effect Essay referring to the previous information presented here. Be sure to use complete sentences:
1) Explain the three mistakes students can make in writing the Cause/Effect Essay.
2) How might you need to analyze causes of a problem or situation in your lives outside of school? Provide two examples.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License by Lynn McClelland.