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The cause and effect essay, while it can be tedious, is a format every college student should master. Master it, and your college life will be easier. You will have to write one of these essays for almost every class.
The cause and effect essay is a format where you have to demonstrate that you have some knowledge about a topic and that you can apply this knowledge to a cause and effect structure. This way, your instructor can easily judge whether or not you know the material. The tone should be formal, scholarly, specific and direct. Do not inject opinion or speculation. Pick a topic and stay on topic, and back up your argument with facts.
Before you pick a topic, consider how long your assignment is. If it is a short assignment -- say 500 words -- then you can only tackle so much material. In such a short assignment, it may be best to focus on only the "causes" or "effects," but not both.
As with writing in general, be as specific as you can be. This is all the more important when you have limited space. If you only have 500 words to write about China's change from a communism based economy to a capitalism based economy, your argument will become hopelessly lost if you stick to vague generalizations about concepts like "progress." Instead, home in to a specific subject that can actually be examined. For instance, you could focus on a small town in the southern region that once manufactured a type of drill bit that is now obsolete, and now the town's inhabitants are listless beggars.
Cause and effect essays require that you know your facts and information like the back of your hand. This type of essay is essentially asking you to draw a pattern between one set of facts and another. Think of it like a math equation. If your numbers are blurry or changing, then you have no chance to solve the problem. Similarly, if you only half-know your facts, then it is almost impossible to assemble them in a way that makes sense.
So start with the facts first. If you already have command of a set of facts on your topic, use them as the basis for your topic. If you don't know your topic, assemble some very specific facts and think about them. Write down every fact you know. And think about them. Your argument will present itself in short time. Devising an argument before considering the facts will lead to a delusional and inaccurate essay.
Cause and effect is tricky. No one really knows what a cause is. And it is almost impossible to prove that something caused an effect. Even this simple statement:
"Eating fatty foods makes you fat,"
is not so simple. It may not even be true. Therefore, when picking your topic, you should focus on a cause and effect relationship that can be proven. The best way to do this is be as specific as you can be. Aim small, microscopic even. Large global ideas about concepts are almost impossible to prove. Make sure your facts are real, verifiable, specific and unambiguous. Human motives are to be avoided.
Keep it simple. This is not the time to express your creativity or lively intellect. It is an assignment. Chose the simplest topic you can, because when you examine in close detail even a very simple thing, the bonds that hold that thing together fly apart. Chose a topic you can write about precisely. To quote Aristotle:
"We take pleasure in nature's beauty; should not then the living fill us with delight? And all the more if in the spirit of love of knowledge we search for causes and bring to light evidences of meaning. Then will nature's purpose and her deep-seated laws be revealed in all things, all tending in her multitudinous work to work form or another of the beautiful."