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5.Cause and Effect Essay Paragraphs

Sometimes, assigned topics on the written portion of the TOEFL ask you to explain the reasons or causes of something. Other topics will ask you to discuss the results or effects of some cause. Here is an example of a writing topic asking for causes of a particular phenomenon (Note: this is not an actual TOEFL topic, but it is similar to one that may appear on a specific adminstration of the TOEFL):

In recent decades, cities have grown so large that now about 50% of the Earth's population lives in urban areas. Explain the causes of this phenomenon.

Be sure to give specific details and reasons in your explanation.

(Cause/effect paragraphs generally follow basic paragraph format. That is, they begin with a topic sentence and this sentence is followed by specific supporting details.   (Click here if you wish to review Lesson 1, "Basic Paragraph Essay Structure.")   For example, if the topic sentence introduces an effect, the supporting sentences all describe causes. Here is an example:

In recent decades, cities have grown so large that now about 50% of the Earth's population lives in urban areas. There are several reasons for this occurrence. First, the increasing industrialization of the nineteenth century resulted in the creation of many factory jobs, which tended to be located in cities. These jobs, with their promise of a better material life, attracted many people from rural areas. Second, there were many schools established to educate the children of the new factory laborers. The promise of a better education persuaded many families to leave farming communities and move to the cities. Finally, as the cities grew, people established places of leisure, entertainment, and culture, such as sports stadiums, theaters, and museums. For many people, these facilities made city life appear more interesting than life on the farm, and therefore drew them away from rural communities.

Notice how each supporting sentence is a cause that explains the effect mentioned in the topic sentence. In the chart below are the main ideas of the above paragraph, to help you understand the relationships better:

(Topic Sentence)
(Supporting Sentences)
Cities have grown very large.
[There are several reasons for this.]
   Factory jobs attracted people.
(Cities have grown very large.)
   Better schools attracted families to move
   to the city.
(Cities have grown very large.)
   Places of leisure, entertainment, and culture
   made city life appear more interesting.

Notice also how the topic sentence is followed by the "focusing" or "prediction" sentence, There are several reasons for this. Such sentences help the reader anticipate the organization of the paragraph or essay.

Cause and Effect Conjunctions

Here are some common conjunctions that can be used to express cause and effect:

since as a result because of + noun phrase
because therefore due to + noun phrase
consequently for this reason so

There are two things you must be careful of when using these conjunctions. First, you must order the cause and the effect corerctly. For example, in the sentence:

Sally closed the window because the weather outside was cold.

the CAUSE is the fact that the room was cold, and the EFFECT is Sally's closing the window. The conjunction because is placed in the correct position here, which is right before the cause. Similarly, in the sentence:

Because the weather outside was cold, Sally closed the window.

the conjunction because is correctly placed before the part of the sentence that expresses the cause, even though the subordinate clause because the room was cold is now at the beginning of the sentence. (Note that the first letter of the conjunction is now capitalized.) However, in this sentence:

??The weather outside was cold because Sally closed the window.

even though it is grammatical, it does not make sense because a person's opening or closing a window does not influence the weather.

Second, you should be careful when using commas. Conjunctions such as therefore, consequently, as a result, and for this reason are usually followed by a comma, as in these examples:

The weather was cold.   Therefore, Sally closed the window.

The weather was cold.   Therefore, Sally put on her coat.

The weather was cold.   Consequently, Sally put on her scarf.

A blizzard hit the town.   As a result, the schools were closed.

The adverbial clause conjunctions since and because are exceptions. These are attached directly at the beginning of CAUSE-sentence without a comma, as in the example above, Because the weather outside was cold, Sally closed the window. The comma here is placed at the end of the subordinate clause.

The coordinating conjunction so is also different from the ones above. This conjunction has a comma before it, as in this sentence:

The weather was warm, so Jim turned on the air conditioner.

However, in formal academic writing, so may not be used at the beginning of a sentence (although you will often see it in informal writing):

The weather was warm.   So Jim turned on the air conditioner.
(too informal -- avoid this usage)

Source: http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu

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