It is important to use inclusive language in our writing. It helps to avoid the use of offensive or outdated phrases and terminology. It also recognizes the value of diversity and contributes to creating a more equitable culture.
In part 1 of this post, we discuss the use of non-sexist language, how to avoid dehumanising language, and the use of person-first language. In part 2, we will discuss important considerations when writing about people’s ethnicity, and in part 3, we will consider sex, sexuality and gender.
Use non-sexist language
In the past, it was common for writers to talk about “man” and “mankind”. This has long been considered unacceptable, and the preferred terms are now “human” and humankind”. For example, “Early man lived in small groups and followed a hunter-gatherer lifestyle” should be rewritten as “Early humans lived in small groups and followed a hunter-gatherer lifestyle”. Avoid job titles that link a job to someone’s sex, for example, use “firefighter” instead of “fireman”.
As nouns, the terms “female” and “male” can be considered dehumanising and should be used only when referring to animals, for example, laboratory animals. The terms can be used as adjectives, for example, “male adolescents”, “female participants”. However, if you are referring to humans, the nouns “female” and “male” should be replaced by “women” and “men” or “girls” and “boys”.
Avoid dehumanising language
Avoid dehumanising any individuals that you discuss as part of your research. For example, refer to “participants in this survey” or “patients enrolled in our study” rather than “subjects in this survey” or “subjects enrolled in our study”.
Take care when using the term “normal”. For example, the term “healthy individual” is often preferred to the term “normal individual”. However, under some circumstances, the term “normal” may be an acceptable way to refer to individuals. For example, in a case-control study involving a group of people with the same chronic disease, the control group may not necessarily be “healthy”, so it would be acceptable to use “normal” to describe these individuals.
Person-first language emphasises a person rather than their disability or their chronic condition, for example, “person with obesity” rather than “obese person”. The first phrase emphasises the person, while the second phrase emphasises their condition. It is increasingly preferred to use person-first language in your writing.
However, it should be noted that some individuals and groups may prefer to emphasize their condition – it could be a source of pride for them, a key part of their identity, or they may be trying to reclaim what was previously viewed as a negative identity or used as an insult. For example, many autistic people see autism as a fundamental part of their identity, and often prefer to be described as “an autistic person” rather than “a person with autism”.
Further study for this week
If you have time for further study this week, look through some of your writing and see if you have used inclusive language throughout.
Note that it is advisable to stay up to date with the use of inclusive language, as usage and preferences evolve. Also, always check your target journal, as they may have particular guidelines in terms of inclusive language and style.