All Subjects

Historical Thinking Skills

Causation in the AP Histories

7 min read • june 24, 2020

Jennifer Dumas

Jennifer Dumas

AP World History: Modern   🌍

College board description.

Understanding the difference between primary and secondary causes and between short-term and long-term effects

Causes and Effects of a specific historical development or process

The Relationship between Causes and Effects of a specific Historical Event or Process

Primary cause

Secondary cause

Short-term effect

Long-term effect


Stay Connected

© 2023 Fiveable Inc. All rights reserved.

A Guide to Writing a Cause and Effect Essay

Lindsay Kramer

In your academic career, you’ll write a lot of essays. You’ll write some to inform your readers about a topic and others to analyze an idea. Some will argue for or against a specific position, while others will persuade the reader to take action. Authors use various strategies to achieve each of these goals, and one of the strategies they use to inform readers is the cause and effect essay .

As its name implies, a cause and effect essay explains how certain causes result in specific effects. Knowing how to write an effective cause and effect essay is an important skill for students in just about every academic field to develop. Give your writing extra polish Grammarly helps you communicate confidently Write with Grammarly

What is a cause and effect essay?

A cause and effect essay is a type of expository essay that explores its topic by discussing the issue’s causes and consequences. For example, a cause and effect essay about deforestation’s role in climate change might discuss a few of deforestation’s specific causes, like a demand for wood and the clearing of land for grazing pastures, and then explain how these causes create effects that contribute to climate change. 

As with other types of expository essays, the purpose of a cause and effect essay is to educate the reader. As an expository essay writer, think of yourself as the informed explainer who gives their readers the information they need to think critically about a topic and reach their own conclusions. Your goal isn’t to persuade, argue, or entertain your readers—although there are instances when authors of argumentative and persuasive essays use cause and effect rhetoric in their writing. It’s also possible to write a creative essay using the cause and effect format. However, within the realm of academic essay writing , a cause and effect essay is an expository piece of writing. 

Cause and effect essays are similar to other kinds of expository essays in that they present facts in a clear, logical format. They employ an objective, analytical tone and stay away from flowery and inciting language. This is how they differ from argumentative, persuasive, and descriptive essays. You might use the passive voice more frequently in cause and effect essays than in other kinds of essays, especially in cause and effect essays you write for your science courses. 

How to structure a cause and effect essay

Structurally, a cause and effect essay is similar to other types of essays. It starts with an introduction paragraph where you hook your reader, state your thesis, and give a quick preview of the points you’ll make to support your thesis. 

Following the introduction, each point supporting your thesis has its own section. Each section can be as short as one paragraph or contain a few paragraphs, depending on how much information you need to convey and whether your essay must adhere to a word count or page limit. There are a few different ways to organize your essay’s body paragraphs. You can discuss each cause, section by section, and then discuss each effect afterward (if there is only one effect, include just a single section about it). Alternatively, you can discuss each cause and effect pair individually, giving each pair its own section. 

The best structure for your essay depends on a few factors:

For example, if your essay is about a single effect with multiple causes, it might be most logical to discuss all the causes first and then write a section on their shared effect. Or if the causes and effects are more isolated from each other and you need room to explain how they fit into the bigger picture, the logical choice might be to give each cause and effect pair its own section and then tie them together in your essay’s conclusion.

As with other kinds of academic writing, the most logical structure is typically the best approach. If you aren’t sure how to structure your essay, ask your instructor for guidance. 

After writing the body paragraphs, write your essay’s conclusion . This final section summarizes the points you made in the body, underscores your thesis, and brings your essay’s position to a logical conclusion. 

How to write a cause and effect essay

To write a cause and effect essay, follow the same writing process that you follow when you’re doing other kinds of writing. Start with brainstorming your topic and jotting down any insights you have, questions you want to answer, associations you plan to make between topics, and facts you intend to reference. 

After brainstorming , take your notes and create an organized outline . Remember, your essay outline is a guideline for you to follow as you write, not a final script your essay has to follow. List each section as a header in your outline and below it write down the bullet points you plan to cover within that section. Outlining makes it easy to visualize how your final essay will look and to determine where each body paragraph logically fits into the structure. 

