A few years ago, the clothes dryer in our home died. Since this dryer is more than 30 years old, and we’ve already fixed it three or four times, my wife and I assumed we’d finally have to buy a new one. We began by talking to friends who had recently purchased a new dryer of their own, and, then, we looked at Consumer Reports for the best models and prices. Once I looked at the prices of a new dryer, however, I decided to take the dryer apart one more time to see if I could determine the cause of the machine’s malfunction. And taking something apart is exactly what you should do whenever you’re trying to write a cause-and-effect essay.
With a cause-and-effect essay, you’re essentially investigating an event or a subject or a question. One way to approach this type of essay is to sketch a timeline. If, for instance, you’re writing about a car accident where a driver hit a telephone pole, you use the accident itself as the center point for your timeline. Then, since the causes had to precede the accident, you should list them to the left, and since the effects follow, you should list them to the right. Next, you will want to order these causes and effects.
Assume, for example, that the accident occurred because the driver was speeding, the road was wet, and a child had run in front of the car. After examining each cause, you might decide that the primary cause was the speeding, the secondary cause was the child in the road, and the third cause was the wet road.
Next, you examine the effects and determine the following order: when the driver swerved to avoid the child, the car slid on the wet surface and hit the pole, and (1) the accident knocked out power to the neighborhood; (2) the driver totaled his car; and (3) he broke both legs.
At this point, you could write a short, basic cause-and-effect essay and concentrate solely on the immediate causes and/or effects, those closely connected to the accident. However, you could also explore further to determine the remote causes and/or effects, those much further removed from the accident itself.
For instance, you might ask why was the driver speeding in the first place? Perhaps he was drunk, and he was drinking because his girlfriend broke up with him, and she did so because he watched too much football on television. Similarly, at the other end of the timeline, you might find out that because this driver broke both legs, he lost his job and income, which caused him to default on all his loan payments, so he turned to crime, and after being arrested for Internet fraud, he ended up in jail. While this particular example is fabricated and bizarre, the reader can at least see the connections on the timeline between the implied idea that too much football viewing can lead to jail time.
This cause-and-effect style of writing is extremely common in history courses. Your instructor, for example, may ask you to explain the causes of the Civil War or the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation. In some cases, too, you may have to write about both causes and effects, or you may have to examine a chain of events. You may even be asked to explain hypothetical questions such as the following: If Donald Trump or Joe Biden were elected president, what effect would his election have on the national debt?
Finally, your inquiring mind is probably still wondering what effect that broken dryer had on our household chores and our budget. Fortunately, that story has a happy ending. When I took the dryer apart, I discovered that the problem was merely a broken fan belt, a part that I could easily replace for only $25, and I could install it myself. Thus, the final effect on our budget wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it might be, and this fact caused me to celebrate by taking my wife out to dinner.