ESSAY TYPES: MODES - PowerPoint Document Version

Cause & Effect

HBW fractal courtesy of
Janet Preslar, FrActivity

Cause and Effect papers show the relationship between one action or situation and another, with the assumption or the point that one caused the other. We call that causal (not casual) relationship. In rhetoric, this is important when establishing why things happen, or what is likely to happen under given circumstances.

For example, the causal relationship between smoking and ill health has been a point of contention between the tobacco companies and the health field for years.... The onus of proof to show cigarettes caused cancer and other debilitating maladies was on the health field. As in the short term this was difficult, the culpability of the tobacco companies has been slowly established, and now it is clear to most people that there is a direct relationship…a cause and effect between smoking (cause) and emphysema and respiratory distress and cancer (effects).

Be aware that most complex issues that pundits ponder on television and in print are multi-layered and involve myriad causes and, in and of themselves, have varying effects. Thus an oversimplified discussion of POLLUTION as merely a cause or an effect is missing a major aspect in terms of problem solving. Pollution, specifically air pollution, is an effect from a series of factors, some man-made (CFC's, CO, ash, etc.), some not (volcano, occlusion layers, wind patterns). It is also the cause of various effects, secondary effects, if you like, including disease (emphysema, asthma), aesthetic discomfort (occluded views, brown skies), and property damage (acid rain, rust). I am sure you also realize that by extrapolating the relationships, we could go forward (results of disease or blight ) or backward, (reasons for creating pollutants or living in pollution-enhancing zones) and the argument becomes very complicated. Thus it is up to you to establish tight boundaries to the extent of your discussion, and keep in mind that few of these arguments are simple black and white issues.

Evidence for these types of relationships are required for a logical, sound argument. There are many specious cause and effect claims, which, upon close examination, fall apart. It is your responsibility as a writer to either:

  1. show a clear, demonstrable cause and effect relationship between the items you have chosen, or
  2. show the cause and effect relationship claimed in another work is either valid or not.
In many cases, simply evaluating other factors will help establish the validity of such a cause and effect claim.


Necessary Cause
The first condition MUST be present for the second to occur, but is not enough to be the only cause. For example, to write a paper, one must be able to read. But one must also be able to write, reason, use research, etc. Reading is a necessary element in paper writing.
Sufficient Cause
The first condition can produce the effect alone. It is the sole precursor to the result. Lack of satisfactory grades will keep you out of graduate school.
Contributory Cause
May help a cause, but is not necessary, nor can it do the job alone. A good diet can help you to avoid disease, but exercise is important as well, as is avoiding other poisons, such as stress, certain drugs, etc. Furthermore, a good diet will not ensure a healthy life, as genetics and accident also play roles.


  1. Identify the cause you wish to focus on
  2. Qualify causal connections - "may," "probably," "is likely to"
  3. Make distinctions between minor and major causes
  4. Distinguish between types of cause
  5. Use common sense

The bottom line here is that you are to establish the relationship, if any exists, between cause and effect. If there is a causal relationship, evaluate its type and its contribution to the overall situation.

© T. T. Eiland, January 1998
Last modified: October 21, 2000