Once your outline is finished, it’s time to write! But before you dive into your first draft, nail down your thesis statement , if you haven’t already. This is a concise and informative statement that tells the reader exactly what your essay is about. It goes in your introduction paragraph, and each body paragraph that follows should support this statement. 

With your thesis statement prepared, write your body paragraphs using your notes from your brainstorming session. Remember what kind of essay you’re writing and frame its body paragraphs accordingly—if a supporting paragraph doesn’t clearly show how its subject is a cause leading to a specific effect, reframe it to fit this format. Remember, you’re only on the first draft, and there will be time to revise it later. 

Once you’re finished writing, give your essay time to cool off. Ideally, take about twenty-four hours before you edit it. When you go back and edit, pay close attention to how you’ve presented each cause and effect. Ask yourself the following questions:

With the answers to these questions in mind, revise your essay to ensure that the content is presented in the clearest, most logical way possible. At this stage, also make sure your essay’s tone is appropriate and that there are not any glaring spelling or grammatical errors. You’ll check for these again when you proofread; the editing stage is primarily for revising your essay’s content. 

With a clean, revised second draft in hand, give it another proofread for grammatical mistakes. Grammarly can help you with this. Once it’s cleaned up, you’re ready to submit your work. 

Example outline of a cause and effect essay

As we mentioned above, there are a few different ways to structure a cause and effect essay. Here is one: 

This format isn’t ideal for every essay, though. In some cases, a format like this makes the content clearer:

When you’re revising your essay, feel free to play around with the format and see which makes more sense for the information you’re writing about. You’ll likely use each of these formats in different essays depending on their specific content. 

Cause and effect essay FAQs

A cause and effect essay is an expository essay that explains the relationships between specific conditions and their consequences, often within the context of a big-picture issue. These conditions are known as “causes,” and their consequences are known as “effects.” 

What is the purpose of a cause and effect essay?

The purpose of a cause and effect essay is to educate the reader about how specific conditions are linked to certain repercussions. 

How do you structure a cause and effect essay?

There are a few different ways to structure a cause and effect essay. Here are two of the most common: 

how to write a cause and effect essay apush

Logo for M Libraries Publishing

Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.

10.8 Cause and Effect

Learning objectives.

The Purpose of Cause and Effect in Writing

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, or why our colleague 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. These examples identify only a few of the relationships we think about in our lives, but each shows the importance of understanding cause and effect.

A cause is something that produces an event or condition; an effect is what results from an event or condition. The purpose of the cause-and-effect essay is to determine how various phenomena relate in terms of origins 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, 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 complicate matters, these possible causes could have combined to cause the sickness. That is, more than one cause may be responsible for any given effect. Therefore, cause-and-effect discussions are often complicated and frequently lead to debates and arguments.

Use the complex nature of cause and effect to your advantage. Often it is not necessary, or even possible, to find the exact cause of an event or to name the exact effect. So, when formulating a thesis, you can claim one of a number of causes or effects to be the primary, or main, cause or effect. As soon as you claim that one cause or one effect is more crucial than the others, you have developed a thesis.

Consider the causes and effects in the following thesis statements. List a cause and effect for each one on your own sheet of paper.

Write three cause-and-effect thesis statements of your own for each of the following five broad topics.

The Structure of a Cause-and-Effect Essay

The cause-and-effect essay opens with a general introduction to the topic, which then leads to a thesis that states the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event.

The cause-and-effect essay can be organized in one of the following two primary ways:

For example, if your essay were on childhood obesity, you could start by talking about the effect of childhood obesity and then discuss the cause or you could start the same essay by talking about the cause of childhood obesity and then move to the effect.

Regardless of which structure you choose, be sure to explain each element of the essay fully and completely. Explaining complex relationships requires the full use of evidence, such as scientific studies, expert testimony, statistics, and anecdotes.

Because cause-and-effect essays determine how phenomena are linked, they make frequent use of certain words and phrases that denote such linkage. See Table 10.4 “Phrases of Causation” for examples of such terms.

Table 10.4 Phrases of Causation

The conclusion should wrap up the discussion and reinforce the thesis, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of the relationship that was analyzed.

