This section aims at covering the following topics

  • Definition of Cause and Effect
  • Cause-Effect Criteria
  • Three Strategies to Teach Cause and Effect
  • Why is Cause-Effect Questions Important?


This section explores the relationship between cause and effect and teaches about the criteria for establishing a causal relationship, the difference between correlation and causation, and more.

Definition of Cause and Effect

Think about when you woke up today. In all likelihood, you were probably woken up by the sound of an alarm clock. The loud sound of the alarm was the cause. Without the alarm, you probably would have overslept. In this scenario, the alarm had the effect of you waking up at a certain time. This is what we mean by cause and effect.

cause-effect relationship is a relationship in which one event (the cause) makes another event happen (the effect). One cause can have several effects.

Consider you are conducting an experiment using regular high school students with no athletic ability. The purpose of our experiment is to see if becoming an all-star athlete would increase their attractiveness and popularity ratings among other high school students.

Suppose that our results showed that not only did the students view the all-star athletes as more attractive and popular, but the self-confidence of the athletes also improved.

Here we see that one cause (having the status of an all-star athlete) has two effects (increased self-confidence and higher attractiveness ratings among other students).

Cause-Effect Criteria

In order to establish a cause-effect relationship, three criteria must be met.

The first criterion is that the cause has to occur before the effect. This is also known as temporal precedence.


If making a loud noise would cause newborns to cry.

Result: In this example, the loud noise would have to occur before the newborns cried.

Here the causes occurred before the effects, so the first criterion was met.


Second, whenever the cause happens, the effect must also occur. Consequently, if the cause does not happen, then the effect must not take place.

Let’s say that for our newborn example we found that as soon as the loud noise occurred, the newborn cried and that the newborns did not cry in absence of the sound. We also found that the louder the sound, the louder the newborn cried.

In this example, we see that the strength of the loud sound also determines how hard the newborn cries. Again, criterion two has been met for this example.


The final criterion is that there are no other factors that can explain the relationship between the cause and effect. It’s possible that there is some other variable or factor that is causing the outcome. This is sometimes referred to as the “third variable” or “missing variable” problem and it’s at the heart of the issue of internal validity.

Let’s say that for our newborn example we found that newborns cried periodically without loud noise. A newborn cries when it is hungry, need a diaper; miss its primer caregiver, so it becomes typical to find the factor for which the newborn cries. So, the third criterion is difficult to meet.


Conclusion: The purpose of cause and effect is to tell the reader what events happened and the reasons why it happened. When we figure out when the author is telling about why something happened, or the cause, and what happened, or the effect, this will better help us understand what we are reading. So, below given strategies will help us to understand the purpose of author.

Three Strategies to Teach Cause and Effect

Strategy 1: Asking Questions

One strategy we use to figure out the text pattern is by asking questions.

Let me show you an example

The strong winds caused the roof to fly off of the house.

If you need to figure out the effect, ask yourself what events happened or what was the result? What happened in this sentence? The roof flew off the house. When you need to figure out the cause or reasons why it happened, ask yourself why did it happen or what was the cause? The strong winds blew it off. To identify the concept of cause and effect continue to question. What events happened? Why did they happen?


I had a stomachache because I ate too much food. What happened (effect)? Why did it happen (cause)?


Strategy 2: Identifying Signal Words

Identifying signal words is another strategy to learn text structure. One challenge with the cause and effect text structure is the time factor. For instance, if authors organize text using the sequence text structure, they may use the signal words: first, second, next, finally, etc. For cause and effect, some of the signal words are: because, as a result of, therefore. Unlike a sequence text structure where events happen in order, one of the challenges with cause and effect is that authors may not present information in the manner in which they have occurred. Sometimes, the author presents the cause first and in other instances, the effect may be first.

Here is an example: As a result of the strong winds, the roof flew off of the house. The roof flew off the house as a result of the strong winds. When readers are familiar with the signal words, they are better able to identify what the cause is and what the effect is. For instance, a cause signal word often indicates that the cause is stated nearby as shown by the underlined words.


The roof flew off the house because of the strong winds.

As a result of the strong winds, the roof flew off of the house.

The signal words are just signals, and as readers we must be detectives to find the cause, which is often stated nearby.



I had a stomachache because I ate too much food.

Since I woke up late, I missed the bus.

The window was left open during the heavy rainfall. Therefore the bedroom rug was soaked.

The British placed taxes on goods to help pay for the French and Indian War. As a result, the colonists were unhappy and refused to pay the tax.

Understanding of the use of signal words as a way to identify cause and effect.


Strategy 3: Using Visual Representations

The next strategy to help identify cause and effect is the use of visual representations.

When there is an increased amount of text, finding the cause and effect can be complicated. The method solves the complication is that there are three basic patterns to show the cause and effect relationship

1) The single event

2) The chain reaction

3) The branching tree

The use of visual representations, also known as graphic organizers, to help test takers comprehend text. Here we will see how the author uses the patterns of cause and effect through the use of visual representations.


