There are no set rules for writing inclusively. It’s more a matter of being aware that using a word can sometimes have unintended consequences and reduce the perceived value of individuals and groups or of people’s experiences. The consequences of using certain words or phrases can have very real impacts on thoughts, behaviour, culture and organizational priorities.
However, when it comes to gender and other identities, we must also make sure we distinguish between “inclusive” and “neutral” language. For example, when we’re gathering information from Yukoners, it’s important that we include all gender and other identities. We must not avoid collecting information about diverse identities and we must not avoid complex discussions in favour of a more neutral approach. Government staff can email firstname.lastname@example.org for guidance on this.
Part of writing inclusively is making sure text is gender neutral wherever possible.
He and she
Not: he/she, his or her
But: they, their
Not: Christian name
But: first name
But: last name
Spell out the full abbreviation first, followed by the acronym in brackets.
- lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, Two-Spirit plus (LGBTQ2S+)
- Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGBTQQIA+)
Don't assume that your readers will understand the acronym without it being spelled out in full.
- Trans Pride Canada guide
- GLAAD media guide (bear in mind it’s American rather than Canadian – and here’s why we’re not writing the acronym in full)
- Trans Journalists Association
- The Association of LGBTQ Journalists Stylebook on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Terminology
Use “it” rather than “she” or “her” to describe ships, nature, nations, cars, engines, gas tanks and so on.
Avoid highlighting gender and ethnicity if it’s not relevant.
Have you avoided unnecessary descriptions?
Not: Aboriginal woman Minister of Justice Jane Doe tabled a bill.
But: Minister of Justice Jane Doe tabled a bill.
Use gender neutral words.
Not: actress, fireman, businessman, spokesman, chairman
But: actor, firefighter, businessperson, spokesperson, chair
Not: man a booth
But: staff a booth
The word “ombudsman” is an exception and is accepted by many people as being gender neutral.
The word “grandfathering” is also not a word that can be simply switched for a gender neutral term (“grandparenting”). It has a complicated story with roots in the history of voting rights for people in the US who were formerly slaves.
Tips to help you avoid describing people differently because of their gender or ethnicity.
- When you don’t know who you’re addressing or don’t know someone’s preferred pronoun or self-identification, use “they” or their job title or role, such as manager, councillor, director, committee member, home owner, parent, reader, teacher, delegate, participant.
- If you’re using a title (honorific), use Ms. when referring to a woman unless she has indicated a preference for Mrs. or Miss.
- To check for descriptions that may be sexist, try substituting a man for a woman in the situation or role.
- Avoid hidden sexism or words that have been traditionally used only to describe specific genders, such as the word “shrill” to describe a woman’s voice rather a man’s, or the phrase “working mom” rather than “working parent.”
- Beware of stereotypes, such as assuming child care is only delivered by women. This applies to choosing images as well as words.