Reading Comprehension Cause and Effect Help (page 4)
Introduction to Cause and Effect
For every action," famous scientist Sir Isaac Newton said, "there is an equal and opposite reaction." Every action results in another action (a reaction); or, for every action, there is an effect caused by that action. Likewise, each action is caused by a previous action. In other words, each action has a cause—something that made it happen—and each action has an effect—something it makes happen.
- Cause: a person or thing that makes something happen or produces an effect
- Effect: a change produced by an action or cause
Much of what you read is an attempt to explain either the cause of some action or its effect. For example, an author might try to explain the causes of World War I or the effect of underwater nuclear testing; the reason behind a change in policy at work; or the effect a new computer system will have on office procedure. Let's take a look at how writers explaining cause or effect might organize their ideas.
Distinguishing Cause from Effect
A passage that examines cause generally answers the question why something took place: Why was the company restructured? Who or what made this take place? A passage that examines effect generally answers the question what happened after something took place: What happened as a result of the restructuring? How did it affect the company?
Cause and Effect Practice and Answers
To help you distinguish between cause and effect, carefully read following the sentences. You'll see that cause and effect work together; you can't have one without the other. That's why it's very important to be able to distinguish between the two. See if you can determine both the cause and the effect in each of the following sentences:
- Example: Robin got demoted when she talked back to the boss.
- Cause: Robin talked back to the boss.
- Effect: Robin got demoted.
- Inflation has caused us to raise our prices.
- Since we hired Joan, the office has been running smoothly.
- He realized that his car had stopped not because it needed repair but because it ran out of gas.
- The company's budget crisis was created by overspending.
- As a result of our new marketing program, sales have doubled.
- Cause: Inflation
- Cause: We hired Joan.
- Cause: The car ran out of gas.
- Cause: Overspending
- Cause: The new marketing program
Effect: We had to raise our prices.
Effect: Our office has been running smoothly.
Effect: The car stopped.
Effect: Budget crisis
Effect: Sales have doubled.
If you are having trouble connecting causes and effects, look for significant events or actions and reword the situations in the form of a question. The phrase "because of" is helpful in generating potential causes, and the phrase "resulted in" can be used to formulate questions leading to effects.
- Why did Jane lose her job?
- Jane lost her job "because of" [cause]
- What happened when Jane was constantly late?
- Jane's constant lateness "resulted in" [effect]
Here is a partial list of words and phrases that indicate when a cause or efffect is being examined.
Words Indicating Cause
because (of) created (by) since caused (by)
Words Indicating Effect
since therefore hence consequently so as a result
When Cause and Effect Are Interrelated
Notice how the signal words listed on the previous page are used in the following paragraph. Underline the signal words as you come across them.
Ed became a mechanic largely because of his father. His father was always in the garage working on one car or another, so young Ed would spend hours watching his father work. As a result, he became fascinated by cars at an early age. His father encouraged him to learn about cars on his own, so Ed began tinkering with cars himself at age eight. Consequently, by the time he was 13, Ed could tear an engine apart and put it back together by himself. Since he was already so skilled, when he was 15, he got a job as the chief mechanic at a local repair shop. He has been there ever since.
You should have underlined the following signal words and phrases in this paragraph: because of, so (twice), as a result, consequently, and since.
Notice that this paragraph's purpose—to explain why Ed became a mechanic—is expressed in the topic sentence, "Ed became a mechanic largely because of his father." This paragraph's purpose, then, is to explain cause, and the primary cause is Ed's father.
You'll notice, however, that some of the sentences in this paragraph also deal with effect. This may seem like a contradiction at first. After all, why would a paragraph about cause deal with effect? But it's not a contradiction. That's because there isn't just one thing that led to Ed's becoming a mechanic. Although Ed's dad may have been the initial cause, there was still a series of actions and reactions that occurred—a series of causes and effects. Once A causes B, B then becomes the cause for C.
In fact, six different sets of cause and effect are listed in this paragraph. What are they? The first cause is provided to get you started.
Cause 1: Ed's father was always in the garage.
- Cause 1: Ed's father was always in the garage.
- Effect 1: Ed would spend hours watching.
- Cause 2: Ed would spend hours watching.
- Effect 2: Ed became fascinated by cars.
- Cause 3: Ed became fascinated by cars.
- Effect 3: Ed began tinkering with cars.
- Cause 4: Ed began tinkering with cars.
- Effect 4: Ed's father encouraged him.
- Cause 5: Ed's father encouraged him.
- Effect 5: Ed could tear an engine apart by himself.
- Cause 6: Ed could tear an engine apart by himself.
- Effect 6: He got a job as the chief mechanic.
When One Cause Has Several Effects
Sometimes, one cause may have several effects: Several things may happen as a result of one action. In the following passage, the writer explains several effects of the new marketing campaign:
Our new marketing campaign has been a tremendous success. Since we've been advertising on the radio, sales have increased by 35%. Our client references have doubled, and we've had greater client retention rates. Furthermore, we've been able to hire five new sales representatives and expand our territory to include the southwestern United States.
One Cause Has Several Effects Practice and Answers
According to the paragraph, what were the effects of the new marketing campaign?
- Sales have increased 35%.
- Client references have doubled.
- Client retention rates have increased.
- Five new sales representatives have been hired.
- Territory has been expanded to include the southwestern United States.
When One Effect Has Several Causes
Just as one action can have many results, one action can have many causes as well. The following announcement is an example.
