Writing to Explain Cause and Effects
I. “Arguments from cause claim that one condition or event contributes to or brings about another condition or event” (Inch and Warnick 198).
A. When we write to explain causes and effects, we usually begin with curiosity regarding something that exists:
1. What causes a business to succeed or fail?
2. What causes customers to choose one product over others?
3. Why are you attending college?
4. What made the Lord of the Rings trilogy so interesting to so many age groups?
B. Write a letter to a friend or family member explaining the causes and/or effects of a hobby, habit, decision, or behavior.
1. Why does my family love football, basketball, or tennis so much?
2. Why does my family always buy a certain brand of cars or trucks?
3. What are the possible consequences of a harmful habit that a friend or relative has?
4. What have been the effects of a major personal decision I made? What would have been the effects if I had decided differently?
5. What causes my friends and me to choose one kind of music over another, one television show or movie over another? What are the effects of those choices?
C. Writing this kind of essay:
1. Presentation of focused cause(s) or effect(s): “introduce the event, activity, or phenomenon for which you wish to establish cause(s) and effect(s)” (Roen, Glau, and Maid 469).
2. A clearly stated claim that a cause-and-effect relationship exists.
3. Sufficient evidence to support your claim: use a range of evidence to strengthen correlations.
4. Clear, logical thinking: we have to think about the kinds of relationships we build so we are not guilty of moving too quickly to a conclusion.
a. Does the effect have a single cause, or multiple causes?
b. What are the contributing causes, and do they lead to a precipitating cause?
c. Is a particular cause remote or immediate? Develop a causal chain of events.
d. Is a particular cause necessary or sufficient?
1. A necessary cause is one that must be present for the effect to occur.
2. A sufficient cause is one that, if present, always triggers a particular effect.
e. Anticipation of possible objections or alternative explanations; “while your causal analysis may be highly plausible, there are almost always other possible causes for the same effect or other possible effects of the cause that you are considering” (471).
D. Take a look at the Ad Council campaign on “Youth Reckless Driving”: http://www.adcouncil.org/newsDetail.aspx?id=263, and note the cause-and-effect relationships both explicit and implied.
II. When we write to explain cause and effects, we are using different kinds of reasoning and stylistic devices.
A. Associative schemes: bringing elements together to evaluate or organize these elements in terms of one another (Inch and Warnick 188).
B. Tropes: figures of speech that frame an issue through symbols (language, performance, and image).
1. Analogy: emphasizes the similarity between two elements; “an analogy reasons that because two objects resemble each other in certain known respects, they will also resemble each other in respects that are unknown” (Inch and Warnick 192).
2. Figurative analogy: “figurative analogies function primarily to make what is remote or poorly understood immediate and comprehensible” (Inch and Warnick 193).
3. Ad Council: if you have been in a car with a friend unwilling to drive slower then you can reason that you too might lose your life.
4. Metaphor: “is a device for seeing one thing in terms of something else”; PSAs act as metaphors for similar situations.
5. Literal Analogy: “compares two objects of the same class that share many characteristics and concludes that a known characteristic that one possesses is shared by the other” (192).
C. Causal arguments: “claim that one condition or event contributes to or brings about another condition or event. Causal arguments are also arguments from succession; one event must happen before the other; and the causal event must bring about the effect” (Inch and Warnick 198).
1. Two different types of conditions: necessary condition: “one that must be present for the effect to occur; but the effect may not necessarily follow the cause” (199)(weaker form of argument).
2. Sufficient condition: “circumstance in whose presence the event or effect must occur. In other words, the presence of a sufficient condition guarantees that the subsequent effect will occur” (199).
3. Synecdoche: “which is the part for the whole, the whole for the part, container for the thing contained” (Burke, Grammar 507); synecdoche has to do with representation; an image or word, for example, only gives us a snapshot of the complexity of what is going on in any particular moment.
4. Even though there might be a clear correlation between elements, all contributing phenomena should be considered to develop stronger causal relationships; “A correlation claims that two events or phenomena vary together; an increase or decrease in one is accompanied by an increase or decrease in the other” (200).
D. Dissociation: disengages or differentiates between two ideas; “dissociation arguments disengage one idea from another and seek a new evaluation of both ideas” (203).
1. In this type of reasoning we are breaking apart causal relationships (associative reasoning) in order to allow for new kinds of connections.
2. Dissociation works powerfully in relation to what an audience values; consider value hierarchies, here.
3. Irony: “when an audience understands the opposite of what is expressed” (Crowley and Hawhee 352).
4. Irony focuses on the notion of identification; how is common ground established with an audience?
5. Irony and dissociative reasoning work through the concept of “doubling”: we see our assumptions exposed in relation to other possible interpretations of the same events.
6. The Onion example: http://www.theonion.com/content/video/new_law_would_ban_marriages
E. Many of the tests for validity in relation to cause-effect relationships have to do with quantity (are there enough reasons to support a particular conclusion?) and quality (Do the relationships work?); Irony may also work to expose logical fallacies related to these tests for validity.
1. Hasty generalization: draws a conclusion about a class based on too few or atypical examples (207).
2. False Cause (post hoc): “a post hoc fallacy mistakes temporal succession for causal sequence” (208); just because two events exist in time does not mean that one caused the other; “All people who have cancer drink milk. Therefore, drinking milk must cause cancer.”
3. “Single-cause fallacies occur when an advocate attributes only one cause to a complex problem” (209); “Poor communication is the reason for the high American divorce rate."
4. Slippery slope: “assumes without evidence that a given event is the first in a series of steps that will lead inevitably to some outcome” (209); poor communication will eventually lead to the dissolution of marriages; exposes assumption: allowing GLBTQ marriages will lead to “unraveling” of civil society.
5. False Analogy: compares two things that are not alike in significant respects or have critical points of difference; “We should not teach socialism in the university any more that we should teach arson” (206).