The Cause and Effect Essay

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The Cause and Effect Essay

Is altruism diminishing our individualism? Is selfless philanthropy corrupting our society? Ayn Rand answers these questions with a resounding YES! In her view, altruism “tells us we have no right to exist for ourselves.” There are even those who don’t believe in the existence of altruism at all. They believe people function out of self-interest even if they are doing something for someone else. However, not everyone shares these views.

In fact, according to the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of Berkeley (yes, this is a real thing), “Evolutionary scientists speculate that altruism has such deep roots in human nature because helping and cooperation promote the survival of our species.” Darwin called this “sympathy” or “benevolence.” Beyond helping our species survive, GGSC’s research suggests that altruism “enhances our personal well-being.”

This leaves us in quite a pickle. Does altruism exist in its purest form through the completion of selfless acts? Or does altruism diminish one’s individual happiness? Or is it simply hardwired into our evolutionary DNA?

Consider an altruistic choice(s) you, someone or a group has made. What were the effects of that choice to do something selfless for others? What does this result say to you about the value or lack thereof in altruism?

Need some ideas? Check out these altruistic people and ideas:

  • Greater Good Science Center

  • Stories of Altruistic Acts

  • Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Walt Disney

  • Mother Teresa

  • Cesar Chavez

  • Look at recent news stories!

  • Ghandi

  • Altruism New Stories

Essay Organization

It is important to note that there are a variety of ways to organize a cause/effect essay. This is one way. Please use the format below. Keep in mind: you must embed one meaningful and relevant quote into your essay.

Introductory paragraph: move from broad to specific

altruism>> specific example you will discuss>> thesis

Body Paragraph #1 (CAUSE)- describe the need for the altruistic act(s)

    • Topic Sentence (supports the thesis somehow)>> what will this paragraph prove?

    • Relevant, compelling details to support topic sentence

Body Paragraph #2 (CAUSE)—describe the altruistic act

    • Topic Sentence (supports the thesis somehow)>> what will this paragraph prove?

    • Relevant, compelling details to support topic sentence

Body Paragraph #3 (EFFECT)-outcome(s) of altruistic act (emphasize if it was positive or negative)

    • Topic Sentence (supports the thesis somehow)>> what will this paragraph prove?

    • Relevant, compelling details to support topic sentence

Concluding paragraph- move from specific to broad

restate thesis>> briefly sum up main points of your essay>> give an overall message about altruism as positive or negative>> try to circle back to your introductory paragraph somehow to create unity

Example Cause and Effect Essay

An olive-green, tattered and stained coat hung loosely on the elderly man’s frame. His coarse salt-and-pepper colored beard shot out in all different directions. Across his chest lay a guitar in much better shape than the man. The guitar had a case, a home; the man did not. “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair…” the man sang the Eagles’ song a little off key as his cracked fingers strummed the guitar. This was our greeting each time we left the parking garage in downtown Santa Barbara. My father, an avid Eagles’ fan of both the musical and athletic variety, engaged in conversation with the man each time we visited downtown. The man was typically seated at the doorway to the parking garage. The guitar case stood open stoically awaiting donations. Always, always my father handed the man some money and often picked up food for him before we returned to the parking garage. To be frank, the man scared me. He looked so rough to my ten-year old eyes. The idea of helping him did not occur to me, yet my father went out of his way to care for this man. Growing up, my parents continued to instill in me the importance of helping others. Even now though, I am still learning ways to help those around me. Because of a recent experience with the foodbank, I was able to strengthen and serve my community in an unanticipated way.

