As a freelance writer, you are well aware of the power of words. They can entertain, inform, and delight. Words can also bring pain or harm, even by accident.
As the principles of diversity and inclusion continue to grow and expand throughout the world, businesses are more sensitive than ever to the needs and preferences of traditionally underrepresented communities. That means writers who consciously consider inclusivity in their work are well-positioned to meet the needs of clients that value diversity and inclusion initiatives.
So, how can you become a more inclusive writer? Below are a few things to consider in your writing practice that will help you broaden your audience and be respectful towards different identity groups.
Recognizing Your Own Biases
Take account of your own identity and become aware of any implicit biases you may have.
Implicit biases are attitudes and opinions that you unconsciously possess. An implicit bias test can reveal latent attitudes about gender, race, or other identities. If these come through in your writing, you may inadvertently be offending or excluding others and not even know it. By identifying your biases, you’ll know which areas you’ll need to focus on the most.
Things to Think About When Writing
The ultimate goal of being an inclusive writer is to communicate in a manner that does not exclude any individual or group.
Keeping this goal in mind as you write will help you naturally avoid using language that might make any individual reader feel less than equal. Avoid using your own identity group as a reference group, as this can imply that you presenting that as a preferential or superior group. Conversely, avoid language that suggests other groups are abnormal compared to the rest of the population due to race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
Words and Phrases to Avoid
Many commonly used words and phrases have connotations or origins that are loaded with bias against specific groups. Using alternatives that are free of cultural bias will serve you well as a writer by broadening your appeal to clients that value inclusivity. While not exhaustive, the below list of words and phrases will give you a starting point for being a more inclusive writer.
If writing about the race or national identity of an individual, be as specific as possible (example: Chinese vs. Asian or Navajo vs. American Indian). Only mention someone’s racial identity if it is relevant to the work. Consider alternatives to the following terms:
- Master bedroom: Commonly used to describe the largest bedroom in a home, the master bedroom carries with it both gender bias and a negative racial connotation with slavery. Many real estate agents are using the term owner’s bedroom instead.
- Cakewalk: This word is used to describe a task that is effortless, but it originates from a dance enslaved persons performed for the entertainment of plantation owners.
- Peanut gallery: Today people use the peanut gallery to refer to any unruly group, originally it was used specifically to refer to the black section of the theater audience.
- Grandfather clause: The term grandfather clause traces back to laws that exempted white Americans from voting restrictions like the poll tax and literacy test used to disenfranchise black voters after the passage of the 15th amendment.
- No can do: The phrase was originally used by Americans to mock Chinese immigrants.
Gender and Sexual Orientation
Whenever possible, use gender-neutral pronouns such as they and them. This is especially true when the gender identity of a subject is not known. You should also not assume the sexual orientation of a subject or reader. Use non-gendered alternatives to the words and phrases below:
- Manpower: Use workforce or labor force instead.
- Forefathers: Use ancestors instead.
- Manmade: Use artificial or synthetic instead.
- Chairman: Use chair or chairperson.
- Waiter or waitress: Use server instead.
- Ladies and gentlemen: Use everybody instead.
Do not represent individuals with a disability as being victims or disadvantaged.
- Avoid using terms that define a person by their condition, for example, say a “person with schizophrenia” instead of “schizophrenic.”
- Use accessible parking instead of handicapped parking.
- Don’t describe people without disabilities as being “normal”.
Practice Makes Perfect
Being a more inclusive writer takes practice and conscious effort.
When in doubt as to whether a term or word may exclude or offend others, take the time to research and find out. Remember that paying attention to word choice isn’t about political correctness, but more so respecting all people and connecting with a wide audience. This practice will make your writing more appealing to clients and more effective for all readers.