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How to Promote Inclusivity in Writing: Identifying and Avoiding Non-Inclusive Words and Phrases


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How to Promote Inclusivity in Writing: Identifying and Avoiding Non-Inclusive Words and Phrases
by: Priyanka Raha ~9/14/2023


In today's diverse and globalized world, the power of words transcends beyond mere communication; they shape perceptions, influence attitudes, and reflect societal values. Ensuring that our writing is inclusive becomes crucial in fostering understanding, respect, and unity among varied groups of people. However, inadvertently, certain words and phrases can perpetuate stereotypes or exclude certain groups. This essay aims to guide you on this path to inclusivity, emphasizing the significance of mindful word choice. By recognizing and rectifying non-inclusive language, we not only elevate our writing but also contribute to a more empathetic and inclusive society.

What is Inclusive Writing?

Inclusive writing is a conscious approach to crafting content that respects and represents the vast tapestry of human experiences, backgrounds, and identities. It goes beyond merely avoiding overtly offensive terms, instead inclusive writing is about actively seeking to embrace language that reflects and respects diversity. Whether addressing issues of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, or any other identity factor, inclusive writing promotes a sense of belonging and validation for all readers. By adopting such an approach, writers not only align with modern principles of fairness and respect but also ensure that their work resonates with a broader and diverse audience.

Now that we have a foundational understanding of inclusive writing, how do we make sure that our writing reflects an inclusive language? Let’s dive into the following four guidelines that break down this overarching concept into specific techniques that are easy to understand and adopt.

Guideline 1: Utilize the Most Effective Approach

In the quest for inclusive writing, it's essential to remember that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Cultural nuances, regional idiosyncrasies, and evolving social norms all play a role in determining what's considered inclusive. So, whether you are writing a personal narrative or an informational piece, when you write it’s advisable to adopt terms and phrases that resonate most effectively with your specific audience. It's beneficial to research, consult, and even seek feedback from diverse groups to ensure the language used truly fosters understanding and respect.

For example, while drafting a user manual for a global product, it's vital to remember that one solution may not cater to every cultural or regional nuance. For instance, while an informal, conversational tone might appeal to users in the United States, a more formal and straightforward approach might resonate better with users in Japan. Keeping in line with the most effective approach for a particular audience ensures clarity and aids in building a stronger rapport with the user. In this context, it's not just about translating words, but adapting content to genuinely fit and reflect diverse user perspectives.

Guideline 2: Respect People’s Wishes

For writing to be inclusive, the mantra of 'respecting people's wishes' takes on profound significance. While it's nearly impossible to know every individual's preference upfront, it's crucial to be receptive and adaptive when such wishes are communicated. In this case it is wise to not assume when in doubt and always ask for clarification. By honoring other people’s preferences in our writing, we not only adhere to the principles of inclusivity but also send a powerful message: that every individual's identity and wishes are respected and valued. This practice goes beyond mere correctness—it's about honoring identity and fostering a culture of respect.

Imagine an interview scenario where a journalist is profiling a renowned artist who identifies as non-binary and prefers the pronouns "they/them." While the wider public may commonly refer to the artist using gendered terms based on past articles or perceptions, it becomes the responsibility of the journalist to respect the artist's stated wishes. In their piece, the journalist should use the artist's preferred pronouns consistently and avoid making assumptions or reverting to previously used gendered terms. By doing so, the journalist conveys a deeper message of acknowledgement of individual preferences, respect and understanding to their readers.

Guideline 3: Write Clearly and Effectively

Clarity and effectiveness are as crucial as the intent to be inclusive. Writing that is muddled or overly complex can inadvertently obscure the inclusive message or alienate readers. By prioritizing clear language, writers ensure that the essence of inclusivity is readily understood and not lost in jargon or convoluted phrasing. Moreover, effective writing ensures that every reader, regardless of their background or level of familiarity with a topic, can engage with the content and feel represented.

Consider a company crafting its first diversity and inclusion policy. Instead of writing, "We are striving for the actualization of an environment devoid of exclusionary practices which might be based on distinctions stemming from variances in personal identities," a clearer and more effective statement would be: "We are committed to creating a workplace where everyone, regardless of their background, feels welcome and included." The latter sentence is not only easier to understand but also directly communicates the company's intentions. By using straightforward language, the message of inclusivity becomes accessible, unambiguous, and reachable to all.

Guideline 4: Be Open to Feedback

Learning to write using inclusive language is an ongoing journey which means you must be open to feedback. We all make mistakes despite our best intentions and the only way to grow and learn about how to choose the right words is to listen to readers, peers, or experts in the field. We must be far more accepting of constructive criticism when it is provided by people with different life experiences or with diverse backgrounds. By welcoming and acting on this feedback, we can not only refine our writing but also demonstrate a genuine commitment to inclusivity. It's an acknowledgment that the journey towards full inclusiveness is collaborative and ongoing.

Dr. Torres, a seasoned marine biologist, wrote an article discussing the contributions of indigenous communities to marine conservation techniques. She thought she had captured the essence of their practices but she was caught off guard when a member of one such community highlighted the inaccuracies and a lack of depth in her portrayal of their traditional methods. Instead of disregarding the critique, Dr. Torres initiated a conversation with the community member, learning about the subtleties and significance of techniques she had initially missed. She made the necessary corrections and, in future publications, collaborated with representatives from these communities to ensure authenticity. This emphasizes the value of feedback in enhancing the accuracy and inclusivity of science-based writing, ensuring that even expert perspectives must be continually refined and broadened.

Putting it all Together

Whether it’s stories, technical articles, or scientific journals, the written word holds immense power, shaping perceptions and influencing narratives. Promoting inclusivity in writing, through careful word choices and constant learning, ensures that this power is wielded with respect and understanding. As society continues to evolve, it becomes imperative to consciously avoid biases, embrace feedback, and perpetually refine the words we use. Ultimately, by championing inclusive writing, we pave the way for literature that mirrors the rich tapestry of our diverse world, fostering unity, empathy, and a shared sense of belonging.

Finding new ways to inspire kids to write and communicate effectively is one of my life’s work which is why I include many fun activities in our writing classes to inspire the next generation of thinkers. Want to learn more about our story writing classes? Check us out here.

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