Recently, decrees from the the 2019 American Copy Editors Society Conference rocked the copyediting world. Split infinitives are now officially ok! The percent sign (%) can be used instead of writing out the word percent!
While editors and writers like to debate these types of style choices, the truth is it doesn’t much matter whether your organization chooses % or percent or the Canadian Press’s per cent. What matters is being consistent.
What is ‘inclusive’ language?
I can’t define it better than the University of British Columbia. As they put it:
Inclusive language strives to promote all people – regardless of difference – as full and valued members of society by selecting vocabulary that avoids exclusion, the use of false stereotypes, and the use of descriptors that portray groups of certain people as dependent, powerless, or less valued than others.
Source: UBC Writing & Style Guide, “Inclusive Language Guidelines.”
Style guides exist, in part, to ensure consistency throughout your organization’s materials. Many organizations have in-house style guides which address the particulars of the topics they write about. A policy think tank, for instance, will have a style guide clarifying whether it uses policymakers or policy-makers or policy makers.
But style guides are essential for other reasons, too. The language we choose can invite people in or exclude them. It can make it easier for people to understand what we’re saying, or more difficult. It can treat the people about whom we’re writing respectfully or disrespectfully.
Style guides help make writing clearer and more accessible to everyone. They help scrub complicated jargon from blog posts, whitepapers and research reports. They keep us from setting any vocabulary tripwires that could confuse or hurt others. They make sure we get our message across. They make our writing inclusive.
Here are the three style guides I refer to all the time. If your organization writes for or about “the public,” I highly recommend giving them a read.
The Elements of Style
Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is a classic for good reason. It provides all the basics of syntax, grammar and usage. Is it who or whom? It is Charles’ friend or Charles’s friend? The Elements of Style has the answer.
It also has common-sense rules to make writing simple and clear. As I’ve previously argued, simple language is inclusive language. Not everyone who reads your organization’s website or newsletter is university-educated or a native English speaker. And even those who are prefer to read simple, clear writing.
Strunk and White’s rules that make for better, more inclusive writing include:
Do not overwrite.
Avoid fancy words.
Avoid foreign languages.
2. A Progressive’s Style Guide
I refer people to this guide all the time. A Progressive’s Style Guide, by Hanna Thomas and Anna Hirsch, acknowledges that language is not neutral, and the choices we make in our writing do more than reflect the reality around us--they shape it, too.
Progressive and thoughtful organizations should reflect on the principles underpinning this guide, which include people-first language, self-identification and the active voice.
I refer to this guide whenever I’m writing about topics including disability, gender/sex, race/ethnicity, and sexual violence. It is an invaluable reference for any organization whose work touches on these and other sensitive topics. I wish it were required reading for everyone who works in public policy or the nonprofit sector.
The guide also includes resources for further reading on each of the many topics it covers.
3. Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples
I am so glad Gregory Younging wrote this guide. In Canada, organizations from hospitals to charities to social enterprises are considering their role in reconciling with Indigenous people.
Language has an important role to play in reconciliation. As Younging says, “... Indigenous style is part of a conversation that aims to build a new relationship between Indigenous people and settler society.”
He provides numerous Indigenous style principles, including generous and useful guidance on:
Recognizing Indigenous identity
The role of Elders, and the Protocols to observe respect for Elders when writing about indigeneity
The names of Indigenous Peoples
This style guide is an essential starting point for anyone writing about Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
Beyond these three guides, I consult the following resources from time to time:
Grammar Girl’s website for practical, friendly grammar tips
The Radical Copyeditor’s blog for guidance around gender, identity and more.
What resources do you use to make your writing more inclusive? Leave a comment below.