Using Inclusive Language

Gender bias in writing

In general, it is considered unacceptable today to use sexist (or gender-biased) language in formal writing and communication. Using gender-specific or gender-neutral language can be challenging, however, and is not always appropriate. Below are a few techniques for avoiding both gender bias and artificial contrivance—both of which will dilute the ideas being conveyed.

Avoid terms that contain man or men, such as fireman or workmen. Whenever possible neutralize the context with words that incorporate both sexes:

  • supervisor, rather than foreman
  • mail carrier, rather than mailman or postman
  • flight attendant, rather than stewardess
  • police officer, detective, or law enforcement personnel, rather than policeman or policewoman
  • chair, or committee chair, rather than chairman
  • chairperson if used for men and women (but not chairman for a man and chairperson for a woman)

Omit gender-biased pronouns when practical:

  • The coach should inspire each team member to excel, rather than The coach should inspire each member of his team to excel.

In cases where pronouns include both genders, use the plural if appropriate:

  • Students should see their teachers during conference period.
  • Principians should follow their highest sense of right, rather than
    A Principian should follow his highest sense of right.

Use the relative pronoun who:

  • A student who lives in the dorm is more likely to participate in school activities, rather than A student is more likely to participate in school activities if he lives in the dorm

Use an imperative:

  • Do not use a cell phone or iPod during the exam, rather than
    A student should not use a cell phone or iPod while he is taking the exam

Avoid slash constructions:

  • use his or her, not his/her
  • use she or he, not s/he
  • use woman or man, not (wo)man 

Use parallel terms:

  • ladies with gentlemen
  • women with men
  • wife with husband
  • not men’s room and ladies’ room or man and wife

Using the terms male and female is often the best choice of parallels:

  • There are nine female and eight male honor students.

Avoid using the term lady as a modifier, as in lady pilot. Depending on the circumstances, woman pilot, female pilot, or simply pilot is preferable.  

Use gender-specific language when appropriate:

  • Boys’ Dorm, men’s soccer, senior boys’ banquet
  • women’s studies, girls’ advisory, women’s volleyball tournament