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Four Directions Writing Guide


Welcome! Tansi! Boohzoo! Ahniin! Sago! Waachiya!

The purpose of this guide is to help you (First Nations/Métis/Inuit/Other Indigenous students) with writing university level essays.

This guide is for all students who need assistance with their research journey. Please keep this guide to review and refer to throughout your time here at X University.

- Jamie Morin (Graduate and former RASS Peer Support) and Kelly Dermody (Librarian)



Chi miigwetch to the Indigenous Education Council and Gdoo-maawnjidimi Mompii Indigenous Student Services for their support to the TMU University Libraries. This guide was created with their generous support and wisdom.

"Toronto is in the 'Dish With One Spoon Territory’.  The Dish With One Spoon is a treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas and Haudenosaunee that bound them to share the territory and protect the land. Subsequent Indigenous Nations and peoples, Europeans and all newcomers have been invited into this treaty in the spirit of peace, friendship and respect."

The Seven Grandfathers/Grandmothers Teachings for Students

(Used with permission from Dr. Kathy Absolon and the Academic Writing Manual for Aboriginal Students, Wilfrid Laurier University. Photo Courtesy of

Wisdom will be shared with you by your instructors and mentors. They are here to help you succeed. To know wisdom is to cherish knowledge, and this is given to us through our instructors and Creator to be used to our benefit.

Respect yourself, and others in the academic community and it will be reciprocated. This includes giving respect to all creations.

Truth will be expected of you in your relationships with your assignments and your instructors. Truth is also not being self-deceiving and deceiving others.

Honesty must be demonstrated in all of your academic work, and avoid plagiarism at all costs. Education is a harvest, and only through sufficiently caring for your crop will you harvest excellent academic work. Practicing honesty with yourself also means that you will be honest with others.

Bravery is an aspect that will be developed as you delve into schooling and research; try not to go for the beaten down path but for one that barely anyone has walked upon. This is how an interest and love of postsecondary education is made; and remember, bravery comes from facing difficulties with integrity.

Humility is critical, as you must acknowledge when you need help as soon as you realize that you are struggling. You must be humble enough to ask for help, and know there is nothing wrong with admitting your lack of knowledge.

Love yourself. Getting an education is tough, and it is also honourable. Remember to focus on your whole being and not just your academic life.


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Journey Preparation

Feeling Anxious about Writing?

It is completely natural to feel nervous, or unsure of yourself when you are writing a university-level essay, especially for the first time. You are not necessarily certain of what to expect, but there are things you can do to help prepare you on your journey. You are not alone, and there are many resources you can access at X  University to help you out with the process, no matter how long you have been a student here.

Help is always available. Please try to access the follow help: 

Talk to your Professor and/or Teaching Assistant (if applicable) 

Contact information for your instructor and/or grading assistant is on the course syllabus. Remember, this is the person that will ultimately be reading your paper, but no need to fear! Just talking with your professor alone about your ideas for the paper can help you with the direction you wish to take, and he or she may even point out some great sources you can consult for your essay!

Make an Appointment for one-to-one help with Writing Support and Library Research Support: 

Writing Support (SLC, 4th Floor) 

​Book a one-on-one with a trained writing consultant.

Drop in sessions are also available!

University Library

​Book a one-on-one  with a trained research expert

Drop in to our Reference Desk 

Sign up for a Workshop on research or citation help 


Consult helpful Handouts, Videos and Guides to Writing and Research

Gdoo-maawnjidimi Mompii Indigenous Student Services is a great support system for students.

Location: 31 Gerrard Street East, KHW 389 

What does a University Essay Looks Like?

How to structure your Essay

One effective suggestion for structuring an argument papers is:

  1. Introduction: State what you’re going to tell them.
  2. Body: Tell them.
  3. Conclusion: State what you just told them. 

*When it comes to structuring your essay, always check with your assignment outline to make sure you are following your professor’s instructions.










The introduction is the broad beginning of the paper that answers three important questions for the reader:

  1. What is this paper about?
  2. Why I should read it?
  3. What arguments will I hear?


The best way to do this is:

  • Set the context –provide background and general information about the topic. Explain the situation so your reader can make sense of the topic and the arguments you make and support.
  • State why your main topic is important –make the reader care and keep reading. Your goal is to create an interesting, clear, and convincing essay people will want to read and discuss
  • State your thesis –you need a sentence or two stating the position you will support.


We will discuss Thesis Statement Writing in the next section. 



The Middle Paragraphs - Your Arguments and your  evidence

You can have more than 3 arguments and you can take more than 1 paragraph to explain your argument. 

Each paragraph is one idea - you can explain your idea and provide evidence to prove it (with quotes and paraphrasing of your books, articles, interviews etc). You can also prove your argument with statistics and data. 






