Cause and Effect Essay Examples

As you make your way through middle school, high school, and college, your instructors will assign a number of different essays for you to write. You may need to explore a topic with an expository essay, for example. When you’re asked to write a cause and effect essay, you need to first understand its basic structure and purpose. Review the example below for an idea of how to approach this type of essay.

homeless man sitting on stairs homeless man sitting on stairs

Basic Structure and Purpose

The purpose of an essay will determine its structure and format. The way you approach an informative essay, for instance, is going to be different from how you choose to write an argumentative essay.

Sometimes called reason and result essays, cause and effect essays examine an event or situation. They explore how this event or situation came into being (the “cause”) and what is happening because of this event or situation (the “effect”). In other words, the purpose of these types of essays is to explore the “why” or “how” of a situation.

A basic cause and effect essay structure would look like this:

  1. Introduction: Describe the event or situation your essay will explore. Include your thesis statement, which may focus on what you think is the main cause or effect of the event or situation.
  2. Body Paragraphs (Causes): Start with what you feel is the main cause of the event, providing evidence to back up your argument. Then, follow with describing secondary causes.
  3. Body Paragraphs (Effects): Just as with the causes, here you’ll start with the biggest or most important effect of the situation. Again, provide evidence to back up your argument. Subsequent paragraphs can then discuss other effects worth noting.
  4. Conclusion: Reiterate your thesis statement and summarize the main points of your essay, showing how they support your thesis.

Alternatively, you may choose to discuss the effects before you talk about the causes. It depends on the argument you’re trying to make or where you’d like to place greater emphasis. If you want to focus more on the causes, that section can be larger than the section on effects, for example. Either approach is acceptable, as long as your essay flows naturally.

Sample Cause and Effect Essay: Homelessness

The following example of a cause and effect essay illustrates how this basic structure plays out in practice. Be sure to check out our other essay examples for more guidance as well.

The homeless epidemic is a serious problem in nearly every major city across the country. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are over 500,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night. It’s a difficult challenge to tackle precisely because it is so multi-faceted, both in terms of its causes and its far-reaching effects. Homelessness affects not only the people who must struggle to survive on the street, but also the business owners or residents in the neighborhoods. Petty crime and drug abuse are common. While many factors have contributed to the rise in homeless rates, one of the most profound is the lack of adequate social support services.

By definition, a homeless person is someone without a permanent home. They may seek shelter in parking garages, ATM vestibules, and subway stations. On a purely practical level, if a city can provide enough homeless shelters and other forms of affordable housing, the people who would otherwise sleep on the streets can sleep far more safely with a consistent roof over their heads.

Social support services, whether they are funded publicly or privately, would be able to tackle many of the immediate and long-term challenges that face people experiencing homelessness. In addition to providing adequate and reliable shelter, services like drug counselling, treatment for physical or emotional abuse, and career counselling can address some of the factors that lead to homelessness.

The individual stories of each person going through homelessness will vary. What is often found, though, is that the homelessness came about because of a series of events. A person may unexpectedly lose their job, which may lead to family problems at home, which may lead to drug abuse as a coping mechanism, which may lead to further financial stress, and so on. Appropriate social services at any point in this process may be able to prevent homelessness from becoming this person’s reality.

The effects of homelessness are equally complex and can be mirror images of the root causes. Because the person is experiencing homelessness, this may put profound strain on personal relationships. Drug abuse can become an issue, as the person seeks some way of coping with the pain and hardship of living on the streets. This leads to a downward spiral that drives the person deeper and deeper into the depths of crippling poverty and isolation.

The impact extends well beyond the individual, too. As homelessness becomes an increasingly visible issue in a neighborhood, home values can plummet. Middle and working class families may move out, providing a bigger opening for various forms of crime. Businesses may close as the area becomes too prone to theft and property crime.

Every city, every neighborhood faces unique challenges when it comes to homelessness. While the specific root causes can vary between individuals, the lack of adequate social services is a leading contributor. The right social services can address, reduce or even remove some of these other underlying causes. With powerful effects for both the individual and society at large, homelessness is a pressing issue and one that must be approached with tact and compassion.

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Essay Topic Ideas

Having a tough time coming up with an idea for your cause and effect essay? Take a look at some of the sample topics below for inspiration.

  • School bullying: What are some of the contributing factors that lead someone into becoming a bully in the first place? What impact can bullying have on its victims?
  • Social media addiction: Do personal or cultural factors play a bigger role in whether someone becomes addicted to social media in the first place? What are the effects that such an addiction can have on a student’s life?
  • Rush hour traffic: Focusing on a specific area or roadway, why can traffic get really bad during a certain time of day? If these factors were addressed, would traffic flow more smoothly?
  • Childhood obesity: Obesity rates are at an all-time high. Why is this the case? What has changed in the last few decades? What are some of the most pressing health issues for children who are obese?
  • Climate change: Are individual choices, like drinking from a reusable bottle, making as much of an impact in slowing or preventing climate change as larger factors, like industry practices? Who are the biggest polluters?
  • Music streaming: It used to be the case that most people would buy their music in some form, like on cassette or as an MP3 download, but music streaming services have become the norm. Why did this happen? What does it mean for artists and the music industry as a whole?
  • Vaping among teens: Many health professionals are getting increasingly concerned about the vaping trend among teenagers. How did this trend come about? Are the supposed health risks as bad as they sound?

Some topics that you may have considered for other types of essays can be adapted to cause and effect essays too. Look through our list of argumentative essay topics for more ideas. Just remember that you may want to avoid certain essay topics if you really want to stand out!


Start With an Outline

Before you can start writing a cause and effect essay, you need to determine what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. That’s why it’s incredibly helpful to start with an essay outline or organize your thoughts. It’s equally important to craft an excellent thesis statement, as it will serve as the backbone for your essay as a whole.