Rhetorical Strategies: Cause & Effect and Definition
Rhetorical Style #5 Cause & Effect
The rhetorical style of cause & effect
(reason & result) can best be explained in terms
of a timeline. If all
events in your life fall onto this timeline, there
is a definite, mappable past, present, and future.
Your job as a writer, within this style of writing,
is to pick an event (X) and place it on the
timeline. The word "event" does not only refer
to an occurrence, however. It can refer to many
The event you choose to explore could also be
a "thing" not in your life (non-personal).
If you wanted to explore the causes and/or effects
of an athlete's impressive performance or a movie's
success, for instance, that would be fine.
- Beliefs--things accepted as true or
right which can't actually be proven
- Attitudes--disposition or feelings
toward a person or thing
- Values--abstract concepts of what is
right or good; principles or standards
Looking at X, you can trace
its causes in the past, or its effects
in the future. There are different types of causes
and effects: immediate (near X, possibly the
most influential), intermediate (further from
X, influential), and remote (furthest from X,
but still influential). This style of writing is
similar to process analysis, but the focus is somewhat
different; rather than focusing on all aspects
leading to, or following from, the event in a
step-by-step analysis, you
want to focus on specific, recognizeable factors
which influenced the event. After an event has been
chosen, there are three general patterns this type of
writing can employ:
To choose which pattern to follow, determine what is
more important to your telling: the story (details)
leading up to the event (cause), or the story (details)
following the event (effect).
- from X, look backward to study its
causes, both immediate and remote (the past--history)
- from X, look forward to study its effects,
both immediate and remote (the future--speculation)
- using X as a point of reference, study
both its causes and effects, from the present point
of view (in this style, causes can be seen as remote
and effects as immediate, leading up to the present
[ultimate effect--all history])
There are also two styles that can be used when writing
a C&E essay. The first style is Cause & Effect
Relation. In this style, focus on two or more
seperate causes for a singular event. Each cause may
take the form of an individual narrative or example,
and they will be linked only by the fact that, when
seen as a whole, they led to the effect you are
focusing on. The pattern can also be applied to the
future (exploring effects). The format
for this style is as follows:
The second style is Causal Chain or Effectual
Chain. In this style, focus on a remote cause,
which leads to an effect. This effect becomes the
intermediate cause. This cause leads to another
effect, which becomes the immediate cause. This
cause finally leads to the final effect. At this
point, by creating a causal chain, you have explored
the reasons behind an result. The pattern, when
reversed, can also be applied to the future (exploring
effects). The format for this style is as follows:
- First Cause or Effect
- Second Cause or Effect
- Third Cause or Effect
- Introduction (name X)
- Remote Cause
(leads directly to)
- Intermediate Cause
(leads directly to)
- Immediate Cause
(leads directly to X)
- Introduction (name X)
- Immediate Effect
(from X, leads directly to)
- Intermediate Effect
(leads directly to)
- Remote Effect
Remember: focus only on causes and effects
directly connected to your event (try not to stray).
Rhetorical Style #6 Definition
The rhetorical style of definition deals with
the description of a person, place, or thing so that
"it" can be better understood. There are two distinct
ways to describe anything--denotatively or connotatively.
- Denotation, according to Webster's
College Dictionary, is description focusing on
"the explicit or direct
meaning or set of meanings of a word or expression."
This type of definition is literal, it "tells" us what
a "thing" is; yet it oftentimes does not offer us the
"real" meaning of the "thing." In other words, just
like its definition, denotation is often boring.
- This is where the connotative description comes
in. This is the meaning of a "thing," whatever that
"thing" is, which creates some sort of reaction in us.
This reaction can be mental, physical, emotional--
anything--as long as the reaction creates in us a
meaning beyond the denotative. Connotative meanings are
subjective, meaning that they come from you, and are
based upon your experiences. This is the best kind of
description because it is directly related to your life.
You may ask: How can a subjective definition be
understood by an objective reader? The answer is simple.
Find a common experience shared by both you
and your reader.
If you can find a common thread which runs between your
and your reader's life, you will be able to allow them to
understand your connotative definition. For example,
you may not know anything about the feeling of anticipation
associated with waiting for a homemade bagel to bake so
that you can taste one for the first time,
but you will probably be able to understand the
concept of sitting in front of the oven, peeking
through the glass, watching something bake, whatever
it may have been. Along this same line, you may not
know anything at all about the size or shape of chicken
cutlets, but when you read about how they must be
pieced together like a puzzle to cover the bread in a
sandwich, you begin to visualize what this type of
food looks like.
There are many ways to begin a definition paper.
Here are some good ideas to utilize in the
introduction, and possibly throughout the paper:
Most importantly though, you must use
- Synonymous (Synonym) Definition: By focusing
on words, ideas, or "things" that are similar to the
word, idea, or "thing" you are trying to define, you
will show similarities between them all, so that your
reader will more easily identify with your "thing."
- Historical Definition: Focus on the origin,
shaping, and growth of the thing you are trying to
define, throughout its lifetime, so that you eventually
end up with your present, connotative definition.
- Negative Definition: Focus on all that your
"thing " cannot be, so that through the process of
elimination, all that is left is the definition of
your "thing" that you want to work with.
- Genus/Difference Definition: Focus on all
the different "types" of the "thing" you are trying to
define, so that all that is left is the type you want
to focus on (much like negative definition).
- Appearance/Operational Definition: Focus on
what your "thing" looks like, what its parts are, what
it is made of, what it does or is supposed to do, how
to make or do it, or a combination of any of these
- Examples: Show your reader exactly what
you mean when you describe your topic through vivid
description. Examples can appear in narrative, process
analysis, cause & effect, or classification form--all
will work. The main thing to remember is that the
examples must accurately describe your definition.
While they function well everywhere, the most common
place for examples to appear is in the body of the
paper. Structure your definition paper around these
examples--they are invaluable to your cause. You want
your reader to understand exactly what your topic means
to you--and they will be able to do this if they are
able to understand and visualize your examples.
The contents of your conclusion are up to you. Ideally,
your conclusion may focus on your definition's place
in the world around you. Show your reader that your
definition has earned a place among all the others--
because it is important to you.
Remember: any and all rhetorical strategies can be used in the construction of a definition--simply choose which one(s) will benefit your specific topic.