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How to Find Cause and Effect in a Reading Selection

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  • 0:02 How to Find Cause and Effect
  • 1:00 Example of Cause and Effect
  • 3:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Cause and effect structures can be used to describe how an action takes place. This lesson will discuss how to find this structure within a reading selection.

How to Find Cause and Effect

When a news article or other informational text is written using the cause and effect organizational structure, it explains the ripple effects of what happened and why. Signal words and phrases are used within the informational text to clue the reader in that the cause/effect structure is being used. These signal words and phrases include:

  • For this reason
  • Therefore
  • As a result
  • Thus
  • Since
  • Due to
  • Consequently
  • Because
  • May be due to
  • This led to
  • On account of

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.

An Example of Cause and Effect

Let's look at an example to see how this is done. Here's a couple of excerpts from a New York Times article written by Ritchie S. King entitled 'After Lean Acorn Crop in Northeast, Even People May Feel the Effects.'

'Coming on the heels of an acorn glut, the dearth this year will probably have a cascade of effects on the forest ecosystem, culling the populations of squirrels, field mice and ground-nesting birds. And because the now-overgrown field mouse population will crash, legions of ticks - some infested with Lyme disease - will be aggressively pursuing new hosts, like humans.'

Notice that signal words, such as 'effects' and 'because' were used? Also, the effects or results were described in detail, pointing to the cause/effect structure.

'While scientists do not fully understand why this year has produced the lowest acorn crop in 20 years of monitoring. . . Fingers are not being pointed at global warming. . . One theory for why oak trees vary their acorn yield is the so-called predator satiation hypothesis. Under this theory, during bumper years, the trees litter the forest floor with seeds so completely that squirrels, jays, deer and bears cannot possibly eat them all. Then, in off years, the trees ramp down production to keep the predator populations from growing too large to be satiated. . . But the variability of weather in New York and New England could also be playing a role in the shortage this year.'

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