Using Bias-Free Language in Your Writing
Bias-free language is language that is sensitive to people’s sex, race, age, physical condition and many other categories. Bias-free language does not discriminate and therefore includes all readers in a fair and friendly manner.
Use gender parallelism: use the word woman in the context where you would use man, lady where you would use gentleman, and girl where you would use boy.
- Biased: I gave my name to the girl at the main desk.
- Better: I gave my name to the woman at the main desk.
Use appropriate pronouns when referring to people that may be either male or female. If gender is unknown, use "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun.
- Biased: Each manager must debrief his department.
- Better: Each manager must debrief his or her department.
- Biased: When talking to a transgender youth, I learned that it felt unsafe in school.
- Better: When talking to a transgender youth, I learned that they felt unsafe in school.
Replace gender-biased terms such as salesman and foreman with bias-free terms.
- Biased: Give your report to the committee chairman.
- Better: Give your report to the committee chair.
Avoiding Racism and Ageism
Mention a person’s race or age only if it is relevant to the story.
- Biased: A strange Black man spoke to me at the grocery store.
- Better: A strange man spoke to me at the grocery store.
Be aware of preferred group terms.
- Biased: The bus of Oriental senior citizens took a detour.
- Better (only if the age and race are relevant): The bus of older Asian adults took a detour.
Disability and Disease
Focus on people rather than conditions.
- Biased: I met an epileptic on the bus today.
- Better: I met a person with epilepsy on the bus today.
*These principles are taken from Business and Administrative Communication (seventh edition) by Kitty O. Locker, which is available for your use at the Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors.
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