Gender-inclusive writing: Use the imperative

Section: Inclusive writing

Go to the main page of this section: Inclusive writing – Guidelines and resources.

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An imperative verb is a verb that tells someone to do something. You use it to make a request or give an instruction, an order or a warning. If your sentence falls into one of these categories, the imperative can be a good way to make your writing both gender-inclusive and more direct.

Examples of gendered sentences and inclusive solutions
Gendered sentence Inclusive solution
The careful writer should work to develop her own techniques for avoiding bias in writing. Work to develop your own techniques for avoiding bias in writing.
The user must complete this step before he moves on to the next level. Complete this step before moving on to the next level.

Guidelines for using the imperative

The imperative allows you to avoid using a gender-specific pronoun, but it does so in a very specific way: it changes the point of view of the sentence from the third person to the second person and uses an explicit or implicit “you.”

Note that this shift changes the meaning of the sentence. You’re no longer speaking about a role or expectation in general. Instead, you’re addressing yourself specifically to the person reading your document. Consider these examples:

Examples of gendered sentences and inclusive solutions
Gendered sentence Inclusive solution
The applicant must include a cover letter with his job application. Please include a cover letter with your job application.
The language analyst will (a) send her report to the team leader; and (b) copy her colleagues. (a) Send your report to the team leader.
(b) Copy your colleagues.

Notice how instead of describing something that all applicants or all language analysts in general have to do, you’re now speaking directly to the reader and giving them an instruction.

Before using this solution, ask yourself this: are you specifically trying to give your reader instructions? If so, the imperative may be the right technique to use. But if you’re trying to convey an expectation or a requirement more generally, you might want to consider a different technique.

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