Part 4: Writing
4.3 Inclusive language
Good communicators include everyone and don’t make assumptions about their readers. You can make your language more inclusive by:
- Using the singular “they” instead of “he or she.” For example, instead of saying, “A communicator should understand his or her audience,” you could say, “A communicator should understand their audience” or “Communicators should understand their audience.”
- Being specific when discussing a person’s identity and use the terminology they prefer. For example, instead of saying “Marilyn Gabriel is a First Nations person,” you could say “Marilyn Gabriel is a member of the Kwantlen Nation.” Usually, a person’s disability isn’t relevant, but if it is, use neutral and specific language. For example, instead of saying “Brent is confined to a wheelchair” (which is both inaccurate, negative, and vague), you could say “Brent uses a wheelchair” or “Brent has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.” When in doubt, ask the person what terminology they prefer.
- Question the assumptions that you make about your audience. Consider that many of your readers might not share the same cultural values or experiences. For example, a sentence like “Every child waits all year for Christmas morning,” consider that many of your readers might not have shared this experience.
You should be especially careful when writing about groups of people in a way that might reinforce stereotypes. For example, in his book Elements of Indigenous Style, Gregory Younging discusses how subtle bias can have a big impact when non-Indigenous people write about First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people. For example, instead of portraying Indigenous people as victims, focus on their “resilience, agency, and future” (2018, pg. 77). Instead of portraying an Indigenous culture as something static that existed in the past, focus on how that culture is thriving and changing.
Younging, G. (2018). Elements of Indigenous style: A guide for writing by and about Indigenous Peoples. Edmonton, AB: Brush Education.
This chapter contains material taken from Chapter 4 “Style and tone” in Business Writing for Everyone (used under a CC-BY-NC 4.0 International license).