Cause and Effect Paragraphs
Sometimes, assigned topics on the
written portion of the TOEFL ask you to explain the reasons or causes
of something. Other topics will ask you to discuss the results or
effects of some cause. Here is an example of a writing topic asking
for causes of a particular phenomenon (Note: this is not
an actual TOEFL topic, but it is similar to one that may appear
on a specific adminstration of the TOEFL):
|In recent decades, cities have grown so large that now about
50% of the Earth's population lives in urban areas. Explain the
causes of this phenomenon.
Be sure to give specific details and reasons in your
Cause/effect paragraphs generally follow basic paragraph format. That
is, they begin with a topic sentence and this sentence is
followed by specific supporting details. (Click here if you
wish to review Lesson 1, "Basic Paragraph Structure.") For example, if
the topic sentence introduces an effect, the supporting sentences
all describe causes. Here is an example:
| In recent decades, cities have grown so large that now
about 50% of the Earth's population lives in urban areas. There
are several reasons for this occurrence. First, the increasing
industrialization of the nineteenth century resulted in the
creation of many factory jobs, which tended to be located in
cities. These jobs, with their promise of a better material
life, attracted many people from rural areas. Second, there were
many schools established to educate the children of the new
factory laborers. The promise of a better education persuaded
many families to leave farming communities and move to the
cities. Finally, as the cities grew, people established places
of leisure, entertainment, and culture, such as sports stadiums,
theaters, and museums. For many people, these facilities made
city life appear more interesting than life on the farm, and
therefore drew them away from rural communities.
Notice how each supporting sentence is a cause that explains the effect
mentioned in the topic sentence. In the chart below are the main ideas
of the above paragraph, to help you understand the relationships better:
|Cities have grown very large.
[There are several reasons for this.]
| Factory jobs attracted people.
|(Cities have grown very large.)
|| Better schools attracted families to move
to the city.
|(Cities have grown very large.)
|| Places of leisure, entertainment, and culture
made city life appear more interesting.
Notice also how the topic sentence is followed by the "focusing" or
"prediction" sentence, There are several reasons for this. Such
sentences help the reader anticipate the organization of the paragraph
Cause and Effect Conjunctions
Here are some common conjunctions that can be used to express cause
||as a result
||because of + noun phrase
||due to + noun phrase
||for this reason
There are two things you must be careful of when using these
conjunctions. First, you must order the cause and the effect corerctly.
For example, in the sentence
Sally closed the window because the weather outside was cold.
the CAUSE is the fact that the room was cold, and the EFFECT is Sally's
closing the window. The conjunction because is placed in the
correct position here, which is right before the cause. Similarly, in
Because the weather outside was cold, Sally closed the window.
the conjunction because is correctly placed before the part of
the sentence that expresses the cause, even though the subordinate
clause because the room was cold is now at the beginning of the
sentence. (Note that the first letter of the conjunction is now
capitalized.) However, in this sentence:
??The weather outside was cold because Sally closed the window.
even though it is grammatical, it does not make sense because a person's
opening or closing a window does not influence the weather.
Second, you should be careful when using commas. Conjunctions such as
therefore, consequently, as a result, and for this reason are
usually followed by a comma, as in these examples:
|The weather was cold; therefore, Sally closed the window.
The weather was cold. Therefore, Sally put on her coat.
The weather was cold. Consequently, Sally put on her scarf.
A blizzard hit the town. As a result, the schools were
The adverbial clause conjunctions since and because are
exceptions. These are attached directly at the beginning of
CAUSE-sentence without a comma, as in the example above, Because the
weather outside was cold, Sally closed the window. The comma here is
placed at the end of the subordinate clause.
The coordinating conjunction so is also different from the
ones above. This conjunction has a comma before it, as in this
The weather was warm, so Jim turned on the air conditioner.
However, in formal academic writing, so may not be used at
the beginning of a sentence (although you will often see it in informal
The weather was warm. So Jim turned on the air conditioner.
(too informal -- avoid this usage)
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