How to Describe Cause-Effect Order

Posted on: January 13, 2010

Cause-effect order shows which agent or precipitating factor causes one or more results. Here is a simple example of cause-effect: If you take a sharp metal object and scratch the surface of a CD, this causes the CD to become unusable.

In that example, one action causes one effect. However, in writing a document you may find that you must account for multiple contributing factors that cause one or more results. Conversely, in some instances the content you are writing about might be more understandable to your audience if you describe the data or results first, and then draw a conclusion or show the cause (effect-cause).

There are many words and phrases you can use to describe cause-effect order. Here are a few of the most common: therefore, if … then, since, caused by, because, due to, based on, as a result, consequently, produced by, so, and accordingly.

Happily, like most structural styles, cause-effect order is scalable. So you could use it to organize the entire document, a chapter, a section, a paragraph, or even just one sentence. In fact, you will probably use cause-effect order along with other types of organizational patterns, such as chronological order or spatial order, because most documents are too complex to rely on only one type of order.

Cause-effect order is useful in describing unexpected problems; rules and regulations; testing of components in a device; scientific experiments; patient information regarding the use of medications; the impact of various manufacturing methods on product quality; diagnostics; and so on.

Use cause-effect order to help your readers solve the problem of: “If I do this, then what happens?” This approach moves your readers from the general to the specific. By contrast, effect-cause order helps your readers move from the specific to the general when they look at data and wonder: “Hmmm, look at all these data points. What can I conclude, based on them?”

Problem-solving relies in part on insightful use of cause-effect order. This organizational pattern is indispensable in science, technology, medicine, engineering, and so many other fields.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas


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