Cause/Effect  -  Causal Chain


See also:


        Answers the question "why?" or "what if?"

        Report or explain a concept

        Claims of cause and effect: These claims argue that one person, thing, or event caused another thing or event to occur.

    What are the causes or series of causes for a particular effect?

What effect(s) will result from specific causes.

For example:

-  The popularity of SUVs in America has caused pollution to increase.  (OWL at Purdue University)

History: What were the causes of the Seven Day War between Israel and Egypt?

Political Science: What are the reasons why Reagan won the 1984 election?

Sociology: Predict the effect(s) that changes in Social Security could have on seniors?

Exercise 1:

Suggest five sample questions from your major that would require a cause/effect answer.  These questions will be required for the weekly assignment.

Two types of Causes

1. Intermediate Causes - closest to the effect and most apparent

2. Ultimate Causes - somewhat removed, somewhat hidden

This is a complex problem because ultimate causes are immediate causes to the successive cause.  i.e., causal chain


1.     Computer salesman prepared intensively to meet with client (ultimate)

2.     Impressed the client (ultimate)

3.     Made very large sale (immediate)

4.     Given a promotion (effect)

An effect may have many possible and/or actual causes.

A cause may have many actual and/or possible effects.


Upset stomach may be caused by - overeating, flu, allergy (intolerance), spoiled food, nerves, pregnancy, (and many more)

Example: High cost of electricity  or crude oil.

        Higher profits for utility companies

        fewer sales of appliances

        higher prices for other products

        higher wages for the workers

        development of alternate sources (competition)

Successful causal analysis requires:

1.     Sound reasoning

2.     Objectivity - free from prejudice

3.     Careful development of the essay organization

4.     Willingness to admit other possible causes/effects


One event immediately precedes another does not necessarily cause that event. (superstition)


Better performance after a free breakfast may be caused by other factors.


When you use analysis to explain why something happened or is likely to happen, then you are determining causes and effects. Cause/effect analysis is especially useful in writing about social, economic or political events or problems, as the next paragraphs illustrate. In the first, the author looks at the causes of Japanese collectivism, which he elsewhere contrasts with American individualism.

The shinkansen or "bullet train" speeds across the rural areas of Japan giving a quick view of cluster after cluster of farmhouses surrounded by rice paddies. This particular pattern did not develop purely by chance, but as a consequence of the technology peculiar to the growing of rice, the staple of the Japanese diet. The growing of rice requires the construction and maintenance of an irrigation system, something that takes many hands to build. More importantly, the planting and the harvesting of rice can only be done efficiently with the cooperation of twenty or more people. The "bottom line" is that a single family working alone cannot produce enough rice to survive, but a dozen families working together can produce a surplus. Thus the Japanese have had to develop the capacity to work together in harmony, no matter what the forces of disagreement or social disintegration, in order to survive.

(William Ouchi, Theory Z: How American Business Can Meet the Japanese Challenge)

In sentences 1, 2, and 6 Ouchi specifies an effect: the Japanese live close together and work in harmony. The middle sentences explain the conditions that caused the conditions that caused this effect: the Japanese depend heavily on rice, and growing rice demands collective effort.

Cause/effect paragraphs tend to focus either on causes, as Ouchiís does, or on effects, as the next paragraph does.

There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension. What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sandstorms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to the flash point. For a few days now we will see smoke back in the canyons, and hear sirens in the night. I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air. To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.

(Joan Didion, "Los Angeles Notebook")

Didionís second sentence specifies a cause: the Santa Ana wind. All the sentences in the paragraph describe the effects of the wind.

The following paragraph is a good example of the difference between immediate and ultimate causes.  Also, notice the links that are used in this and all model paragraphs.

The depression was precipitated by the stock market crash in October 1929, but the  actual cause of the crash was the collapse of an unhealthy economy.  While the ability of the manufacturing industry to produce consumer goods had increased rapidly, mass purchasing power had remained relatively static.  Most labourers, farmers, and white-collar workers, therefore, could not afford to buy the automobiles and refrigerators turned out by factories in the 1920s, because their incomes were too low.  At the same time, the federal government increased the problem through economic policies that tended to encourage the very rich to over-save.

Exercise 2: Criticize the following reasoning.

The vitamin pills I am taking cured me of my cold. I am no longer sniffling, wheezing, and coughing.

Discuss the soundness of the reasoning processes in the following sentences. Test to see that there is no possible cause that might have been omitted.

1.  The rain always bothers my arthritis.  My fingers and ankles ache today because of the rain.

2.  Every time I see a black cat something bad happens. Today I saw a black cat and I know that something bad will happen.

3.  I have an allergy to peanuts that causes my throat to swell. I have just eaten a peanut butter sandwich and expect to suffocate soon.

4.  Wars are caused by hunger and poverty. These are characteristic of Third World countries, and we shall have war there soon.

5.  My love affair with Gladys broke up because she was jealous of me. Gertrude is jealous and we will breakup soon.


Write a 4 to 5 paragraph essay in which you answer one of the cause/effects questions which you created in Exercise No. 1 above.

Due: Next week.

Other Topics to Consider

Forty Topic Suggestions: Causes and Effects

  1. The effect of a parent, teacher, or friend on your life
  2. Why you selected your major
  3. The effects of cramming for an examination
  4. The effects of peer pressure
  5. Why some students cheat
  6. The effects of growing up with a personal computer
  7. The effects of poverty on an individual
  8. Why one college course is more rewarding than another
  9. Why many people don't bother to vote in local elections
  10. Why more and more students are taking online classes
  11. The effects of racial, sexual, or religious discrimination
  12. Why people exercise
  13. Why people keep pets
  14. The effects of computers on our everyday lives
  15. Why some people choose not to carry a cell phone
  16. The environmental effects of bottled water
  17. Why reality shows are so popular
  18. The effects of pressures on students to get good grades
  19. The effects of a coach or teammate on your life
  20. The effects of not keeping a personal budget
  21. The causes of noise pollution
  22. The effects of noise pollution
  23. Why so few students read newspapers
  24. Why many Americans prefer foreign-built cars
  25. Why many adults enjoy animated movies.
  26. Why baseball is no longer the national pastime
  27. The effects of stress on students in high school or college
  28. The effects of moving to a new town or city
  29. Why sales of DVDs are declining
  30. Why growing numbers of people shop online
  31. The effects of the steady increase in the cost of going to college
  32. Why students drop out of high school or college
  33. Why college mathematics (or any other subject) is so difficult
  34. Why some roommates don't get along
  35. Why adults have more fun than children on Halloween
  36. Why so many people eat junk food
  37. Why many children run away from home
  38. The long-term effects of unemployment on a person
  39. The influence of a book or a movie on your life
  40. The effects of music downloading on the music industry