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Arts & Letters Daily


Writing Tutor: Conditional Argument

Mary and Jim, who live in Vancouver, usually take the highway up to Kamloops and across the mountains to Calgary to visit their parents.  This year, they are interested in visiting a friend in Kelowna on their way to Calgary. Mary is wondering whether their trip through Kelowna would be longer and take a lot more time. So, she Googled the trip through Kelowna and discovered that it would take about 40 more minutes to travel to Calgary through Kelowna. Google also showed that the detour through Kelowna would increase the distance by about 40 kilometers.

Mary shares this information with her husband, Jim, and concludes by saying, “We will go to Kelowna on our way to Calgary … it is a short detour of 40 kilometers.” Jim retorts, “Who says we are going to Kelowna. I have to do the extra driving through the mountains. Don’t I have a say on this decision as well?” Now both are upset.

This unpleasant exchange could have been avoided by Mary by saying, “IF we go to Kelowna on our way to Calgary, we have to take a short detour of 40 kilometers.” With this statement, she would not have announced a decision … she would have added relevant information to their discussion. Jim could have checked the information himself and discover that Mary’s information was correct or not.

Mary’s conditional statement (if A then B) is another form of deductive reasoning used to solve a problem. Conditional statements do not close the problem solving process but add information and logic that might help to solve a problem  … to close the information gap and logical gap. Mary and Jim have to make a decision as to whether a detour of 40 kilometers, which would extend their travelling time by 40 minutes, is worth the stopover in Kelowna.

Conditional reasoning takes this form:

(major)  IF we go to Kelowna on our way to Calgary … then detour of 40 kilometers

(minor)  go to Kelowna on our way to Calgary

(conclusion)  detour of 40 kilometers


It is expressed as follows:

If P then Q       (major premise)

P                      (minor premise)

Therefore, Q   (conclusion)


In conditional reasoning, the conclusion frequently is absent … it is understood from the two premises.

Try this …

1.      At, go to Writing and to Conditional Argument. Read the ESSAY and complete the template.

2.      Write an essay using a conditional argument. After you are pleased with your essay, edit it for grammar to create a reader’s draft.

If you have any questions about the writing process, send them to Ask Dr. Otto  at

Enjoy your writing experience.