Avoiding Sexist Language in Writing
Tips for avoiding sexist language in business writing.
Why avoid sexist language in your business writing?
Biased language can alienate any potential reader. If you
alienate your readers, you lose credibility. Without their
faith in your words, you have lost your audience and cannot
make your argument. Therefore, avoiding sexism in your
writing benefits everyone.
Here are some tips for avoiding common mistakes
regarding sexist language.
The use of a masculine pronoun to refer to both genders is
offensive to many people. Also, using terms such as “man”
to define people can often be confusing – are you referring
only to “men” or to “all people”? The easiest and best way
to get around this is to rewrite the sentence in the plural, or
avoid using a pronoun altogether.
Example: The executive cannot do his job properly until he
Correct to: Executives cannot do their jobs properly until
they understand how.
You could also say “The executive cannot do his or her job
properly until he or she understands how.” However, this
tends to be clumsy, especially after being used repeatedly.
Miss refers to an unmarried woman. Mrs. Refers to a
married woman. Ms. is a universally accepted form of
addressing a woman regardless of her marital status. This
should be adopted whenever possible.
However, there are women who indicate a preference for
either Miss or Mrs., and that preference should be honored
if known. When addressing general audiences, or if you
are not sure of the woman’s marital status, always use Ms.
Other ways to avoid sexism in your writing:
Don’t assume that a particular job is filled by a particular
gender: there are many female constructions workers and
doctors; there are also many nurses and office assistants
that are male.
Instead, talk about “mail carriers” instead of mailmen,
“flight attendants” instead of stewardesses, and “police
officers” instead of policemen. Certain job titles refer to
both men and women; “lineman” is one such example.
Try not to be confusing by going overboard with terms
such as “saleswoman” or “salesman” or “salesperson.”
Instead, use simple words like “sales associate” or “chair”
instead of “chairman/woman/person.”
Linda Elizabeth Alexander is a business writer specializing in
web and sales copy. Be a better writer! Subscribe to her
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