Pattern 1: Single Event

When there is only one cause and one effect in the text, we call this a single event.

For example, in the sentence

I had a stomachache because I ate too much food.

I ate too much food (cause) I had a stomachache (effect)

Here we show another visual representation and emphasizes.


Pattern 2: Chain Reaction

Chain reaction occurs when a cause creates an effect and that effect turns into a cause and creates another effect; basically one event leads to another event.

The chain reaction pattern can be tricky because the author might not write all the information. Sometimes, we may have to break apart the text and infer what the author is saying to identify the causes and effects.


The British placed taxes on goods to help pay for the French and Indian War. As a result, the colonists were unhappy and refused to pay the tax.

Why did British place taxes on goods?

Because of the war

And, the French and Indian War cost money and British needed the money to help pay for it so they taxed the colonists.

French and Indian War is the cause, what’s the effect?

British needed money to help pay for the war.

Let’s stop here and figure out the cause and effect relationship.

If the French and Indian War is the cause, what’s the effect?

British needed money to help pay for the war.

The graphic organizer

French and Indian War occurred. (cause)

British needed money to pay for the war. (effect)

There’s also another effect, British placed taxes on goods.

What happens in a chain reaction is that the effect turns into a cause resulting in another effect. This is why it is important for you to label graphic organizer.

French and Indian War occurred. (cause)

British needed money to pay for the war. (effect/cause)

British placed taxes on goods. (effect)

Drawing visuals for the chain reaction in a cause and effect relationship.

French and Indian War occurred. (cause)

British needed money to pay for the war. (effect/ cause)

British placed taxes on goods. (effect/ cause)

Colonists were unhappy. (effect/ cause)

Colonists refused to pay the tax. (effect)


Pattern 3: Branching Tree

Branching Tree occurs when one cause creates multiple effects or multiple causes create one effect. These multiple causes or effects can branch off into other cause and effect patterns.

The tree diagram is a graphic display of a simpler method known as the Five Why’s. It displays the layers of causes, looking in-depth for the root cause. The Five Why’s can be used alone or with any cause-and-effect diagram.

Example of Applying the Five Why’s to Analyze the Root Cause of Incorrect Treatment

Effect: The patient received the wrong medication.

Question 1: Why did the patient get the incorrect medicine?
Answer 1: Because the prescription was wrong.

Question 2: Why was the prescription wrong?
Answer 2: Because the doctor made the wrong decision.

Question 3: Why did the doctor make the wrong decision?
Answer 3: Because he did not have complete information in the patient’s chart.

Question 4: Why wasn’t the patient’s chart complete?
Answer 4: Because the doctor’s assistant had not entered the latest laboratory report.

Question 5: Why hadn’t the doctor’s assistant charted the latest laboratory report?
Answer 5: Because the lab technician telephoned the results to the receptionist, who forgot to tell the assistant.

Solution: Develop a system for tracking lab reports.

Keep asking “Why?” and “Why else?” for each cause until a potential root cause has been identified.

root cause is one that

(a) can explain the “effect,” either directly or through a series of events, and

(b) if removed, would eliminate or reduce the problem.

Try to ensure that the answers to the “Why” questions are plausible explanations and, if possible, they are amenable to action.

Check the logic of the chain of causes: read the diagram from the root cause to the effect to see if the flow is logical. Make needed changes.

Remember that cause-and-effect diagrams represent hypotheses about causes, not facts. Failure to test these hypotheses—treating them as if they were facts—often leads to implementing the wrong solutions and wasting time.

To determine the root cause(s), the test taker must collect data to test these hypotheses. The “effect” or problem should be clearly articulated to produce the most relevant hypotheses about cause. If the “effect” or problem is too general or ill defined, the test taker will have difficulty focusing on the effect, and the diagram will be large and complex.

It is best to develop as many hypotheses as possible so that no potentially important root cause is overlooked. Be sure to develop each branch fully.


Summary Pattern

Because of __________, __________. __________ caused __________.

Therefore __________. Finally, due to __________, __________.

This explains why __________.

It’s also important to note that

  1. The cause and effect structure is not always written in sequential order.
  2. Scholarly journal articles, news articles, or expository essays can also analyze why something happens.
  3. The author can choose to focus more on causes than effects, vice versa, or he or she can decide to fully examine both.

Why are Cause-Effect Questions Important

One of the primary goals of education is to create empowered, analytic thinkers, capable of thinking through complex processes to make important decisions.

Whether test takers recognize cause-and-effect relationships or not, they are affected by them every day. Test takers experience them in their own lives, see them occur in the lives of others, read about them in both narrative and expository texts, and are asked to write about them. To be successful, test takers need to be able to clearly recognize these relationships so that they are able to think analytically in their personal and academic lives. Without the ability to identify these relationships, students are at risk socially and academically. They will not understand actions and consequences or be able to understand or describe phenomena at a deep level. So, let us analyse our analytical thinking by taking the placement problems.