You Paragraphs can look like this example of an inverted Paragraph Pyramid. (Going from the general to the specific)

i. The General Information: introduction, topic sentence, etc

  ii. Focus the direction:  how it applies to the argument.

iii. Getting more specific: showing evidence

iv. More Supporting details.

v. Conclusion &
quick wrap




Now that you have moved from the general to the specific, your conclusion should begin pulling back to more general information that restates the main points of your argument.

Conclusions may also call for action or future research possibilities.

The following outline may help you conclude your paper:

  • Briefly summarize your topic and why it is important,
  • Repeat your thesis/claim,
  • Address any opposing viewpoints and explain why readers should align with your position,
  • Call for action or overview future research possibilities.

Remember don’t try to bring in new points or end with a different conclusion!


With photos courtesy of Massey University



Thesis Statement 

The thesis statement forms the core of the essay. It is a direct answer to your assignment question, or response to your assignment topic. It is usually only one sentence long.


If you have been given the assignment question, “Are mother and baby programs beneficial for infant development?” your thesis statement could begin:

“Mother and baby programs are beneficial for babies because they increase language development, promote maternal bonding and improve infant health."  

Your position is that...... Mother and baby programs are good.... and you have 3 examples to prove it: increased language development, more maternal bonding and improved infant health.


Your Thesis takes a side!

Your thesis is more than just a general statement about your main idea. It needs to establish a clear position that you will support with evidence (your library sources).

Bad Example: The Return-to-Work program is funded by the government for workers with disabilities. 

Better Example: The Return-to-Work program is not beneficial to workers with disabilities because of the following 3 reasons.........


Your thesis can evolve!

If you pick a position at the beginning of your class, it's perfectly ok to change or "evolve" your position. The finding evidence stage of your essay ( when you read through books/articles or talk to experts) might prompt you to change your position, narrow it down to one idea or go down a different path.  

Beginning Thesis:  All drugs are bad for all major cities because they are addictive and….

After research Thesis:  The rise in the use methamphetamine is a concern for Toronto Public Health because….

Constructing a Thesis

Look out for the following when creating your thesis statement:

  • A thesis is not an announcement of the subject:

Bad Example: My subject is on racial profiling in the Toronto Police Force

Better Example: The use of racial profiling by the Toronto Police Force is harmful for community relations because.........(your three or four points)

  • A thesis is not a statement of absolute fact:

Bad Example: J.K Rowling is the author of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Better Example: In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K Rowling uses the following metaphors........

  • A thesis is not the whole essay:

A thesis is your main idea/claim/problem-solution expressed in a single sentence or a combination of sentences.

  • A good thesis is concise – it gets to the main point(s):

Bad Example: The Return-to-Work program was first instituted at Fresh and Company in 1999 and served 20 employees and has been effective because of its vision to do the following……

Better Example: The Return-to-Work program at Fresh and Company is effective because ……

  • A good thesis is specific:

Bad Example: All drugs are bad for all major cities because they are addictive and….

Better Example: The rise in the use methamphetamine is a concern for Toronto Public Health because…..

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Writing using the Four Teachings.


How to Write a University-level Essay

We will examine how to write a university-level essay based on the four directions teachings. To honour the land which X University sits on, we will be using the Ojibway teaching of the four directions.


Yellow = Spring

Red = Summer

Black = Fall

White = Winter

  • beginnings

  • mental

  • preparing

  • awareness

  • visionary

  • creativity

  • determine energy

  • knowledge

  • physical

  • understanding

  • flexibility

  • preparation

  • process

  • collaborate

  • give energy

  • knowing

  • emotional

  • connections

  • physical

  • methodical

  • contemplative

  • perseverance

  • hold energy

  • balance of intellect and wisdom

  • spiritual

  • courage

  • freedom

  • warrior

  • intellect

  • maintain a positive pattern

  • the end

  • receive energy

Using the Four Directions for Essay Writing

Writing an essay, or any writing assignment in a university setting, requires all four directions of the medicine wheel:

(Spring) The beginning process of selecting your essay topic is mental as you begin to think of all the directions your work can go in, and how you can narrow down the essay’s scope.

(Summer) The middle process is physical as you search and find information to support your topic.

(Fall) Writing your essay is emotional, as you demonstrate how all of your sources compliment your chosen subject and personal conclusions. At this point you must persevere and not give up, practice good time management.  Give yourself lots of time for this process and work well within deadlines.

(Winter) Pulling it together by citing your sources and double checking your work. By the end of this process you will feel the spiritual aspect of learning as you see your academic skills begin to grow, especially over time.

It is important to note that essay writing is also a circular process, as all steps eventually lead to the next, and upon arriving to the freedom of completing an assignment, another deadline looms.

*Note on different types of assignments

While the main focus of this guide will be on a research essay, many of the same steps are still applicable to Physics Lab Reports, Reflection Papers, and Group Assignments.

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