How to Read for Cause and Effect
The idea behind cause and effect can be summed up by the statement “One thing leads to another.” Understanding cause and effect, and the relationship between them, can make you a better reader.
- Cause: an action or an event that makes something happen or produces an effect
- Effect: a change produced by an action or event
Understanding cause and effect is an important skill not only for reading comprehension, but also for your daily life. To analyze the events happening around you, you must be able to understand why those events happened—what caused them.
For example, if you get distracted by TV from your homework, you will need to either stay up late to complete it or you will suffer from poor grades.
Similarly, to make decisions or evaluate the decisions of others, you must be able to consider the effects of a possible decision. “Reading” not only texts, but also events and situations, requires you to understand cause and effect.
Cause and effect work together; you can’t have one without the other. That’s why it’s very important to be able to distinguish between the two.
The cause generally answers the question why something happened: At a young age, your teacher probably asked you, “Why did Goldilocks go into the three bears’ home?”
It’s likely that your teacher also asked, “What happened because Goldilocks went into the three bears’ home?” Determining the effect generally requires you to answer the question what happened after an event took place.
When reading, paying attention to cause and effect requires a lot of attention, diligence and mental effort. For those of us who struggle with our attention, it may be helpful to pay attention to words that signal a cause/effect connection:
As a result of
For this reason
In order to
Is caused by
Since Coach Kerr began leading the baseball team, they have won more games.
Cause: Coach Kerr began leading the baseball team.
Effect: The team has won more games.
If you are still having trouble connecting causes and effects, look for significant events or actions and reword the situations in the form of a statement.
The phrase “because of” is helpful in thinking about potential causes
Why was Jimmy sent to the principal’s office?
Jimmy was sent to the principal’s office “because of” [cause]
The phrase “resulted in” can be used to think about effects.
What happened when Jimmy talked back to his teacher again?
Jimmy’s constant talking back to his teacher “resulted in” [effect]
Textbooks often attempt to explain either the cause of some action or its effect.
In history, an author might try to explain the causes of the civil war.
In science, an author might explain the effect of underwater nuclear testing.
In textbooks and novels, there may be multiple causes for one effect, multiple effects for one cause, or multiple causes and multiple effects. In these situations, it may be helpful to use a “mind-map” to organize the information.
Try these suggestions today to help yourself better focus on cause/effect!
(c) 2009- 2012, Monte W. Davenport, Ph.D.