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Writing 104. Inclusive Language Julia McDade, M.S. Ed. Montana State University – Billings Mountain Plains Distance Learning Partnership. The Language We Use. Expresses our ideas Shapes our thinking Reflects our attitudes of culture. What Is Inclusive Language?.

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Writing 104

Writing 104

Inclusive Language

Julia McDade, M.S. Ed.

Montana State University – Billings

Mountain Plains Distance Learning Partnership

The language we use
The Language We Use

  • Expresses our ideas

  • Shapes our thinking

  • Reflects our attitudes of culture

What is inclusive language
What Is Inclusive Language?

  • It is language that treats both genders neutrally.

  • It is language that treats people of all ages, races, sexual orientations, classes, physical abilities equally.

Why be inclusive
Why Be Inclusive?

  • Language creates our world.

  • If an organization wants to treat people fairly, it must talk fairly.

  • It removes barriers to how people view themselves.

  • The law is increasingly more intolerant of bias.

Writing 104

Making language nonsexist
Making Language Nonsexist

  • Words and phrases

    • Instead of manpower use personnel

    • Instead of managers and their wives, use managers and their spouses or guests

Nonsexist language
Nonsexist Language

  • Job Titles

    • Instead of businessman, use executive, men and women in business or specific title such as accountant or president

    • Instead of foreman, use supervisor

Nonsexist language1
Nonsexist Language

  • Courtesy Titles

    • If it is necessary to use a title, use one that does not indicate marital status: Mr./Ms.

    • Exception: If a woman prefers Mrs. or Miss, use that rather than Ms.

Nonsexist language2
Nonsexist Language

  • Pronouns

    • Use appropriate pronoun for a specific person.

      • In her letter, Mary Milky wrote…

      • In his letter, Frank Jones wrote…

Nonsexist language3
Nonsexist Language

  • Pronouns

    • Use plural subjects and pronouns instead of singular to include both genders.

    • Instead of

      A patient should consult his doctor right away. (Not all patients are men.)


      Patients should consult their doctors right away.

Nonsexist language4
Nonsexist Language

  • Pronouns

    • Use You

      • You should consult your doctor right away.

Nonsexist language5
Nonsexist Language

  • Pronouns

    • Use one

      • One should consult one’s doctor right away

Nonsexist language6
Nonsexist Language

  • Pronouns

    • Use pronoun pairs if they aren’t repeated often.

      • Each patient should consult his or her doctor right away.

Nonsexist language7
Nonsexist Language

  • Pronouns

    • Substitute a, an, or the for the pronoun.

    • Patients should consult the doctor right away.


  • If you want to use the plural pronoun THEIR, make sure the subject is plural too.

  • It is not correct to write The patient should consult their doctor right away.

  • Why? Because the patient (subject) is singular. Their is a plural pronoun which doesn’t agree with the subject.

Make language nonracist and nonagist
Make Language Nonracist and Nonagist

  • Treat all races and ages fairly

  • Avoid stereotypes of any group

  • Mention race or age only if it is relevant

  • Use preferred terms - language changes

Nonracist language
Nonracist Language

  • Eliminate words that reinforce racial stereotypes.

    Biased: The motivated black students were assigned mentors.

    Bias-free: The students were assigned mentors.

Nonracist language1
Nonracist Language

  • Identify race or ethnic origin only when it is truly relevant

    • Biased: Cynthia Black Elk, a Crow, has been appointed to the Board of Directors.

    • Bias-Free: Mel White, a Sioux, translated the text into the Lakota language.

Nonagist language
Nonagist Language

  • Refer to age only when it’s truly relevant.

    • Biased: Phil Myers, 68, is president of Boardwalk, Inc.

    • Bias-free: Phil Myers is president of Boardwalk, Inc.

Nonagist language1
Nonagist Language

  • Use words that accurately describe older people and children.

    • Biased: Jane Smyth, with her grandmotherly ways, made everyone feel at home.

    • Bias-free: Jane Smyth made everyone feel comfortable in the office.

Talking about people with disabilities
Talking about People with Disabilities

  • Emphasize people’s abilities, not their disabilities.

    • Biased: Brian Booth has done an outstanding job as our media coordinator, even though six years ago he tested positive for the HIV virus.

    • Bias-free: Brian Booth has done an outstanding job as our media coordinator.

Talking about people with disabilities1
Talking about People with Disabilities

  • Use people-first language to focus on the person, not the condition.

    Instead of Use

    Cancer patients People with cancer

    The blind People who are blind

Talking about people with disabilities2
Talking about People with Disabilities

  • Avoid negative terms.

    Instead of Use

    Confined to a wheelchair Uses a wheelchair

    Stroke victim A person who has had a stroke

    Abnormal Atypical

Talking about sexual orientation
Talking about Sexual Orientation

  • Mention it only if it is truly relevant to the subject.

    • Example: Mary Abel, a retired Army colonel who made her lesbian lifestyle public, …

      • Relevant if writing about gay people in the military, but not if she won a medal for bravery.


  • As William Pfeiffer says in your book,

    “ Language usually follows changes in culture, rather than anticipating such changes. A case in point is today’s shift away from sexist language in business and technical writing—indeed in all writing and speaking. The change reflects the increasing number of women entering previously male-dominated professions such as engineering, management, medicine, and law.”

Writing 104