Be careful of resorting to empty speculation. In writing, speculation amounts to unsubstantiated guessing. Writers are particularly prone to such trappings in cause-and-effect arguments due to the complex nature of finding links between phenomena. Be sure to have clear evidence to support the claims that you make.

Look at some of the cause-and-effect relationships from Note 10.83 “Exercise 2” . Outline the links you listed. Outline one using a cause-then-effect structure. Outline the other using the effect-then-cause structure.

Writing a Cause-and-Effect Essay

Choose an event or condition that you think has an interesting cause-and-effect relationship. Introduce your topic in an engaging way. End your introduction with a thesis that states the main cause, the main effect, or both.

Organize your essay by starting with either the cause-then-effect structure or the effect-then-cause structure. Within each section, you should clearly explain and support the causes and effects using a full range of evidence. If you are writing about multiple causes or multiple effects, you may choose to sequence either in terms of order of importance. In other words, order the causes from least to most important (or vice versa), or order the effects from least important to most important (or vice versa).

Use the phrases of causation when trying to forge connections between various events or conditions. This will help organize your ideas and orient the reader. End your essay with a conclusion that summarizes your main points and reinforces your thesis. See Chapter 15 “Readings: Examples of Essays” to read a sample cause-and-effect essay.

Choose one of the ideas you outlined in Note 10.85 “Exercise 3” and write a full cause-and-effect essay. Be sure to include an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, strong evidence and examples, and a thoughtful conclusion.

Key Takeaways

The cause-and-effect essay can be organized in one of these two primary ways:

Writing for Success by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

how to write a cause and effect essay apush

AP US History Long Essay Example

AP U.S. History Long Essay Example

The second part of Section II of the AP exam contains three long essay questions—you must respond to one. The AP U.S. History long essay question assesses your ability to apply knowledge of history in a complex, analytical manner. In other words, you are expected to treat history and historical questions as a historian would.

This process is called historiography—the skills and strategies historians use to analyze and interpret historical evidence to reach a conclusion. Thus, when writing an effective essay, you must be able to write a strong, clearly developed thesis and supply a substantial amount of relevant evidence to support your thesis and develop a complex argument.

The College Board’s characteristics of a high-scoring long essay question response are listed below. Note that the requirements are very similar to those of the DBQ; the primary difference is that any requirements related to use of the documents are removed from the scoring requirements for the long essay question.

[ RELATED: Reading Strategies for AP US History Exam ]

Long Answer Sample Question

Evaluate the extent to which the migration of European colonists and the resulting encounters with American Indians affected social patterns in the period from 1495 to 1650.

Step 1: Analyze the Prompt

As you choose which question you will answer, begin thinking about what your thesis will entail and how your essay will demonstrate a complex understanding. The notes of a sample high-scoring writer are below.

Thesis (with complex understanding): Spanish, French, and British each used territory differently; result: distinct social patterns

This writer claims that three different countries’ approaches to settling territories resulted in different types of social development, but other types of thesis claims are possible. For instance, the thesis could make a single claim about overall social patterns (such as “Europeans’ economic goals in the New World and their attitudes of superiority over American Indians resulted in exploitative and hierarchical social structures”) or focus on only one or two European nations.

Step 2: Plan Your Response

Step 3: Action! Write Your Response & Step 4: Proofread

See the following high-scoring response, and be sure to read the rubric to help you identify what makes this response effective. Think about what features you can incorporate into your own free- response answers.

Sample High-Scoring Response

The Spanish had two major goals: to gain wealth and to spread Catholicism to the native populations. Realizing the potential to mine precious metals and profit from large-scale agriculture, the Spanish forced American Indians into labor, such as through the encomienda system. Violence and deception were often used to subdue the indigenous populations, aided by the technological superiority of European weapons and the spread of devastating diseases. Although some Spanish came as missionaries with the goal of converting American Indians to Christianity and often protested the abusive treatment of the American Indians, even missions sometimes essentially forced labor and coerced assimilation to Spanish culture. In the long term, a hierarchical social structure developed in the Spanish colonies in which the Spanish-born and their descendants (peninsulares and creoles) dominated those of mixed background (mestizos and mulattos) and especially those of pure African or American Indian heritage. Overall, millions perished between disease and mistreatment, devastatingly weakening traditional cultures but enriching the Spanish.

