We believe that good and effective communication does not only mean being able to convey your message but also being mindful of your readers as well. Even if it’s a well-intentioned piece, or if it is coming from a good place, sometimes, writers resort to using words or terms that are no longer acceptable by modern standards or others may find offensive.
As movements like “Black Lives Matter” and women empowerment gain traction all over the world, we see that many people are craving for and championing representation and they are tired of being excluded or devalued.
That’s why writing, especially for business that often has a wider array of audience, should and must include inclusive language. One of the best tips on how to write well is educating yourself on inclusive language. This means considering the diversity in your audience and not succumbing to stereotypes or prejudice in your written piece. Even if it’s just tweaking one word, or revising your article to be more inclusive, every effort counts to making the world more celebratory of everyone’s unique experiences and individuality.
What is Inclusive Language?
Implementing inclusive language basically means communicating with words, terms, or phrases that do not exclude and/or discriminate against people. It’s the use of language, a key factor on how to write well, that does not assume any prejudiced notion on readers and does not resort to outdated cultural biases, such as those based on race or gender.
Common examples of those non-inclusive terms are jobs with gender pairs, like waiter and waitress, or job titles with a “man” on them, such as fireman and chairman. Such words do not consider that its readership is not limited to male audiences. The English language is full of these non-inclusive gendering terms so it can be a slippery slope, but among the steps to writing well is knowing how to make your copy inclusive.
When a writer uses inclusive language, it translates to making the piece respectful of the diversity among its readers. This is why awareness of the non-inclusive terms is a good place to start and making it an official part of the steps to writing well in your brand’s writing style guide. When you aim for writing well for business success, you would want to make your message accessible and relatable to everyone. And you want your diverse readers to know that you accept them no matter who they are.
Why Include Inclusive Language
There are a lot of advantages to why you should make your copy inclusive, especially if your goal is writing well for business success. See this list so that we can better appreciate why it is a need for us to be more inclusive, and why it is one of the more important steps to writing well that every writer should know.
- Avoids offending people
If you end up with the use of non-inclusive language and outdated perceptions of people, your writing may come off as offensive and insensitive. When you make a negative impression, readers may take you or the brand you are representing in a bad light, which is not good for business. You may also lose potential customers or even previous ones.
- You gain your reader’s trust
Whenever you compose any writing material, you hope that they will listen to what you’re saying. One of the ways to write well is to get your readers to trust you so that you can deliver your message across. If you intend to inform, you want them to recognize your credibility and the brand you represent, or even as a writer, the values you uphold.
If you fail to build trust with your audience, getting your message through will be more difficult. Your readers may have a hard time focusing on what you say and be distracted by how you offended them or excluded them from your writing. You might even be called out and experience backlash for resorting to inappropriate terminologies. So, whether you are informing about or introducing your business, if you want to make your message clear, never forget to make your copy inclusive so that your readers are confident in giving you their full attention.
- You show that you care
Above all, when you use inclusive language, you make your target readers feel important, and that you care for them. By not excluding nor offending them, you create a sense of belongingness, and your audience will appreciate that.
You also increase the value of your brand by maintaining a positive image for your business. Goodwill always results in favorable outcomes–by demonstrating legitimate care in your writing, your reward is in establishing harmonious relationships with your readers and building a superb reputation for your business.
How to make your copy inclusive
Having laid down why we should incorporate inclusive language, we should also discuss several ways how to make your copy inclusive. Use the following list as guidance on your piece if you intend on writing well for business success.
- Be mindful of the terms to use
Inclusive language is not only using words or terms that embrace diversity but also avoiding words that exclude marginalized or underrepresented groups of people, or any words that are considered derogatory or undermine their importance.
For instance, unless you’re trying to sell products specifically for men, instead of saying “guys” or “men,” approach your writing with gender-neutral terms like “people” or “persons.” Other examples would be not to assume that they are either male or female only, like in “mothers and fathers” or “husbands and wives.” There are good alternatives to these, like “parents” or “guardians,” and “partners” or “spouses.”
- Find relevance in your choice of words
Like with any writing, and as an important piece of advice on how to write well, ask yourself if what you write is essential in conveying the message or point of your piece. Do you really need to emphasize the age, sex, or race of your audience to hit your message home? Some examples include “crazy” or “psycho,” which might come off as offensive to those with mental health challenges. If you don’t need these terms really, opt out of using them and focus on the main topic instead.
If it is relevant, then another way to approach this is by using factual language and preventing unnecessary generalizations. When you pertain to a certain age group, for example, it’s way better and much clearer to write their actual age group rather than simply categorizing them into one generation, like with “boomers.”
- Consider the scope of your audience
There are certain phrases that are exclusive to certain regions, and you should also consider who your audience is. If you aim to cater to a global audience, you should be mindful of employing US-specific idioms, like “Break a leg” which means good luck, or “break a bill,” which means to change a larger bill into smaller bills or coins. Not everyone from around the world will understand American slang, so be careful with your wording.
- Acknowledge any lapses
It’s okay to admit that, sometimes, our writing can be fallible. This is why when we have previously committed to exclude or discriminate against people, we should acknowledge our mistakes and never take the matter lightly. That, rather than ignoring them, hoping the issues would go away. If you don’t recognize your mistake, you are invalidating the people you have offended. Not only should you be writing well for business success, but it’s also crucial to show respect and common decency.
Learn from your mistakes and continue to educate yourself and your entire organization on how to incorporate more inclusive language. Keep in mind that inclusive language, like language in general, is fluid and alive, so it is necessary to be updated, such as when the term “queer” used to be a derogatory word and is now reclaimed to mean someone who is not cisgender.
Consider holding or attending legitimate training on inclusive language, and always incorporate them in your writing guidelines or steps to writing well. Moreover, before publishing your work, it’s important to check and re-check your piece to make sure no offensive or excluding remarks have slipped through.
Grammar, syntax, consistency, formatting, coherence… these are all necessary copyreading points to bear in mind on how to write well. But don’t ever forget that inclusive language is also just as important. It actually hurts more not to be inclusive than making that extra effort in avoiding prejudice, stereotypes, or discriminatory terms.
If you want to ensure effective communication, always make your copy inclusive. Make sure to add them to your priority steps to writing well or style guide for your business. We’re not saying it’s always easy, sometimes it takes more effort by doing more research than usual. But it’s all worth it if you want your organization to be part of creating a world that is accepting of anyone and everyone–and there’s a poetic beauty to that.