Complex Causation: Using a "Grid" to Analyze Arguments and Plan Your Thesis

        A common cause of misunderstanding among reasonable people is complex causation (or complex effects).  Each of us sees his or her own part of the cause of something, but none of us sees all the causes.  We all "know we're right" because some evidence does support our conclusions, but we're all somewhat wrong because of causes we omit.  One important reason to learn academic prose as a dialect of written English is that it enables us to share our combined wisdom to solve complex problems of causation (or effect).  We can pool our evidence of what causes exist, and enhance our explanations of the event.  Some of these combinations of causes and outcomes will make more effective papers than others.  Here are some examples of complex causation for the perceived effect: students are tempted to use "smart drugs" to enable them to be better writers.

Things that might affect student writing success Student 1: average skills and intelligences diagnosed  with ADHD Student 2: average skills and intelligences,  ADHD but undiagnosed and self-medicating Student 3: high attention span and writing-related cognition but low social intelligence and intrinsic motivation Student 4: above-average attention span writing-related cognition, social intelligence and intrinsic motivation
Learning habits acquired in high school Yes Yes Yes Yes
Support services like the Writing Center and ACE Yes Yes, but may not use the resource Yes, but may not use the source May acquire this help elsewhere
Structure of the course and writing assignments Yes, very much Yes, very much Perhaps Perhaps not
Teacher's awareness of student's needs Yes, very much Not if student does not know! Somewhat Not much
Student's intrinsic motivation to succeed Yes Yes Yes Yes
Student's extrinsic motivation to succeed (grades, $$$ after graduation, parental praise, peer admiration, etc.) Perhaps negatively! Almost certainly negatively! Perhaps Not at all

        Using the grid enables us to play "what if" games with causes for students' decision to use "smart pills" to improve their writing by imagining what could be the case.  Based on your own classroom experience, what other kinds of students can you imagine?  What do these patterns suggest that you might turn into a thesis designed to changed the minds of our sources who have a more simple sense of what causes students to be choose drug use to improve intellectual performance?  

        You also might want to test your personal experience to avoid the logical fallacy of hasty generalization.  Ask your friends what makes a difference to them.  Look for student surveys from reputable sources.  Look for scholarly research.