“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
-Robert F. Kennedy
It is essential to use politically correct language to avoid offending your audience; failing to do so can be devastating professionally and personally—even if unintentional. As we see frequently in the media, writing or speaking without politically correct or inclusive language can have a lasting negative impact that proves impossible to retract, especially in today’s age of social media and online content sharing.
When writing or speaking, it is important to consider that today’s audiences span a diverse blend of nationalities, ages, ethnicities, family statuses, religions, political views, and socioeconomic backgrounds. In current times, group- and self-identities are much less rigidly defined in areas such as gender and sexual orientation, many people are multiracial, and persons with disabilities are not defined or limited by their disabilities. When speaking or writing, all members of the audience should be included and addressed using inclusive language, and it is not safe to assume that you know the background, identity, lifestyle, and beliefs of every audience member.
What Is Politically Correct, or Inclusive Language?
Politically correct means expressing yourself using neutral, unbiased, and inoffensive language that does not demean, demoralize, marginalize, or discriminate against another person or group. Inclusive language considers all perspectives without exclusion, inferiority, or stereotyping. With the spoken and written word, you should make a consistent, careful, and conscious effort to ensure your language is politically correct and inclusive according to current guidelines, as often, failing to do so is unintentional yet carries serious negative reactions.
Often, style guides such as the one by the American Psychological Association (www.apastyle.org) have a current list of politically correct terms. Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab, “Purdue OWL,” has an appropriate language overview (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/608/01/).
Common Politically Correct/Inclusive Errors to Avoid
No: Jared ran fast for a white boy.
Yes: Jared ran fast.
No: She is a good woman doctor.
Yes: She is a good doctor.
–Avoid male-only pronouns:
No: The athlete selected for the scholarship will wear his best attire to the ceremony.
Yes: The athlete selected for the scholarship will wear his/her best attire to the ceremony. Or, make the noun plural and use third-person pronouns without gender: The athletes selected for the scholarships will wear their best attire to the ceremony.
No: The typical new driver will stress about his parallel parking.
Yes: The typical new driver will stress about parallel parking.
–Avoid male-only titles:
No: After they elect a chairman, the board will vote.
Yes: After they elect a chair (or chairperson), the board will vote.
No: How many students want to be firemen?
Yes: How many students want to be firefighters?
–Avoid male-only terms:
No: Mankind has progressed.
Yes: Humanity has progressed.
No: The manmade material caused me to itch.
Yes: The synthetic material caused me to itch.
No: The store manager should man the customer service counter.
Yes: The store manager should cover the customer service counter.
No: The victims of Hurricane Sandy lost everything.
Yes: During Hurricane Sandy, residents lost everything.
–Avoid putting the disability first:
No: With an elevator, the building is accessible to disabled people.
Yes: With an elevator, the building is accessible to people with disabilities.
–Avoid hyphenating nationalities:
No: Asian-Americans come from many different countries of origin.
Yes: Asian Americans come from many different countries of origin.
–Avoid negative descriptions:
No: On the test, non-Whites expressed that they could not identify with the reading passage.
Yes: On the test, African Americans expressed that they could not identify with the reading passage.
–Avoid excluding all sexual orientations:
No: A woman should call her husband when she has trouble with their kids.
Yes: A woman should call her partner (or spouse) when she has trouble with their kids.
All About Writing offers comprehensive writing, editing, and proofreading services for your professional, academic, resume, and personal needs so you can express yourself with confidence. Don’t let easy-to-fix mistakes overpower your important message or undermine your knowledge.
Our in-person consultations and commitment to clear, on-going communication are extremely beneficial in developing effective content aimed at achieving each client’s goals. From generating content to polishing your final draft, we are here to provide writing expertise and optimal customer service for every phase of the process.
For more tips to improve your writing, visit our blog categories “Business and Professional Writing” (https://allaboutwritingconsulting.com/category/business-professional-writing/), “Ways to Improve Your Writing” (https://allaboutwritingconsulting.com/category/ways-to-improve-your-writing/), and “Writing Help in a Hurry! (https://allaboutwritingconsulting.com/category/writing-help-in-a-hurry/). These “writing lessons” cover a variety of topics to help you independently perfect your writing, no matter its purpose or audience.
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-by Christa Riddle