Writing a Cause and Effect Essay Outline

What Defines a Cause and Effect Essay?

An author writes a cause and effect paper in an effort to examine and determine the reasons for, as well as the consequences of, a specific event or action in order to gain a better understanding of the event/process in question. Most curriculums include this type of essay writing because it’s a great way to assess your ability to understand the logic behind various actions or events.

Being able to understand the logic behind cause and effect in your everyday life, and also throughout the world, will benefit you as a writer and will help you avoid a whole range of potential problem in the future. If you often find yourself questioning why something happened, then learning how to write a cause and effect essay will not only improve your writing but also your inherent ability to comprehend.

One of the most important factors in successful writing is knowing how to create an outline. A lot of students choose to ignore an essay outline, simply because they think that writing one takes too much of their precious time. The idea, however, is utterly wrong. Yes, sketching a cause and effect outline takes a bit of time. But, it saves even more time on the writing (and even editing) process. Just think about it – when you sit down to writing, you already have a detailed plan of action. The only thing left is to stick to it. This way, you eliminate all possible distractions and, as a result, write a logical, easy to follow paper. And the last one is what saves some more time on editing & proofreading – no need to rewrite any parts that fall out of the essay flow. Convinced yet? Great, let’s go over all the steps you need to know to write a great cause and effect essay.

Different Types of Cause and Effect Essay

It’s important you first draft the structure before you start working on your essay. Planning ahead is vital to writing a good paper, and creating a structure first will get you there. Remember, you don’t have to waste time trying to reinvent the wheel here; almost every type of essay structure has already been developed and accepted in the academe.

For the most part, there are three different types of cause and effect papers. The main difference between those lies in the number of causes and/or the number of effects, of course. That is, it all depends on how complicated the process/event you are describing is. The and the connections between causes and effect also matter a lot. Let’s go over the three different types of cause and effect essays:

Many causes, one effect

This type of paper shows how a number of different causes can contribute to a specific effect. The purpose of this essay type is to analyze a variety of different reasons that can come from different fields and show how they are responsible for causing a certain effect. For example, if you were to write about global warming, you could show how pollution, overpopulation, and deforestation have all contributed to this problem. If you can examine the issue from different standpoints and base your reasoning on different factors, the essay will only become more impressive and interesting to read.

Here is an example of how to structure this type of cause and effect essay:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body
    • Cause number 1
    • Cause number 2
    • Cause number 3 (etc.)
    • The effect due to the causes
  3. Conclusion

One cause, many effects

For this type of cause and effect paper, you will write about the different effects that were caused by one specific decision, problem, or event. It’s important that you do your research in order to demonstrate that you have an in-depth understanding of the topic. Remember this is not an argumentative essay where you are trying to persuade the reader. Simply state the facts and show how or why it happened due to the effects.

Here is how you should structure this type of cause and effect essay:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body
    • The cause
    • Effect number 1
    • Effect number 2
    • Effects number 3 (etc.)
  3. Conclusion

Chain of causes and effects

For most people, this may be the most difficult type of cause and effect essay to write. Here you will need to show how a series of actions and consequences will lead to a specific conclusion. Although it can be challenging to write, it is often the most interesting and rewarding type of cause and effect essay.

Here is how you should structure this type of cause and effect essay:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body
    • Cause number 1
    • Effect number 1 = Cause number 2
    • Effect number 2 = Cause number 3
    • Effect number 3 = Cause number 4 (etc.)
  3. Conclusion

Example of Cause and Effect Essay Outline

For a better idea of what a cause and effect outline can look like in practice, take a look at the example below. This sample essay focuses on the causes of divorce. So, as you might already understand, it’s going to be ‘many causes, one effect’ type of essay:

