This microlearning considers the proofreading and editorial issues connected to writing about race, ethnicity, gender, and other socioeconomic groupings.
It will also take a look at the various aspects of writing inclusively and with respect for different ethnicities and identities.
That being said, any gaps in this microlearning’s coverage are not deliberate, and you are encouraged to feed back to us if there are issues you’d like us to include. Proofed is an inclusive company, so we truly hope and expect that our editors will follow and promote inclusivity guidelines in their work.
In addition to the more editorial elements of inclusivity and diversity, this guide also covers associated proofreading elements such as the capitalization and spelling of relevant terms.
Launch the microlearning module below to learn more about writing inclusively and to test your knowledge using our interactive quiz.
Inclusivity and Respect
Inclusive writing aims to create an environment in which everyone feels respected, valued, and included.
Learning how to create such an environment is an ongoing process. Editors need to continually learn and expend the effort needed to create content that resonates positively with diverse audiences.
This section will look at the ways in which you can promote inclusivity and respect through your choice of language.
Using Inclusive Language and Preferred Terms
You should encourage the use of inclusive language and the client’s or relevant group’s preferred terms, noting that these may vary between groups and style guides. Check the microlearning on avoiding disability bias for information on people-first and identity-first language.
Let’s look at some examples.
People-first: People with autism stand to benefit from…
Identity-first: Autistic people stand to benefit from…
Whether to use people- or identity-first language comes down to the client or relevant group’s preference. Both are allowed, but you should encourage your clients to establish whether there are any preferences that they need to be aware of.
(Note that some style guides, such as AMA, are heavily in favor of people-first language, so that’s another thing to bear in mind.)
Male-centric: If a student wishes to attend, he will need to…
Awkwardly gender-neutral: If a student wishes to attend, he/she/they will need to…
Suggested rewording: Students who wish to attend will need to…
Most style guides permit the use of the gender-neutral singular “they,” but many suggest that it’s better to reword to avoid the need for a pronoun in the first place.
Most style guides prefer that you avoid the laborious listing of pronouns (e.g. “he/she/they”).
Ageist: The elderly population were against the decision.
Suggested rewording: The results indicated that older adults (aged 60–75) tended to be against the decision.
The rewording uses “older adults” and provides a quantitative measure of that description. It also validates the statement by mentioning “the results” (of a survey, presumably), and softens the statement/resists making the group homogeneous by using the word “tended.” If all the older adults surveyed were against the decision, you could instead write “indicated that the older adults (aged 60–75) surveyed were unanimously against the decision.”
In the APA’s terms, you should “avoid using terms such as ‘seniors,’ ‘elderly,’ ‘the aged,’ ‘aging dependents,’ and similar ‘othering’ terms, because they … suggest that older adults are not part of society.”
Finally, if a piece of content contains non-preferred, inappropriate, anachronistic, or offensive terms, bring the issue to the client’s attention.
Dealing with Banned Terms and Offensive/Prejudicial Language
There are certain terms that should never be used (or should be used only in direct quotations, where it’s absolutely crucial to the content).
Even in fictional texts, where offensive terms may be used for characterization purposes, you should consider whether their use is appropriate or just gratuitous. Does the use of an offensive term fit with the characterization? How does the author portray the use of that term (approvingly or otherwise)?
You should politely highlight the presence of and dissuade clients from using offensive, prejudicial, or gratuitous language. Although it is not your responsibility to police their choice of terminology, it is your responsibility to pick such issues up.
A possible comment might be:
I have changed the term to ____, here and elsewhere.
I would advise changing the term to ____ throughout.
Please check with and consider revising your style guide as necessary.
Be aware that the client may have used an offensive term in error (e.g., due to non-fluency in English or unrecognized bias). For this reason, it’s important that you explain the issue and bring it to their attention without any implied judgment on your part.
Offensive language can easily creep into slang and sayings, as these are often based on historical events and perspectives. As AP Style puts it, you should watch out for the biases indicated by carelessly used language choices.
Some examples of potentially offensive idiomatic phrases and sayings (as listed in the APA’s inclusivity guidelines) are:
- “No can do”: This emerged in the 19th century as a mockery of immigrant speech patterns. A suggested alternative is “Sorry, I can’t.”
- “Bottom of the totem pole”: This perpetuates stereotypes and is fundamentally inaccurate because totem poles were never designed to reflect social ranking. A suggested alternative is “least important.”
- “Sold down the river”: A phrase that belittles the millions of people enslaved and transported down the Mississippi or Ohio rivers in the 19th century. A suggested alternative is “betrayed.”
Using Accurate Terms
In its inclusivity guidelines, the APA states that “not using the name of the group to which you are referring is inaccurate and unfair, undermines diversity, and erases identity.”
The above quotation applies to the APA’s guidance on writing about indigenous peoples, but can be applied to any grouping: racial, ethnic, disability-, gender-, or sexuality-related.
Where needed, you can use the terms “people” or “community,” but only if a more precise definition is not available. Be aware of the danger of ascribing thoughts and feelings to an entire community.
Suggested alternative: Cassie, a transgender woman living in South London, stated that she and many of her friends supported the concept.
The suggested alternative gives a specific source for and elaborates upon the statement. It avoids treating gay people as a homogeneous mass by specifically identifying the source of the comment and the individual’s gender.
