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Rhetorical Patterns - Cause and Effect
The Rhetorical Patterns - Organizing Essays for Different Rhetorical Situations
The following pages will provide you with several effective ways of organizing information in your essays. Oftentimes, when you know who your audience is and what your purpose is for writing (which is called your rhetorical situation), you can begin to consider the organization of what is going to be in your paper, how you will introduce your paper, and what to write for your conclusion. The following rhetorical patterns will help you answer these questions.
Cause and Effect
Definition: Cause and effect is a logical system that organizes evidence to show how something happened.
Description: A cause and effect paper answers the question, “How did this happen?” Effective cause and effect analyses can be written on personal topics, perhaps by asking yourself why you happened to do something. Although many undergraduate cause and effect papers may examine larger topics and subjects, be cautious about addressing causes and effects that are global and historical; rather, work toward a logical and coherent analysis of a more manageable subject. To discover all of the causes and all of the effects forma large topic might require much more time than a single semester and much more room than five or six paragraphs.
Conventions: Although your writing might stem from a hunch about what caused something to happen, definitely avoid presenting your analysis as a hunch. Your readers will probably look for certain problems of logic in your writing. These problems are called logical fallacies, and most academic readers are well aware of them, and might primarily be looking for them.
Your readers will also wonder about whether you have explained your causes sufficiently and whether you included all of the important causes. Remember that some causes are things out in the future, promises that someone will do something for now. For example, the primary cause for robbing a bank, said famed bank robber Willie Sutton, was because that was where the money was. Make sure that you present a lucid and cogent pattern of evidence to support your causal chain. For the benefit of your readers, make sure that you provide a clear thesis in the introduction and make certain that your paper works to support the thesis.
Strategies: Your first thought should be whether your ideas about cause and effect are compatible with your assignment. Have you selected a manageable subject? Be wary of complex problems because it is often very difficult to find their causes. Many things happen for more than one reason. However, when you have selected your subject, thin first about the chronology: what happened before the effect that might have caused it? If you can think of more than one cause, then write them down and assign them values: which one was more of a cause than the other? Noted philosopher Kenneth Burke provides us with a system of five questions that help us determine the causality of events and things. You might begin the process of finding causes by posing certain questions:
- What kind of thing am I trying to explain here?
- What type of person would do such a thing? Would a rational or an irrational person do it?
- Where and when did this thing take place, and did the location and time have anything to do with the thing happening?
- Was anything needed in order to accomplish the thing?
- What would be someone’s motivations to do this thing?
Use these heuristics in order to help you find causes as you initially consider your subject. Finally, if you can find an answer to each of the five questions, then you probably will be able to find a logical explanation that helps you to avoid logical fallacies.
Organization: In your introduction, provide the assertion (the statement that your paper will prove). For instance, “My hometown wasted its tax money when it built that exercise trail two years ago.” Then, in the subsequent body paragraphs, provide topic sentences that summarize the logical step that each paragraph will make. “There was a gym that nobody used already.” Then, after each topic sentence, fill the paragraph with detailed, specific, and relevant facts that prove each paragraph’s claim. Give the reasoning in each of the paragraphs, and if you can think of any reasons why your readers would think otherwise, deal with those reasons by refuting them or making clear the logical superiority of your reasoning. Use signal words or transitions to connect sentences in the body paragraphs and to connect together the paragraphs. Finally, when you have reached the conclusion and you have proved your thesis, summarize the major points that support your assertion.
What are logical fallacies? Fallacies are problems within logic. For instance, if you thought that driving a car would always be difficult because the first time you drove a car it was extremely difficult, you would have made a logical fallacy, that of considering that all future events would be similar to one primary event. The following are several of the major categories of fallacies:
- Just because the cause came before the effect does not mean that it caused the effect, otherwise known as Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. This may sound really obvious to you; but there are often hidden causes, some of them that precede causes, for certain effects. Make sure that you can say that your cause came before your effect. For example, let’s say that one night there was a tremendous thunder storm with high winds, and the next morning, you walked over to your neighbor’s house and saw that her roof had a large hole in it with a tree over the hole. It seems that there is a relationship between the awful windy thunderstorm and the hole in the roof of your neighbor’s house; however, you might not be aware that a storm, which happened a week ago, knocked the tree down, which caused the hole in the roof. There may have also been some construction work and an accident happened during the construction work; the tree’s falling might just be a fluke accident that happened after the damage had already been done. Even if the tree fell and caused the hole, the real cause of the fall might have been the tree’s rotted trunk. Be aware that sometimes what we see as obvious logical cause and effect might have earlier or other factors that might explain the effect more logically. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a difficult fallacy to spot sometimes.
