1.2 Holistic Academic Writing

Nancy Ami; Natalie Boldt; Sara Humphreys; and Erin Kelly

The Manager of Blended Learning Success at Royal Roads University, Theresa Bell, has generously given permission to share the Four Feathers Writing Guide with you.[1] She consulted with Cowichan Nation Elders and received permission to share this information with students. We are currently working to reciprocate in kind.[2] While it is designed specifically to support Coast Salish students, there may be elements of the resource that will help many Indigenous students to develop a process for writing in academic settings. While we include The Four Feathers Writing Guide to mainly serve Indigenous students, we also recognize that Indigenous philosophies of learning and teaching are beneficial for all students and teachers.

The knowledge we share from the Four Feathers Writing Guide is Traditional Knowledge and therefore “remains the intellectual property of the Indigenous Knowledge Keepers.” While it is a commonplace in Canadian culture to assume knowledge in a textbook is fully accessible, Traditional Knowledge is not currently protected by intellectual property laws and systems. Therefore, as per the agreement made with the Cowichan Nation by Theresa Bell and Royal Roads University: “The ownership of Traditional Knowledge remains in perpetuity with the appropriate Nation. The Traditional Knowledge in this section of the textbook should therefore not be re-used in any way without obtaining explicit permission from the Nation” (Alphonse, Charles, & Bell, n.d., Preface section). You are more than welcome to benefit from the holistic approach to learning and writing offered in this section of the textbook Why Write?, but you should and may not share Four Feathers Writing Guide content without obtaining permission.

Because we all live on Indigenous land in Canada, it is our responsibility as visitors or settler-colonists to respect Indigenous knowledge. Non-Indigenous readers can learn lessons from this resource as long as they remain aware of their responsibilities. If you would like to learn more about your responsibilities if you are a visitor/settler, please read this short essay “Cultural Teachings: Welcome to Territory & Land Acknowledgements” by Tim Manuel.[3] As academic writers, we need to take responsibility for the information we use and how we approach that knowledge.

The Four Feathers Writing Guide shares First Peoples Principles of learning (www.fnesc.ca), which offer fruitful ways to approach writing. We can all benefit from understanding:

  • Learning to write involves patience and time.
  • Learning to write requires an exploration of one’s identity.
  • Learning to write involves recognizing the consequences of one’s actions.
  • Learning to write is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential and relational.

We will say this many times in this chapter (and other chapters) but there is more than one type of writing process. Your writing process may be culturally based. You may not have written academically in English or French before. Perhaps writing seems like an insurmountable and even frightening task. You might be surprised to learn that even professors and graduate students struggle with academic writing.

In an essay we encourage you to read in its entirety (it’s really quite entertaining and will very likely give you a new perspective on academic writing), Dr. Sarah Allen explains that there are myths about academic writing that need to be exposed and never heard from again.[4] One such myth is that those who are experienced writers find writing a simple task – this is simply not true:

I confess that I find myself to be genuinely surprised when some well-respected scholar in my field admits to struggling with his writing. For example, David Bartholomae (a very successful scholar in the field of Rhetoric and Composition) confesses that he didn’t learn to write until after he completed his undergraduate studies, and that he learned it through what must have been at least one particularly traumatic experience: his dissertation was rejected for being “poorly written” (22–23).

If at first glance the rejection of a dissertation means little to you,let me explain: imagine spending years (literally, years) on a piece of writing (a very long piece of writing), for which you’ve sacrificed more than you ever thought you’d sacrifice for anything (your time, your freedom, sleep, relationships, and even, at times, your sanity), only to have it rejected. And worse, it’s rejected for being “poorly written,” which is like being booted off of a pro-league baseball team for not being able to tie your shoes properly. We’re talking basics here, or so we (writers) like to think. And yet, if writing were nothing more than “practicing the basics,” why’s it so hard—hard even for one of the best of the best in my field?[5]

This is an excellent question that Dr. Allen asks and linguist John McWhorter has given an insightful answer in a TED Talk he gave in 2013.[6] If we put language on a clock, writing shows up at around 11:07pm.[7] This means language has predominantly been oral for thousands of years and writing is the new kid on the block. What does this mean? Well, for one thing, we are not built to write but speak. So writing does not come easily for the majority of us. Hopefully this insight tells you that you are not a “bad” writer. No one is a natural writer (or if such a creature exists, we have yet to meet them) and we all need to fix errors in our writing in a process called revision.

Sure, sometimes writing is easy (or easier) and sometimes it’s hard but either way, it can be rewarding, particularly once you understand that it is a process. If you go through the process, we hope you will find writing to be much like learning any other skill. Perhaps you’re now asking what do we mean by “writing is a process.”

Glad you asked, let’s see.


  1. Four Feathers Writing Guide, Royal Roads University, updated April 29, 2020, https://library.royalroads.ca/four-feathers-writing-guide.
  2. This process is ongoing in consultation with the Nation with support from the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Liaison Lydia Toorenburgh and Theresa Bell.
  3. Tim Manuel, “Cultural Teachings: Welcome to Territory & Land Acknowledgments,” Reconciliation Canada, February 4, 2019, https://reconciliationcanada.ca/cultural-teachings/.
  4. Sarah Allen, “The Inspired Writer vs. the Real Writer,” in Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, eds. Charles Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky, vol. 1 (West Lafayette: Parlor Press, 2010), 34-44, https://wac.colostate.edu/books/writingspaces1/allen--the-inspired-writing-vs-the-real-writer.pdf.
  5. Allen, "The Inspired Writer vs. the Real Writer," 35.
  6. John McWhorter, “Texting is Killing Language. JK!!!,” filmed February 2013. TED video, 13:35, https://www.ted.com/talks/john_mcwhorter_txtng_is_killing_language_jk.
  7. McWhorter, "Txting is Killing Language. JK!!!" 1:13.

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Why Write? A Guide for Students in Canada by Nancy Ami; Natalie Boldt; Sara Humphreys; and Erin Kelly is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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