How to Write a Cause Effect Essay on “Living Downstream” by Sandra Steingraber

Writing guide
Posted on December 24, 2015

Cause and effect essays are typically written from one perspective or the other, meaning you would write about a cause or an effect. The reason you are not often asked to write about both is that your space may be limited, and the topic may be broad. However, there are some cases where a teacher might grant you permission to write about both, or it is fitting to your topic to cover both in one essay.


If you are writing about both, the obvious organizational choice is to cover the causes of your topic in the first half of your paper, followed by the effects of your topic in the second (for the suitable topic check out our list of ideas on “Living Downstream”).

For example: if you want to focus on how leather factories in Bangladesh have influenced cancer rates of those who drink the runoff water down river, then the topic might be “increased cancer rates” for a specific cancer of your choosing. The causes would be presented as the chemicals used in the leather refining process which are dumped into the river which are then consumed by the local villages down the river. The effects would be the increased cancer ratios and other sicknesses newly introduced into the village.

Of course, using the example above you can also focus on just one or the other: you can focus on high rates of cancer in the villages, or you can focus on the harmful chemicals poured into local water sources.

In any case, when you set out to cover your topic, you want to make sure you do the following:

  • Review the instructions before starting anything else. It is here that students often make critical errors. The instructions your teacher provides will likely tell you whether you are to write about causes, effects, or both. If your teacher instructs you to write about causes and you forget to review the instructions carefully and instead write about effects, no matter how well written your essay is your grade will likely suffer. You can avoid this by reviewing the instructions and highlighting keywords contained therein. As you review your instructions, look out too for information regarding the page length, spacing, and format. You don’t want to mistakenly write a 5 page double spaced paper if your teacher asked for single spaced, or to use MLA references when you were required to use APA. Take note of how many sources are required of you as well.
  • Once you have reviewed your requirements, pick your topic. If possible, tie your topic back to something that is of interest to you. If your class reviewed a book on health impacts of manufacturing plants, you can look for a specific area that is of interest to you such as cancer, clothing manufacturing, or a part of the world. Many production companies work around the world and if you, for example, are particular interested in Africa or India, pick that as your focal point.
  • Conduct research. Take notes including relevant bibliographic information for the most important facts, data, or quotes you want to include in support of your work (for more information you can use the facts on “Living Downstream” by S. Steingraber that will help to make your essay complete).

These are the main points of cause and effect essay writing and you should always remember them while diving into the process of performing an academic assignment.

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