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What words to use when writing cause and effect essays

Correlation Verses Causation

There is a huge difference between the concepts of correlation and causation. Correlation is merely the “association” between two variables. Correlation in no way indicates what caused what. So if popcorn consumption is associated with having long hair, then it’s clear that popcorn consumption didn’t cause someone to have long hair. However, it’s slightly less clear when we consider whether having long hair caused the increased popcorn consumption. However tempting it might be to make the claim that having long hair caused the increase in popcorn consumption, this is not good practice. In fact, this is downright misleading. This is because the close association between popcorn and having long hair may be explained by the presence of another variable – like being female.

Causation on the other hand is when there is a clear case of cause and effect. The sun causes sunburns. Throwing something off the roof causes it to break. There are many cases of clear cause and effect. But unless you can see or verify that one thing causes another you should never claim that it is a case of cause and effect. For example, if I see someone drop a lamp off the roof I can say that that person caused the lamp to break. However, if I didn’t see the person drop the lamp off the roof they may have just been standing next to the lamp when the wind blew it off the roof. So be sure of the evidence before discussing cause and effect in your essays.

Tentative Language

If you do need to talk about cause and effect it’s important to use tentative language in your discussion. This way you’re not going to be proven wrong at a later time since your language allows for a different conclusion.

    Don’t say

  • It is X
  • X caused Y
  • Y happened because of X
  • X proves Y

  • Instead say

  • It seems likely that it is X
  • X seems to have precipitated Y
  • Y occurred after the incidence of X, likely indicating causation
  • X indicates that Y is likely

Never Use The Term “Proof”

It’s important to never use the term “proof” in your writing about causation. The term “proof” is one of those words that is looked down upon when used in academic settings. In fact, one of the most basic lessons that graduate school teaches is to never ever use the following terms:

  • Proof
  • Prove
  • Proven

  • Instead, use words like:

  • Evidence
  • Indication

  • Indicates
  • Shows
  • Demonstrates

  • Established
  • Demonstrated
  • Confirmed