- TO: All Commuters
- FROM: The Station Management
Unfortunately, we will no longer provide an afternoon snack concession at the train station. Although poor sales are one of the reasons that this service will no longer be provided, there are actually several reasons why the concession is no longer a viable option. In addition to poor sales, the south wall of the train station (where the concession is located) will be undergoing a six-month renovation that will force the closure of the snack concession. In fact, the ticket windows on that wall will be closed as well. Furthermore, from this point forward, the station will close its doors at 6 p.m. due to new town regulations, which will cut the rush-hour commuter traffic coming through the station in half. Finally, Mike Alberti, the proprietor of the concession, has decided to say farewell to his concession business, and after 35 years on the job, Mike will be retiring next month. While none of these factors on their own would have caused the long-term closure of the concession, combined, they make it impossible to continue running an afternoon snack concession for the foreseeable future.
One Effect Has Several Causes Practice and Answers
Why is the afternoon snack concession at the train station being discontinued?
You should have noticed four causes in the announcement:
- Poor sales.
- A renovation on the side of the train station where the concession is located.
- Town regulations will now close the station at 6 p.m., which will decrease commuter traffic significantly.
- The proprietor of the concession has decided to retire.
Contributing vs. Sufficient Cause
You'll notice that the previous announcement informs commuters that "none of these factors on their own would have caused the long-term closure of the concession." This means that each of these causes is a contributing cause. A contributing cause helps make something happen but can't make that thing happen by itself. It is only one factor that contributes to the cause.
On the opposite end of the cause spectrum is the sufficient cause. A sufficient cause is strong enough to make something happen by itself. Sufficient cause is demonstrated in the following paragraph.
Dear Mr. Miller:
It has come to our attention that you have breached your lease. When you signed your lease, you agreed that you would leave Apartment 3A at 123 Elm Street in the same state that you found it when you moved in. You also agreed that if the apartment showed signs of damage upon your departure, then we (Livingston Properties) would not return the security deposit that you gave us at the time you moved into the building. Upon inspection, we have found a great deal of damage to the appliances in the apartment as well as the wood floors. Consequently, we will not be returning your security deposit.
Here, you can see that there is one clear reason why Livingston Properties will not return Mr. Miller's security deposit. He breached his lease by damaging the apartment he rented from them. (If you don't know what breach means, you should be able to determine the meaning from the context.)
Evaluating Opinions about Cause and Effect
Sometimes, in a cause and effect passage, an author will offer his or her opinion about the cause or effect of something, rather than facts about the cause or effect. In that case, readers must judge the validity of the author's analysis. Are the author's ideas logical? Does he or she support the conclusions he or she comes to? Consider, for example, two authors' opinions about instituting mandatory school uniforms.
Mandatory school uniforms are a bad decision for our district. If students are required to wear a uniform, it will greatly inhibit their ability to express themselves. This is a problem because dress is one of the major ways that young people express themselves. A school uniform policy also directly violates the freedom of expression that all Americans are supposed to enjoy. Consequently, young people will doubt that their basic rights are protected, and this will affect their larger outlook on civil liberties. Furthermore, school uniforms will interfere with the wearing of certain articles of religious clothing, which will create tensions among certain religious groups that can lead to feelings of discrimination. In addition, school uniforms will place an undue financial burden on many low-income families who may not have the money to spend on new uniforms every year, especially if they have several children. Finally, school uniforms will negate one of the most important concepts we can teach our children—individuality. When push comes to shove, we'd all be better off choosing individuality over uniformity. Mandatory school uniforms are a step in the wrong direction.
Mandatory school uniforms will have a tremendously positive impact on our district. If students are required to wear a uniform, it will greatly inhibit gang behavior since they will no longer be able to wear gang colors. As a result, schools will experience an overall decrease in school violence and theft. Since violence is one of the major concerns that parents, teachers, and students raise about our district, this change will be welcomed with open arms. In addition, school uniforms will instill a much-needed sense of discipline in our student body, and discipline is something that is, unfortunately, in short supply in our school district. Also, students dressed in uniforms will feel a strong sense of community with their peers, which will lead to a more harmonious school environment. Finally, if students were wearing school uniforms, administrators and teachers would no longer have to be clothing police, freeing them to focus on more important issues than whether someone is wearing a dress that is too short or a T-shirt with an inappropriate message. You can make our schools a better place by supporting mandatory school uniforms.
What effects does the author of paragraph A think mandatory uniforms would have?
What effects does the author of paragraph B think mandatory uniforms would have?
You'll notice that both authors take one cause—mandatory school uniforms—and offer several possible effects. Often, authors will use the cause and effect structure to make arguments like the ones we've just seen: one for and one against mandatory school uniforms. It is up to the reader to determine whose argument seems most valid.
Understanding cause and effect is an important skill not only for reading comprehension, but also for your daily life. To analyze the events happening around you, you must be able to understand why those events happened—what caused them. Similarly, to make decisions or evaluate the decisions of others, you must be able to consider the effects of a possible decision. "Reading" not only texts, but also events and situations, requires you to understand cause and effect.
TIP: Whenever you read the newspaper, be sure to read with a skeptical eye—sometimes causes and effects aren't entirely black and white. For example, parents, teachers, superintendents, and students might provide different opinions on why a particular school is failing based on their own personal biases or hidden agendas.
- Don't be swayed by the use of emotional rhetoric and finger-pointing tactics.
- Focus on judging the cause (why something happened) and the effect (what exactly happened) by determining which party is presenting the most logical and valid conclusion based on documented factual information, examples, and specific, detailed explanations of a cause or sequence of causes that resulted in a particular effect.
Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Reading Comprehension Organization Practice Test.
Test your knowledge at Reading Comprehension Final Practice Test.
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