All audiences are diverse, whether they’re aimed at a particular group of people or a broader segment of the population. That means being an inclusive writer—that is, speaking to your readers in ways that acknowledge their differences and includes them in the information you are providing—is important. As writer, you want to welcome people to your work and avoid using language that alienates any of your readership. Writing inclusive copy can only increase your credibility with readers, clients, and search engines. It can even help you expand your writing expertise.
What Is Inclusivity?
The nature of language is to change, and as writers, we must be sensitive to that. Terminology regularly becomes outdated, as it should. Words that were “okay” to use in the past no longer are. You can probably think of examples that you would never dream of using that members of past generations may have used. But have you examined all of your terminologies to check that it reflects today’s reality, not a limited worldview from the past? Writers who do so produce better quality writing than those who don’t.
When speaking about being an inclusive writer, it’s just as crucial to talk about how language can—and traditionally has—excluded people. For example, we can take the word “man” or “mankind,” words sometimes used to describe humanity as a whole. Unfortunately, such terminology places an emphasis on only one group in society and leaves all other genders out. We are all humans, after all, and the global community includes more than one or two genders, not only one gender that “stands in” for the rest of us.
Likewise, you don’t want to use terminology that has become (or always was) offensive. Instead, you should use language that the groups in question have approved themselves. This guideline applies to various groups of people, including:
- Disabled people
- People of color
- Members of the LGBTQ+ community
- People of different age, socio-economic status, or religious groups
- Other minority or marginalized groups.
Thanks to the work of people who are invested in the language being more inclusive, you can discover how members of groups prefer to be identified. Check out the Conscious Style Guide, for example.
Why Is Inclusivity Important?
Using inclusive language is important for various reasons:
- Being an inclusive writer means you are aware of and sensitive to differences.
- Using inclusive language shows the reader and client that you are knowledgeable about the way language changes and how readers respond to it.
- Being inclusive in your writing is attractive to clients. Remember: clients also want to show their readers and customers that they acknowledge differences and take them into account.
- Google and other search engines are zeroed in on the most relevant content. Articles that use outdated language that excludes groups of people will be seen as less valuable.
Tips and Mistakes to Avoid for Being an Inclusive Writer
While many resources, including those from Google, exist on this topic, here are some quick tips for making your writing more inclusive:
- Embrace the singular “they”/“their.” Using exclusively “he”/“him” is outdated. Furthermore, in addition to being clunky and unsustainable throughout a piece, “he/she” or “him/her” is exclusionary.
- Be thoughtful and accurate in your writing. Adult females are women, not girls. Africans living in the continent of Africa are not African Americans. Black Americans may not always identify as African American. Disabled people are never “invalids.”
- Never overgeneralize or stereotype. It’s impossible that all members of a single group think or act in the same way. Not perpetuating stereotypes about how a certain group thinks, feels, or acts is essential to inclusivity in writing.
- Do your research! Never use jargon that you are unfamiliar with. If you’re unsure, a Google search can help you. Your best bet is to go to sources that are provided by the groups themselves. Use the language they prefer.
- Never judge groups of people. Inclusive writing is compassionate; it does not jump to conclusions about why someone is the way they are.
This brief explanation about the hows and whys of inclusive writing only scratches the surface. When you’re writing, please do seek out the many good resources available. You can also follow social media accounts that promote awareness, take a look at how reputable news sources talk about issues and reach out to people in your life who may have expertise and experience in this area. While it’s always best to cross-reference and fact check the knowledge you’ve gained, simply being aware of how you use language will put you on the path to being more inclusive in your articles.
Author: Kerry Kubilus is Constant Content’s enthusiastic head editor. Curious and inquisitive, she loves that her job involves helping writers’ work shine while simultaneously learning about a wide variety of topics. In her time off, she enjoys first-hand research about travel, culture, and food, preferably all at once.