Listing Causes and Effects in a Reading

Learning Objective:

  • Identify cause(s) and effect(s) in a reading.

Identifying causes and effects in a readingA piece of writing to be read. A reading can either be a full work (i.e., a book) or partial (i.e., a passage). is an essential skill to develop for several reasons. First, it will enable you to understand more complex textsWords that make up a book, essay, article, poem, or speech. more fully. Second, it will help you develop an outlineA preliminary plan for a piece of a writing, often in the form of a list. It should include a topic, audience, purpose, thesis statement, and main and supporting points. for a cause and effect essayAn examination of the relationship between why and/or how something happened. Causes, which are usually events or actions, lead to effects, or the consequences of those causes.. Finally, it will provide you with the vocabulary and understanding to create a thoughtful and comprehensive discussion of topics in a cause and effect essay.

Identifying the causes and effects in a text is not always a straightforward exercise. In this lesson, you will learn five strategies to identify the causes and effects in a reading.

Strategy 1: Find the topic.

One key strategy to finding the topicThe subject of a reading. of a reading is being able to identify words and their synonymsA word or phrase that has an identical or very similar meaning to another word. Example: tiny is a synonym for small. that are repeatedly used throughout the text. These repeated terms signal to the reader the primary phenomenaHappenings or facts that can be observed. , issues, problems, or topics addressed in the reading.

For example, if you are reading an essay and you find the term "childhood obesity" throughout the text, then you will know that childhood obesity is the topic.

It is also important to be able to pick out those additional terms that are closely related to the primary term. These are typically synonyms, which are words that share the same or similar meaning. For example, a synonym for "childhood obesity" might be "overweight children."

Strategy 2: Find the thesis.

A thesisAn overall argument, idea, or belief that a writer uses as the basis for a work. is essential to the organization of any essay. It provides a roadmap, so to speak, of the writer's thoughts, arguments, and conclusions. The thesis statementA brief statement that identifies a writer's thoughts, opinions, or conclusions about a topic. Thesis statements bring unity to a piece of writing, giving it a focus and a purpose. You can use three questions to help form a thesis statement: What is my topic? What am I trying to say about that topic? Why is this important to me or my reader? is also very helpful in signaling the purposeThe reason the writer is writing about a topic. It is what the writer wants the reader to know, feel, or do after reading the work. of the reading, which will also help reveal its causes and effects.

The thesis of a cause and effect essay will look like one of the following two examples.


Childhood obesity is the cause of a multitude of dangerous and debilitating physical, psychological, and social conditions, such as pre-diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, depression, and social ridicule.


Childhood obesity is caused by many factors, such as unavailable and expensive healthy food, reduced opportunities for physical exercise at school and at home, and societal perceptions about the safety of children playing outdoors.

By finding the thesis, you will be able to begin picking out the causes and effects in the reading. Using the first example, the thesis is that childhood obesity is the reason (cause) for many harmful consequences (effects).

Strategy 3: Find signal words.

Cause and effect essays employ words signal wordsWords or phrases that connect ideas and alert a reader to important relationships between subjects. For example, signal words in a cause and effect essay could include first, second, then, next, later, because, after, and due to. Signal words in a compare/contrast essay could include also, but, similarly, in contrast, unlike, in the same way, as well as, or on the other hand. such as like, because, since, consequently, this led to/so, if/then, as a result of, first/second/third cause, first/second/third result or effect, due to, first/second/third, then, subsequently, thus, for, but, as, therefore, and so. These words are clues to you about the relationships described.

Here is an example:

Childhood obesity is the result of multiple and often multifaceted causes. Therefore, it is key to identify such causes. The first cause of childhood obesity is the unavailability of affordable and nutritious food options. The second cause of childhood obesity is… etc. Due to these factors, childhood obesity has become more prevalent in our culture. Thus, we need to take a long, hard look at these issues and determine how we might help obese children and their families to make sustainable and healthy changes.

Strategy 4: Find the essay's organization.

Cause and effect essays are arranged in particular ways. If you can identify the organization of the ideas, you can identify the causes and effects more easily. There are typically two patterns used when organizing a cause and effect essay:

  1. Many effects stem from one cause.

In this type of essay, the writer is addressing all of the effects that stem from a single cause.

  1. Many causes lead to one effect.

In this type of essay, the writer is outlining all of the causes that lead to one effect.

Strategy 5: Find causal chains.

In reading a cause and effect essay, it is important to watch out for patterns where one thing affects another and so on. It may not always immediately be clear if you are reading about a cause or an effect. Further, there are times in which an effect can become the cause of a subsequent effect, and so forth. This connection between cause and effect is referred to as a causal chainA series of events, each triggered by the one before. Causal chains have three parts: the initial cause, the final consequence, and all the steps that link the cause to the effect. Also called "the domino effect.", or sometimes as the domino effectA sequence of events, each triggered by the one before. Another name for a causal chain, the domino effect, refers to the result of pushing over the first domino in a row of them - one domino knocks over the domino next to it, which falls and knocks over the domino next to it, and so on..

Here is an example:

One winter day, I decided to go downhill skiing. It had been years since I had last skied, and since I had always thought of myself as quite a good skier, I simply dusted off my old, out-of-date skis and hit the slopes. On my first run down the mountain, I hit a patch of ice and fell down. The bindings on my skis did not release and I subsequently crashed into several other skiers. One of those skiers was a beautiful woman who was on the very first run of her life. Both of us were injured enough that the ski patrol had to take us down the mountain on sleds as a precaution. Fortunately, neither of us were hurt very badly and we spent the rest of the day together in the lodge. It turned out that we lived only three blocks away from each other back in the city. After dating for two years, we actually got married.

What is the main effect addressed in this example? The initial cause could be said to be the narrator's decision to go skiing although he had not been skiing in years. But that effect—the skiing—is also another cause. The narrator wore old skis with bad bindings and hit a patch of ice. This caused him to fall and crash into other people. This is another effect. So the falling and crashing is a cause and an effect. The crash caused the narrator and a woman to get hurt, which then led to a day in the lodge and eventual marriage. Therefore, the main effect is that the narrator got married.