How to Show Cause-Effect Order

Posted on: February 14, 2010

Cause-effect order shows who causes what. That is, it shows which agent causes a given result. This structural style is typically used to show the effects of various actions and methods of doing something.

Cause-effect order has many practical applications in business and technical writing, as indicated by the following examples. It provides the intellectual scaffolding  to:

  • Show the effect of various manufacturing methods on product quality.
  • Diagnose product malfunction(s), based on likely causes.
  • Recommend “best choice” repair procedures, based on error messages.
  • Show the effect of various agricultural practices on crop yields.
  • Identify multiple factors that contribute to accidents on the job.

Like other structural styles, cause-effect order is scalable. This means you can use it to organize the entire document you are writing, or a single chapter or section within that document, or even just one procedure. It all depends on your objectives (which you established in the planning phase).

Let’s say the outline for your document has been reviewed and approved, and you are now in the thick of writing the first draft. As you work your way through the details, you realize that, in some instances, words alone will not fully or accurately convey your point. You conclude that in addition to tell, you must also show.

Here are some ways of showing cause-effect order that will help your readers better understand what you are trying to tell them:

Paired or grouped drawings, data or photos. Showing the side-by-side results of two or more methods used to accomplish the same task is a very powerful communication tool. This technique lets your readers see and judge for themselves.

Cause-effect table. This useful tool lists actions and their results. For example, you might label the first column in the table: “If You Do This” and the second: “This Is the Result.” This type of table is very useful in diagnostics, troubleshooting, and optimal-decision pathing.

Bar graph. When you need to show the quantitative results of various methods of doing something, the bar graph collapses a lot of information into a small space and can offer your readers clarity and insight.

Cause-effect tree. When there are multiple factors that contribute to a result, this type of graphic can help you get a handle on the complexity of the data and organize it in a way that is immediately comprehensible.

How to select the best graphic for the job at hand? The key is to identify exactly what the text is stating. Here you must tease out the logic flow of your source material (that is, the research material you are using to write the document). In addition, check your document-planning notes to be sure you understand who your audience is. Finally, translate the words or data into a visual image that captures the information or idea being expressed. Elizabeth Lexleigh   The Write Ideas   lexpower


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