Inclusive Writing

Previously Nonsexist Writing
updated 11/19/20

According to the Guidelines for Inclusive Language, published by the Linguistic Society of America, “inclusive language acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities.” We could not have said it better. We urge all writers and editors of Meredith content to choose words that do not exclude readers, to assume that readership is varied and broad, and to be aware that what once was considered a common expression now could be offensive.

The careful, thinking content creator knows that inclusive writing does not mean catering to a target audience at the expense of others. Instead, it means evaluating your words to make sure they don’t unnecessarily assume all your readers are white/female/married/Christian/have 2.5 children. Even if 80 percent of readers fall into one category, the remaining 20 percent represent tens of thousands of readers—customers—who don’t.

Some areas where we inadvertently may make assumptions about readers, such as religion, marital status, race, sex, age, disability, and sexual orientation, are obvious. Other assumptions, such as geographic location and nationality, may be more easily overlooked.

For example:
• The trend is sweeping the States. (Excludes Canadian readers.)
• Your kids will thank you. (Excludes readers without children but who have nieces and nephews.)
• Call a builder and let him handle the job. (Sexism.)
• A petite brunette, Marilyn has a reputation as an eagle-eye bargain finder. (Appearance doesn’t matter to skill set.)
• If you’re planning on having your tribe over for Thanksgiving, you need these recipes. (Cultural appropriation.)
• You could call this upholsterer a material girl. (Calling an adult a boy/girl is demeaning, even if it is meant as a play on Madonna. And this example was in regard to a Black woman so was even more disparaging.)
• Lenny Kravitz’s dreadlocks are a political statement. (Dreadlocks has negative connotations; locs/locks is the preferred term.)

Avoid writing that fosters gender discrimination, promotes demeaning stereotypes, or suggests a superiority of or preference for one gender over another. Evaluate your copy with a careful eye. Do you need to rewrite to eliminate or find substitutes for gendered words or to avoid condescending descriptions?

For example:
Wrong: Call your builder and let him handle the job.
Right: Let your builder handle the job.

Wrong: If the rash persists, ask your doctor for his advice.
Right: If the rash persists, consult your doctor.

Wrong: Whether you are celebrating your husband’s promotion …
Right: Whether you are celebrating your spouse’s promotion …

Acceptable: Every dog-lover has his or her favorite breed.
Better: Every dog-lover has a favorite breed.

Wrong: A petite brunette of 30 who could still pass for a coed, Marilyn has a reputation as the best trial lawyer in the state. (Looks and physical stature are not relevant to this accomplishment.)
Right: At the age of 30, Marilyn has a reputation as the best trial lawyer in the state. (Age is relevant.)
Or this: Marilyn has a reputation as the best trial lawyer in the state. (If she is 45, her age is insignificant in relation to her accomplishment.)

Possible nongendered substitutions for gendered words.
businessman/woman (executive, manager, entrepreneur)
cameraman (camera operator, technician, photographer)
chairman/woman (presiding officer, leader, moderator)
craftsmanship (artisanship, artistry, handiwork, expertise, skill)
delivery boy (courier, messenger)
firemen/women (firefighters)
foreman (supervisor, manager)
founding fathers (pioneers, colonists, patriots, forebears, founding fathers in certain contexts)
manhole (maintenance hole)
mankind (people, humanity, human beings, human race)
man-made (synthetic, artificial, constructed, manufactured)
manpower (human resources, workers, work force)
man-size (husky, sizable, large, requiring exceptional ability)
repairman/handyman (maintenance person, plumber, carpenter, electrician)
salesman (salesperson, sales clerk, sales representative)
workman (laborer, employee, staff member)

Resources for diversity and inclusivity in writing can be found in References. Many go deeper into the subject than Meredith brands might need; however, they can open our eyes to unconscious biases and guide us toward more inclusive language.



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