26 Composition: Cause-and-Effect Strategies

Two hands on a blue keyboard of a laptop on a table

What does “cause and effect” mean?

An analysis of cause and effect explains the relationships between two situations and describes the reasons for the results or the consequences of certain actions.

It is often considered human nature to ask, “why?” and “how?” We want to know how our child got sick so we can better prevent it from happening in the future. We want to know why our co-worker received a pay raise because we want one as well. We want to know how much money we will save over the long term if we buy a hybrid car.

When we ask ourselves questions like these, we are looking to find possible causes or identify potential effects. A cause is something that produces an event or condition. An effect is what results from an event or condition. A cause is the ignition of a phenomenon, whereas an effect is the resulting explosion.

“Cause and effect are two sides of one fact.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why do you write cause-and-effect essays?

The purpose of the cause-and-effect essay is to determine how various phenomena relate in terms of reasons and results. Sometimes the connection between cause and effect is clear, but often determining the exact relationship between the two is very difficult. For example, the following effects of a cold may be easily identifiable: a sore throat, a runny nose, and a cough. But determining the cause of the sickness can be far more difficult. A number of causes are possible, and to make things more complicated, it could be a combination! That is, more than one cause may be responsible for any given effect. Therefore, cause-and-effect discussions are often complicated and can lead to debate. Here are some different types of purpose and examples of more specific questions for an essay to answer:

You might wonder … More specifically …
Why do people do that? Why are there mass shootings in schools?
Why does this happen? Why do people have nightmares?
Why is this a trend? Why has the TV Show “Survivor” been so popular for so many years?
What are the effects? What happens when children watch movies with lots of violence?

Try it

INSTRUCTIONS: Look at these examples: and identify the cause and the effect in each statement:

  1. The growing childhood obesity epidemic is a result of technology.
  2. Much of the wildlife is dying because of the oil spill.
  3. The town continued programs that it could no longer afford, so it went bankrupt.
  4. More young people became politically active as use of the internet spread throughout society.
  5. While many experts believed the rise in violence was due to the poor economy, it was really due to the summer-long heat wave.

Look again at the examples above. What might be the question(s) that essay will answer?

How do you organize a cause-and-effect essay?

All essays have the same basic format:


  • hook to get reader’s attention
  • background information
  • thesis statement (topic + claim)


  • each paragraph with topic sentence and supporting details


  • restate the thesis
  • summarize the main points
  • wrap it up (suggestion, prediction, opinion, comment, etc.)

However, a cause-and-effect essay may organize the body paragraphs in different ways:

Block format

  • Identify a cause and examine its effects
  • Identify an effect and examine its causes

Examples of Block Format

Chain format

Follow a chain of causes and effects (a causes b, b causes c, c causes d, etc.)

Example of Chain Format

Try it

INSTRUCTIONS: Imagine a cause-and-effect essay about the topic of “no sleep.” What are its causes? What are its effects? Use each diagram below to brainstorm ideas for this essay and how it could be organized. Then move the slider from right to left to reveal one possible answer. NOTE: There are more than one correct answer.


How can you connect our ideas in a cause-and-effect essay?

The words you use to connect ideas help the reader understand the relationship. They indicate which idea is a cause and which idea is an effect. Here are some examples:



  • The first cause of (Y) is (X)
  • The next reason is (X)
  • Because of (X), (Y)
  • As a result of (X), (Y)
  • As a consequence of (X), (Y)
  • because/since/as (X)
  • to result from (X)
  • (X) results in (Y)
  • to be the result of (X)
  • (Y) is due to (X)
  • Owing to (X), (Y)
  • (Y) is because of (X)
  • (Y) is the effect of (X)
  • (Y) is the consequence of (X)


Worsening pollution levels in cities are due to the increased use of cars.

Because of the increased use of cars, pollution levels in cities are worsening.

As a result of the increased use of cars, pollution levels in cities are worsening.

The effect of the increased use of cars is a worsening of pollution levels in cities.


  • The first effect of (X) is (Y)
  • Another result of (X) is (Y)
  • As a result, (Y)
  • As a consequence, (Y)
  • Consequently (Y)
  • Therefore, (Y)
  • Thus (Y)
  • Hence (Y)
  • (X) results in (Y)
  • (X) causes (Y)
  • (X) has an effect on (Y)
  • (X) affects (Y)
  • (X) is one of the causes of (Y)
  • (X) is the reason for (Y)


Cars are used increasingly for urban transport. As a consequence, pollution levels in cities are worsening.

Increased use of cars for urban transport adversely affects pollution levels in cities.

Increased use of cars for urban transport is one of the causes of worsening pollution levels in cities.


There is a famous idiom in research: Correlation does not imply causation. 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 for causality, which can lead you to some faulty logic. For example, people often complain that as soon as they finish washing their car, it starts to rain. Obviously, washing a car does not cause rain. Writers need to be sure that the causes and effects they describe are logically connected.

Try it

INSTRUCTIONS: Use the cause-and-effect paragraph below to answer the questions that follow.

