Inclusive writing: Background and principles

Section: Inclusive writing

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

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There is broad consensus today on the importance of writing more inclusively to promote equity and the equal participation of all members of society. In fact, when people feel respected, understood and represented in communications, they are more inclined to contribute to the community.

How can you make your writing inclusive? Whether you’re drafting an email, a report, an advertisement or any other type of document, you can produce an inclusive text, using the key principles listed below, in combination with various inclusive writing techniques (see the section on gender-inclusive writing techniques in the Guidelines for Inclusive Writing).

Definition of inclusive writing

Inclusive writing is writing that uses a set of principles and techniques designed to accomplish two goals:

  • to promote inclusion and respect for diversity
  • to eliminate all forms of discrimination based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability or any other identity factor

The terms “gender-inclusive writing” and “gender-neutral writing” are narrower in scope and are used to designate writing that is focused more specifically on equal representation of all genders.

Principles of inclusive writing

The approach to inclusive writing proposed in our guidelines is based on five key principles that reflect ongoing developments in Canadian society and current English usage.

These general principles should serve as a guide to help you in applying the gender-inclusive writing techniques listed on the page Inclusive writing – Guidelines and resources.

Principle 1: Use what works best

Apply the technique or techniques that fit your specific situation, taking into account the type of text you’re writing and the audience you’re writing for.

The English language has several techniques you can use to make your writing gender-inclusive. For example, you can use the singular “they” or the passive voice, or address your reader directly.

No one technique will meet all your communication needs. You need to consider both the nature of the text and the audience when choosing techniques and combining them to craft a clear piece of writing.

For instance, addressing the reader directly can draw the reader in and give your text a more personal touch. On the other hand, using the passive voice can make your text sound more formal. And if you’re writing to non-binary individuals, other techniques might be useful (see our article Gender-inclusive writing: Guidelines for writing to or about non-binary individuals).

Principle 2: Respect people’s wishes

When you’re writing to or about someone, use the person’s specified courtesy title and pronouns.

Individuals’ wishes vary when it comes to courtesy titles and pronouns (for example, Mr., Ms., Mx., he, she, singular “they”). These wishes must be respected when we’re writing to someone (as in an email) or writing about them (as in a biography).

For more information, see our article Gender-inclusive writing: Guidelines for writing to or about non-binary individuals.

Principle 3: Make choices that are respectful of diversity

Choose words, expressions and examples that are in keeping with diversity so as to avoid stereotypes.

Inclusive writing avoids terminology that conveys bias or stereotypes, puts different genders on an equal footing and accurately reflects the diversity of the population.

It is therefore important to choose your words with care. See the section on inclusive and respectful language on the page Inclusive writing – Guidelines and resources for more information and for examples of inclusive solutions.

Principle 4: Write clearly and effectively

Use the principles of inclusive writing in conjunction with the principles of clear and effective communication.

The primary objective of communication is to convey a message that is understood by its recipient. A dense or needlessly complex piece of writing can quickly become difficult to understand.

You should therefore choose inclusive writing techniques wisely and ensure that clarity is maintained. When properly applied, inclusive writing techniques enable you to produce accurate, concise and impactful texts.

Principle 5: Be consistent

Apply inclusive writing techniques throughout each text and throughout all communications within your organization.

First of all, be consistently inclusive. You shouldn’t be content with using inclusive writing techniques merely in a few passages or solely in the title of your document. A concern for inclusivity should resonate throughout your writing.

Be consistent as well in applying inclusive writing techniques. Organizations can help by establishing inclusive writing guidelines to ensure their texts reflect consistent choices. For instance, your organization’s guidelines could indicate in which contexts you should address the reader directly or in which contexts you should use the passive voice.

Additional information

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