Writing about people
DoIT Communications suggesting for writing inclusively about people
It's important to write for and about other people in a way that’s empathetic, compassionate, inclusive, and respectful. Some specific guidelines that DoIT aims to follow:
For ages, use figures, for brevity and readability.
- Do this: She is 16.
- Not this: She is sixteen.
Correct examples of hyphenation:
- The student is 21 years old.
- A 21-year-old student.
- The contest is for 18-year-olds.
- He is in his 20s.
Don’t reference a person’s age unless it’s relevant to what we're writing. If it is relevant, include the person’s specific age, offset by commas.
- The girl, 16, just got her driver’s license.
- The girl, 8, has a brother, 11.
Don’t refer to people using age-related descriptors like “young,” “old,” or “elderly.”
Don’t refer to a person’s disability unless it’s relevant to what we're writing. If it is relevant, emphasize the person first: ”Jim has a disability” rather than “Jim is disabled.” Avoid euphemisms such as "differently-abled," "physically challenged," or "handi-capable," they are considered condescending. Avoid sensationalizing a disability by saying "afflicted with," "suffers from," "victim of," etc. “Handicapped parking” is OK.
Gender and sexuality
Don’t call groups of people “guys.” Don’t call women “girls.”
Use gender neutral terms in descriptions instead of gender specific ones
- “server” instead of “waitress”
- “Business person” instead of “businessman.”
It’s OK to use “they” as a singular pronoun.For more about gender neutral language, see Caryn Gootkin's article, Plain language: The tricky aspects of gender-neutral language.
When writing about a person, we use their preferred pronouns. If uncertain, simply use their name.
Rephrase sentences to eliminate gender pronouns, when possible.
We use the following words as modifiers, but never as nouns:
Don’t use these words in reference to LGBT people or communities:
Don’t use “same-sex” marriage, unless the distinction is relevant to what you’re writing. (Avoid “gay marriage.”) Otherwise, it’s just “marriage.”
- Use “deaf” as an adjective to describe a person with significant hearing loss.
- You can also use “partially deaf” or “hard of hearing.”
Don’t refer to a person’s medical condition unless it’s relevant to what we're writing.
- If a reference to a person’s medical condition is warranted, use the same rules as writing about people with physical disabilities and emphasize the person first. Don’t call a person with a medical condition a “victim.”
Mental and cognitive conditions
Don’t refer to a person’s mental or cognitive condition unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing. Never assume that someone has a medical, mental, or cognitive condition.
- Don’t describe a person as “mentally ill.” If a reference to a person’s mental or cognitive condition is warranted, use the same rules as writing about people with physical disabilities or medical conditions and emphasize the person first.
- Use the adjective “blind” to describe a person who is unable to see.
- Use “low vision” to describe a person with limited vision.