The French differed from the Spanish in their relationship with the indigenous populations. Using the St. Lawrence River for transportation and trade, the French profited from trading fur pelts, particularly beaver, with the American Indians, and then sending the pelts to Europe. These traders profited from the knowledge and goods of the American Indian populations who lived there, and certainly desired to develop mutually profitable relationships with them. Overall, this more cooperative relationship helped preserve American Indian cultures and led to alliances between the French and different American Indian nations. These alliances benefited the French in later wars with the British.

You might also like

6 Things To Know About AP US History Period 4

Call 1-800-KAP-TEST or email [email protected]

Outside the U.S. or Canada?

View our International Programs

Courses by Location

NCLEX Locations

GRE Locations

SAT Locations

LSAT Locations

MCAT Locations

GMAT Locations

Useful Links

Contact Us COVID-19 Updates Press & Media Partner Solutions Work for Kaplan Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy CA Privacy Policy

Six Things To Know About AP US History Period 3


  1. #essay #wrightessay explanation of cause and effect, how to write an essay for university

    how to write a cause and effect essay apush

  2. 🎉 How to end a cause and effect essay. How to Write a Cause and Effect Essay That Gets You an A+

    how to write a cause and effect essay apush

  3. How to Write a Cause and Effect Essay

    how to write a cause and effect essay apush

  4. How To Write A Good Introduction For A Cause And Effect Essay. Cause And Effect Speech

    how to write a cause and effect essay apush

  5. Expository Essay: Cause and effect essay

    how to write a cause and effect essay apush

  6. #essay #essayuniversity cause and effect writing topics, help with essay writing free, apa

    how to write a cause and effect essay apush


  1. How to write a CAUSE

  2. EP 319: 由 write Cause Reason From in Chinese character #handwriting #shorts #hanzi #汉字 #cause

  3. Example Cause/ Effect Essay

  4. Essay 3

  5. What is Green House Effect || Green House Effect Essay in English || Green House Effect

  6. IELTS Writing Task 2: Cause & Effect Essay


  1. How to Write a Cause-and-Effect Essay - 2023 - MasterClass

    How to Write a Cause-and-Effect Essay Written by MasterClass Last updated: Jun 7, 2021 • 2 min read Cause-and-effect essay structure is a way of exploring relationships between ideas and events.

  2. AP History Notes: Causation (2020) | Fiveable

    Explain why something was a cause or effect Now, we need to dig a little deeper, and differentiate (recognize) the difference between primary and secondary causes, and recognize the difference between short-term and long-term effects. Primary cause The principal, the main cause of an event or process

  3. A Guide to Writing a Cause and Effect Essay | Grammarly

    There are a few different ways to structure a cause and effect essay. Here are two of the most common: Introduction Cause 1 Cause 2 Effect 1 Effect 2 Conclusion And: Introduction Cause 1 Effect 1 Cause 2 Effect 2 Conclusion Your writing, at its best. Get Grammarly It's free Works on all your favorite websites

  4. 10.8 Cause and Effect – Writing for Success

    Writing a Cause-and-Effect Essay Choose an event or condition that you think has an interesting cause-and-effect relationship. Introduce your topic in an engaging way. End your introduction with a thesis that states the main cause, the main effect, or both.

  5. AP U.S. History Long Essay Example – Kaplan Test Prep

    Evaluate the extent to which the migration of European colonists and the resulting encounters with American Indians affected social patterns in the period from 1495 to 1650. Step 1: Analyze the Prompt On the actual exam, you will read three questions and determine which you can answer most confidently.

  6. APUSH Writing Reference Chart - Chino Valley Unified School ...

    question, provide a road map of the essay and be placed in the introductory paragraph. ACE the Short Answer Question: LEQ Label each part of an SAQ (A, B, or C). Be direct and precise. Each part of an SAQ should be answered with a 2–4 sentence response. A Directly answer the question by identifying your claim. E Answer—

  7. Writing in AP U.S. History -

    1. Historical Causation (Cause and Effect): CE Pre-Write Conceptual Framework: Cause and Effect Chart (some typical examples below, but not a complete list) Simple: Complex: Essay Examples : Simple: Explain the major causes and consequence of the American Civil War.