Note that you would not mention a person’s gender or sexuality unless it was relevant to the situation, and that you should be aware that an individual may have preferred pronouns. Note also that many people may have more than one preferred pronoun.
In short, try to make a conscious effort to describe groupings accurately and precisely, using up-to-date terminology, and encourage your clients to do the same.
Addressing Implicit and Explicit Biases
The ability to recognize and address implicit and explicit biases is an essential part of creating inclusive and reflective content.
Let’s look at some key considerations that promote inclusive and mindful editing practices.
Confronting and Addressing Biases
“Careful writers avoid language that reasonable readers might find offensive or distracting—unless the biased language is central to the meaning of the writing.”
Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed.
What does the above quote mean? Namely, that your editing should avoid bias where possible.
This doesn’t mean that you need to announce that you are being inclusive; the aim is to do so naturally and unobtrusively. An example is, as shown earlier, rewording sentences instead of using a repeated series of pronouns, and avoiding “torturous constructions like snowperson” (in the words of AP Style).
Biases don’t have to be overt; the most insidious ones are built into standardized wording and expectations:
Subtly ageist: We are looking to employ people with over 10 years of experience…
Suggested rewording: We are looking to employ people who are confident and competent in...
Note that in some countries, such as the UK, it is illegal to ask for a person’s age as a deciding factor in a job application or to specify a certain age requirement (unless for legal reasons or in very limited circumstances).
You also need to be able to recognize those isolated occasions when bias is used for a particular, legitimate purpose; maybe as characterization in fiction, or as a way to indicate that the bias does actually exist.
Avoiding Assumptions and Stereotyping
Instead of stereotyping or making assumptions about groups of people, you should aim to focus on the individuality of each person. Be careful about using words like “community,” and don’t turn a condition or quality into a group noun.
Suggested rewording (identity-first): Blind people will be negatively affected by this policy, as it will…
Suggested rewording (individualized, identity-first): Jake, a partially sighted person who will be affected by the policy, stated that
In summary, don’t assume characteristics or behaviors based on race, gender, or socioeconomic status.
Try to question and (if necessary) challenge stereotypes, and work on recognizing they exist in the first place. When editing, aim to ensure that any content does not perpetuate or reinforce prejudiced narratives or ideas.
Ensuring Representation and Avoiding Tokenism
Representation in writing is a great thing, as it allows the audience to gain a broader and more accurate appreciation of the issues or concepts involved. Sometimes it can be a shock to an audience that has its own expectations, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Recognizing and explaining an unbalanced demographic: We should note that this study is built on the opinions of White women between the ages of 21 and 25. This is because the course attendees (i.e., the survey participants) all belonged to this demographic. Future studies might investigate the perceptions of other genders and races to provide additional depth to the findings.
Tokenism, however, might best be described as “tick-box” diversity. It’s saying “look, we’ve included a disabled person/person of color/gay man/female physicist, isn’t that great?”
The 2022 edition of the AP Stylebook introduced a new chapter on inclusive storytelling, indicating how important this topic has become. The chapter states:
By extension, no one group should be treated as a monolith. And one person does not represent an entire group: One person who uses a wheelchair or one gay person, for example, doesn't speak for all people who use wheelchairs or for all gay people.
AP Style also discourages writers and editors from placing White/straight/non-disabled as the norm.
We haven’t suggested a rewording here, as (in addition to discriminating against people with disabilities) the statement makes assumptions and is intrusive; it would be best to suggest deletion. This is an example of a common phrase that can be carelessly thrown around without thought of the implications.
Learning and Evolving
In its coverage of the topic, AP Style considers how inclusive writing should not be kept in a silo; that writers and editors should try to ensure that it permeates written content as a matter of course.
Achieving this sometimes takes a shift in our perceptions. We are all products, to some extent, of our own upbringing and environment, but this does not mean we can or should ignore equality and diversity matters.
When played on the Disney+ streaming service, films such as Dumbo, Peter Pan and Jungle Book now flash up with a warning about stereotypes.
"This programme includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures," the warning says.
"These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now."
In today’s global information market, editors are very likely to encounter different writers and edit for diverse audiences. In the process, you will need to stay open to the idea that it is necessary and desirable to modify content when presented with new information, evolving societal standards, or changing perspectives on inclusivity.
For this reason, and because it’s a good thing to do overall, it is crucial to show willingness to engage in conversations, reading, and training that will expand your knowledge of the world and challenge your own implicit biases.
You should capitalize names of ethnic and national groups (adjectives as well). For example:
- Aboriginals / Aboriginal art
- Latino / Latina
- Black / White
- Western / Eastern
Names indicating class should be put into sentence case. For example:
- The upper class
- White-collar workers
Generational terms (millennials, baby boomers) go into sentence case. However, Generation X/Y/Z are given in title case.
Gender-related terms (gay man, lesbian, transgender person, cis woman, cisgender etc.) are given in sentence case.
Spelling and Hyphenation
When there are different spelling options for a term, opt for the first-listed option in the preferred dictionary (or the given spelling in a style guide), or go with client preference.
When dealing with dual nationality terms, common practice these days is not to hyphenate them as compound adjectives. However, you would hyphenate (or use an en dash between) them to indicate a relationship. You would also hyphenate if the first word is a prefix rather than a nationality in its own right.
- French Canadians
- African Americans
- South Asian Americans
- The Franco–Prussian War
- The US–Canada border
- Anglo-American history