- Just because there seems to be a logical relationship does not mean that the one thing is the cause of an effect. If something happens, and you can find a cause, is the cause related to the effect? In order to test this condition, interrogate the cause and effect relationship backwards and forwards. Let’s say that Paula works for a large retail chain, Walmart, and she sleeps in late almost every morning, causing her to arrive at work late by a few minutes virtually every day. Finally, one day, her supervisor, Jillian, takes her aside and explains to Paula that because of her lateness, she is being fired. Paula rushes to the store manager’s office and explains that Jillian is firing her not because Paula came in late but because Jillian hates her. Paula has failed to achieve precondition #2, the store manager tells her, because Jillian has not fired several employees that she hates. The manager tells Paula that there must be another cause for her termination. You see, even though Jillian might hate Paula, Jillian may hate many other employees, and if she has not fired them also, the logical relationship that Paula is trying to establish is possible but not credible enough to be logical.
- Lack of a plausible explanation or questionable cause. This fallacy is guided by the idea that just because you see something and see something else that must be the cause, you may just not be able to see the true cause of the effect. There might be events and effects that seem to have a cause; however, that cause may only be something that is another effect of something causing both things to happen. Similarly, if you see a dog run out to greet you every morning that it is sunny, you might want to ascribe the dog’s presence to the weather; however, the sunny weather might actually cause the dog’s owner to awake earlier than normal, and she might let the dog out earlier than normal. You see, the sun does have some possible relationship with the dog’s presence, but the actual cause is getting up earlier than normal, which is the direct cause.
- Begging the question. This fallacy revolves around the logical inferences that could be made about the logical relationship but are not. Begging the question fallacies often involve bringing up information and not acting on its possible ramifications to the logical relationship. For instance, recently, a political candidate said that people putting their money into Social Security should be allowed to direct their money into other investments and earn ten percent returns a year in the stock market. The promise was that people could earn a much better return in the stock market than they could by having the government hold their retirement money for them. For some people, it would seem obvious that not everyone putting money into the stock market will earn profits, especially exceptional return rates of ten percent a year. This statement “begs the question” of what will happen if the stock market collapses, the stock market gives less than ten percent, or if people lose all their retirement money.
- Ignoring the question. This fallacy is similar to begging the question in the sense that once information that tends to contradict the logical relationship is brought into the logic, the information is simply ignored. Normally, ignoring the question fallacies are much easier to detect than begging the questions fallacies because the contradiction created by some information supporting the logical relationship is usually made obvious by the person establishing the logical relationship. We can use the social security scenario from above for this fallacy. If the candidate had stated that the stock market was always liable to be a place where investments were lost, and he still advocated putting social security funds into the stock market, he would have ignored the question of what would be done for retirees when their social security accounts were diminished or wiped out by stock market losses.
- Circular logic. Circular logic involves using the effect’s presence simply to justify the cause’s existence. If someone says that the reason you should give me money is because you have money and I need money, you can see that there is no other justification for the cause (my needing your money) except that the effect is present (i.e., you have money). Circular logic has what can be called perfect internal logic: everything makes sense because it is involved in the logical relationship. When you look for reasons to support the logic from outside the logical relationship, the relationship normally disintegrates and becomes illogical.
How do I begin drafting my introduction?
When you introduce your cause and effect paper, you will want to fully understand what your primary audience will need to know about your subject before you begin discussing the causes for your effect. Consider the following questions when you begin developing the content of your introduction:
- Will your audience need to know the history, background, or context for the effect?
- Are there people involved with the cause and/or effect that should be discussed?
- What is your position to discuss this topic?
- What kind of statement can you make, information you can provide, or rhetorical question you can ask to begin your introduction so that your audience will be both interested and willing to read about your ideas about the cause or causes for the effect?
Your first sentence is often the most crucial sentence when you are writing for an audience already inclined toward a belief or opinion about your subject, especially a belief or an opinion that is different from what you are going to propose.
What about my thesis statement?
Your thesis statement should end your introduction. You could also, if space permits, indicate and note some of those causes; however, like the comparison and contrast pattern, cause and effect thesis readers will rely on topic sentences and transition sentences heavily, and there is where you might consider placing the detail that you might place in, for example, an exemplification paper’s thesis statement. Knowing what your thesis statement is (in a simple, short sentence) will greatly assist them as they read. For instance, “The real estate crisis was mainly caused by Alan Greenspan’s reckless policies” is superior to a lengthy thesis statement that explained all the minor causes for the real estate crisis.
How do I draft my conclusion?
As you have gauged your audience’s needs, you will probably have a good idea about how to rephrase your main point and offer a brief overview of your evidence and causal chain. You may also want to consider the following:
- Future implications for the cause and effect.
- Analysis of what the effect means to your readers.
Of course, there are many other ideas that you can develop in your conclusion.
One convention that almost all readers will look for in your cause and effect paper is that your conclusion is not the place in your paper to continue bringing up causes for the effect you have analyzed.