Video game addiction is a problem that can have many negative effects. When someone is addicted to a video game, they cannot control themselves. As a result, they play for hours at a time and cannot stop. Consequently, they never leave the house. They might miss work and lose their jobs. A person addicted to video games might even lose their friends because sometimes they don’t even shower! Video games can be fun, but addiction is not because its effects are serious.

  1. What is the general subject?
  2. What is being described — causes, effects, or both?
  3. What vocabulary suggests cause-and-effect?
  4. How is the information organized — block or chain?

Example cause-and-effect essay

Look closely now at this example cause-and-effect essay. Read closely and notice how it mirrors the cause-and-effect paragraph above. Then answer the questions that follow.

George Spelvin
ESOL 252 Level 7 Writing
January 15, 2023

A No-Win Situation

        Video game addiction is a serious problem in many parts of the world today and deserves more attention. It is no secret that children and adults in many countries throughout the world, including Japan, China, and the United States, play video games every day. Most players are able to limit their usage in ways that do not interfere with their daily lives, but many others have developed an addiction to playing video games and suffer detrimental effects.

        An addiction can be described in several ways, but generally speaking, addictions involve unhealthy attractions to substances or activities that ultimately disrupt the ability of a person to keep up with regular daily responsibilities. Video game addiction typically involves playing games uncontrollably for many hours at a time—some people will play only four hours at a time while others cannot stop for over 24 hours. Regardless of the severity of the addiction, many of the same effects will be experienced by all.

        One common effect of video game addiction is isolation and withdrawal from social experiences. Video game players often hide in their homes or in Internet cafés for days at a time—only reemerging for the most pressing tasks and necessities. The effect of this isolation can lead to a breakdown of communication skills and often a loss in socialization. While it is true that many games, especially massive multiplayer online games, involve a very real form of e-based communication and coordination with others, and these virtual interactions often result in real communities that can be healthy for the players, these communities and forms of communication rarely translate to the types of valuable social interaction that humans need to maintain typical social functioning. As a result, the social networking in these online games often gives the users the impression that they are interacting socially, while their true social lives and personal relations may suffer.

        Another unfortunate product of the isolation that often accompanies video game addiction is the disruption of the user’s career. While many players manage to enjoy video games and still hold their jobs without problems, others experience challenges at their workplace. Some may only experience warnings or demerits as a result of poorer performance, or others may end up losing their jobs altogether. Playing video games for extended periods of time often involves sleep deprivation, and this tends to carry over to the workplace, reducing production and causing habitual tardiness.

        Video game addiction may result in a decline in overall health and hygiene. Players who interact with video games for such significant amounts of time can go an entire day without eating and even longer without basic hygiene tasks, such as using the restroom or bathing. The effects of this behavior pose significant danger to their overall health.

        The causes of video game addiction are complex and can vary greatly, but the effects have the potential to be severe. Playing video games can and should be a fun activity for all to enjoy. But just like everything else, the amount of time one spends playing video games needs to be balanced with personal and social responsibilities.


INSTRUCTIONS: Use the example cause-and-effect essay above to answer the questions below.

  1. What is the general subject of the essay? Does the essay discuss causes, effects or both?
  2. What is the context of this essay? Who is the audience? What is its purpose?
  3. Describe the hook. How does it work? Is it effective?
  4. What is the thesis? How does the author restate the thesis in the conclusion paragraph?
  5. What is the topic of each body paragraph? Does it describe a cause, an effect, or both?
  6. How is the essay organized? Block or chain? How do you know?
  7. Look again at the essay. Do you see any dependent clauses? Identify one adjective clause, one noun clause, and one adverb clause.


INSTRUCTIONS: Use the information above to answer the questions below.

1. The purpose of the cause-and-effect essay is to determine how various ideas relate in terms of reasons and results. True or false?

2. A cause-and-effect essay follows the same basic outline as other essays: introduction, body, conclusion. True or false?

3. A cause is something that produces an event or condition. An effect is what results from an event or condition. True or false?

4. In theory, a cause-and-effect essay can have one or more causes; one or more effects, or a mixture of both. True or false?

5. Match each word with its synonym:

effects reasons
causes results

6. Match the example cause-and-effect question with its purpose:

What happens when the U.S. takes away the visas of international students? Why do people do that?
Why do some people leave everything behind for a new country? Why does this happen?
Why do men and women have different rights in some parts of the world? Why is this a trend?
Why are the number of protests against racism and police brutality continuing to grow? What are the effects?

7. Which of the following words indicate effect? (choose 3):

  • As a result, …
  • The next reason is …
  • Therefore, …
  • Consequently, …
  • The first cause of … is ….
  • Owing to ….

8. Choose all the words or phrases that indicate cause (choose 3):

  • Thus, ….
  • Therefore, …
  • The first cause is …
  • … to result from ….
  • Hence,
  • The next reason is …

9. What are the two formats for a cause-and-effect essay? (choose 2):

  • block
  • introduction
  • chain
  • definition
  • outline
  • compare/contrast

10. Label each diagram. What is the organizational structure — block or chain? What parts are causes? What parts are effects?

Black Chain Organizer

Blank Cause to Effect Organizer

Blank Effect to Causes Organizer




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