Why is cause and effect language useful in academic writing?
The idea of cause and effect is at the very heart of academic writing. Conclusions (‘effects’) which are not supported by reasons (‘causes’) may be considered poor arguments. Likewise, it is bad practice to list lots of information without presenting what conclusions can be drawn. This kind of writing is more descriptive than analytical, which is usually not the aim of academic writing. Good academic writing is about why and how, not just where, when and what. As per the patterns of organization in academic writing, the cause normally precedes the effect:
High levels of carbon emissions have caused climate change.
What grammatical devices can be used to express cause and effect?
A range of grammatical devices can be used to express cause and effect. It is important to become familiar with the strategies outlined below so that your writing has variety.
Strategy 1: Using conjunctions to indicate causes
On account of this, academic writing uses a range of different structures to show these relationships.
Probably the most common way to express cause and effect is through conjunctions (linking devices). In this respect, because is the most commonly used in academic English.
In fact, at times, it may be overused. Synonyms also include due to, owing to and as a result of. All three are considered formal and therefore acceptable to use in academic English. As and since have a similar meaning and often appear at the beginning of a sentence. If you use these conjunctions, it is important to ensure that the sentences contain both a cause and an effect. A common mistake is to only include one or the other.
Strategy 2: Using conjunctions to indicate effects
Several conjunctions can be used at the beginning of sentences to indicate an effect or result. As these conjunctions are ‘sentence-to-sentence’ linkers, they should be followed by a comma. The most commonly used conjunction to indicate effect in academic writing is therefore: Therefore, it is important for students to become familiar with as many of these terms as possible.
Other examples include: consequently, so, thus, hence, because of this, for this reason.
Strategy 3: Using verb phrases
Increased use of cause and effect language results in better academic writing.
A number of verb phrases can indicate cause and effect. These are near-exact synonyms,
i.e., there is not much difference in either denotation or connotation. The following substitution table presents those verb phrases which are most appropriate in the academic context.
|High levels of carbon emissions||Lead to/result in |
Cause/are the cause of
As noted, the usual word order of English is Subject-Verb-Object. However, in order to emphasize the effect (conclusion) rather than the cause (reason), the passive and swapping the subject and object should be used.
Climate change is caused by high levels of carbon emissions.
Strategy 4: Using noun phrases
Some high-frequency language in this category includes
|Explaining Causes||Explaining Effects|
|The reason/explanation/cause for this is||The consequence/result is therefore|
|The grounds/basis for these are as follows||The effect of this|
|The source/foundation for this claim is||The outcome is..|
Strategy 5: Using conditionals
If you use cause and effect language, your writing will be more sophisticated.
The zero or first conditional can be used to talk about possible causes and effects, the second and third conditionals for causes and effects which are unlikely or impossible.
Hedging and cause and effect
When you are not entirely certain of the relationship between a cause and an effect, it is common practice to use hedging language.
Impersonal expression: It is possible that high levels of carbon emissions lead to climate change.
Modal verb: High levels of carbon emissions could lead to climate change.
Introductory verbs: High levels of carbon emissions appear to lead to climate change.
Distancing phrase: It is generally believed that high levels of carbon emissions lead to climate change.