  • Introduction: The US has one of the highest divorce rates in the world due to a number of factors, including money, lack of communication and unrealistic expectations.
  • Body:
    • Causes:
      1. Money plays an influential role in our lives, and when one spouse has different spending habits than the other, this can cause a lot of problems. When you’re always working to barely make ends meet, it can cause stress that affects the relationship. (Include statistics about the rates of divorce for couples in different income brackets.)
      2. A lack of communication can quickly lead to frustration and resentment from both parties. Causes: Not talking enough to your partner, insulting one another and yelling at your partner.
      3. Many people may come from single-parent homes or families where parents hid their problems from children, which, in turn, lead to unrealistic expectations from marriage. The excess of romance movies that only show the good can also play a factor in this.
    • Effect: Unless couples can overcome these difficulties together, divorces will continue to be a big problem in the United States. (Add a prognosis about the divorce rates for the next ten years.)
  • Conclusion: Money, lack of communication and unrealistic expectations continue to be some of the top reasons people get divorced today. Unless couples put in the effort and seek professional help when these problems arise, divorce rates will continue to remain high. (Give some examples of how married couples can tackle these issues.)

If you noticed, we used a blended strategy in this essay. When we talked about unrealistic expectations, it’s logical to talk about how the media plays a role in setting unrealistic goals. If you are discussing how to resolve relationship issues, it’s vital that you mention how a therapist can help with this problem.

Now That I’ve drafted the Structure, How do I Start Writing?

To make the writing process even easier, we suggest you start by doing the appropriate research. When you collect all the information you need, structuring each paragraph will no longer seem challenging. Depending on how many statements you plan to discuss in your essay (as well as the cause and effect chain you have in mind), you may not end up with the normal five-paragraph essay. It’s normal for a cause and effect paper, so no need to worry about that.

Now, let’s take a closer look and what you write in all of the structural parts described above.

Introduction: Here you will introduce the topic to the reader. Most people will be able to tell if you know what you are writing about from your thesis statement. To keep your audience’s attention, you need to show how and why the subject of your paper is relevant today. If for instance, you are writing about the conflicts in the Middle East, you can state how the global change towards renewable energy has affected its economy. Also, don’t forget about a thesis statement (that is, the main idea you are going to prove in your paper). It is normally presented in the final sentence of your introduction.

Body: For the body, it’s important that you provide the reader with all the facts that you’ve gathered about what causes prompted the effects. If you did your research, you shouldn’t run into any problems here. However, there are some things you should keep in mind when writing the paper. Try to keep each paragraph around the same length; it not only looks better but is also easier to read. It’s also important that you don’t include unconvincing or weak causes just to reach your word count. Readers will immediately realize that, and your essay will lose credibility.

It’s important that the causes are related to the effects, especially if you are writing a chained cause and effect paper. Give examples to illustrate how the cause applies to the final result. If you don’t take the time to prepare an outline, writing the body can become a difficult and time-consuming task.

Conclusion: Here, you will summarize the thesis statement that you presented at the beginning of your essay. If you have a real understanding of the subject, then you should have no problem writing an effective conclusion. Sometimes you will find that when you write the conclusion, you may find some logical inaccuracies in your essay’s body.

Common Mistakes and Tips


  • Pay special attention to the type of language you use for your essay. Since these types of essays are academic, you’ll want to avoid using informal writing. However, you may also want to avoid using complicated constructions and obscure vocabulary that will make your paper hard to read.
  • It’s important that you become familiar with the theme and all the research material you’ve collected in order to express your own thoughts and opinions on the subject. By using your critical thinking skills, you will be able to compose own arguments about the issue. Using the ideas and words of the researchers can become obvious to the reader.


  • Don’t expect to write a good essay if you haven’t done proper research. It’s important to investigate the topic and read what others have written about it before. Readers will always be able to tell if you know what you are writing about or if you simply pretend to know.
  • Don’t allow your paper to become absurd. This is a mistake that can happen to both advanced and beginner students. Advanced students will sometimes try to put in too much information and write everything they know about the cause and effect essay topic, including history facts, ideas, and theories. On the other hand, beginner students may not know enough to write a convincing and exciting cause and effect essay. Stick to the main idea and ensure that your paper is clear, concise and logical.