The idea that such a large amount of people in my community were hungry had never occurred to me before visiting the foodbank. Our tour guide led us first through the operations center. Desks, cluttered with framed photos of loved ones, manila files, and sticky notes, were set in gray cubicles in a square brownish room. Pretty standard set up for an office. We then moved on to a large room with long tables and black metal folding chairs for serving the hungry on the occasions when the foodbank opens its doors as a “soup kitchen.” The next room is what gave me pause. Towering rows of food in boxes, bags, and cans filled an industrial warehouse. “As you can see,” our guide said, “we have a food shortage currently. We simply do not have enough food to feed everyone.” Her comment juxtaposed to the vast amount of food surrounding me would not compute. “This food,” she continued, “will last us only another week or two at most.” The amount of people who qualify as “hungry” was increasing every day. More mouths to feed, yet not enough food to feed them. Our community was suffering the effects of a recession that would not let up. Unemployment, stagnant wages, and strained support systems left men, women, and children’s bellies reverberating into the night.

A fervent desire to help the “hungry” initiated my food drive. Instead of requesting gifts for my one year old’s birthday, I suggested my friends and family bring food to donate to the foodbank. It was summertime, and this is often a lean time for the foodbank. Children out of school for the summer and without access to government-subsidized breakfasts and lunches rely on places like the foodbank to stay fed. Furthermore, donations drop in the summer as there is more of a focus to donate around Thanksgiving and throughout the winter months. The day of the party, I celebrated my youngest daughter turning 1 and collected a hefty amount of food. My heart was full because I knew soon empty bellies would be full too.

Our food donations to the foodbank created positive resounding effects in my community. The food we gave helped the foodbank supply those in need with nourishment. Somewhere I imagined a mother and father sitting with their child and eating spaghetti. Moreover, the request for food donations inspired my loved ones to continue donating to the foodbank and to be more vigilant about taking care of the hungry in our community. I too became keenly aware of opportunities to help the hungry. Each birthday, my daughters and I now donate party supplies to the local foodbank or a women and children’s shelter. We visit the sparkly birthday aisles at Target and fill the cart with invitations, toys, and decorations. We also make sure to include items to make cupcakes, along with a gift card to purchase other perishable grocery items. “Every kid should have a birthday,” my eldest daughter told me. This experience has made her more aware too that not everyone gets to pick what he wants to eat each day, and we are blessed enough to be in a position to help.

Because of my visit to the foodbank and subsequent food drive, I have a new appreciation for the needs that exist in my community. I did not anticipate that pasta, marinara sauce, corn, and peanut butter would have such a profound effect on my life. This selfless act of giving to those in need bettered me as an individual, strengthened my community, and revealed unknown hardships around me. In my mind, the elderly man still sits at the door to the parking garage singing tunes into the air in the hopes that someone will toss a coin or two into his guitar case. I know, for my part, I would.

Body Paragraph #1 (CAUSE)- describe the need for the altruistic act(s)
Cause and Effect Brainstorm

Altruistic Act

Body Paragraph #2 (CAUSE)—describe the altruistic act

Body Paragraph #3 (EFFECT)- outcome(s) of altruistic act (emphasize if it was positive or negative)

Don’t forget to embed a meaningful, relevant quote

somewhere in your essay! Remember the hamburger method!




Honor Pledge:

Cause and Effect Essay Rubric

Learning Goals







Develop expository essay through cause/effect with a clear purpose and thesis statement (10.7.3, 10.8.2)

Compose effective topic sentences that support thesis (10.8.4, 10.8.5)

Organize ideas and paragraphs into a logical, purposeful progression (10.8.7)


Synthesize information to support thesis through compelling, relevant examples/details (10.8.6)

Elaborate ideas clearly through word choice and vivid description avoiding “dead” words (10.8.11)

Integrate a quote naturally into the essay that supports your purpose following MLA rules for citations (10.11.9)


Edit sentence structure to avoid fragments and fused sentences (10.10.3)

Write clear, varied sentences (10.8.9)

Use correct grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling (10.10)


Response shows thorough, studious, and careful thinking about prompt

M= consistent mastery of standards; P= proficient/ meets standards; DP= developing proficient/ approaching standards; NI=need info. to assess standards/not demonstrated

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