Use Language That is Sensitive to Your Audience

Language and it’s Impact on the Audience

When writers use language that implies a biased or judgmental attitude, the audience may take offense and be less apt to listen to the writer’s argument. Language that is insensitive to gender, ethnicity,disability, or age should be avoided.

Just as writers hope their audience will be willing to respect their point of view, they need to respect the diversity of a broad base of readers. Language that is inclusive and fair may contribute to the credibility of the writer and uphold the audience’s sense of dignity and self-worth.

Language and tone also go hand-in-hand.  You do not want to sound like you’re talking down to your audience or using language that is not appropriate for their age, background, or educational level.  Language can turn off your audience and block the true meaning of message you are trying to convey.

What revisions will help to promote sensitive, fair language?

  • Use gender-inclusive language:
    • he or she instead of he
    • humankind instead of mankind
    • garbage collector instead of garbage man
    • server instead of waitress
  • Use correct or accepted racial and ethnic terms:
    • African American instead of colored or Negro
    • Asian instead of Oriental
    • American Indian or Native American instead of Indian
    • Native Alaskan or Inuit instead of Eskimo
    • Hispanic instead of Spanish
    • Latino instead of Mexican
  • Use language that respects people for who they are or recognizes a specific ailment:
    • persons with disabilities instead of handicapped, challenged, disabled, or retarded
    • visually impaired instead of blind
    • persons with hearing loss instead of deaf individuals
    • mentally ill instead of crazy, moron, or loony
    • those with arthritis instead of arthritis sufferers
    • people with diabetes instead of diabetes patient
    • young adults instead of kids
    • senior adults  or mature adults instead of old people or people of a certain age

Your language choices will affect how receptive your audience will be to your message. Keep in mind that your language is also crucial in terms of legal issues that may arise.  If your writing shows a sensitivity to your audience’s background, you are less likely to have legal troubles.

You can also create a sense of goodwill through your use of language and the fact that you are considering your audience. For example, asking your audience to consider options is much better than TELLING  them to consider options.  Please see the example statements that follow:

For parents looking to buy a new car

AUDIENCE SENSITIVE:   Before buying your next car, consider the gas mileage, safety features, and amenities it offers. (Shows a sensitivity to the audience’s needs, but leaves the final decision up to them).

NOT SENSITIVE:  You should buy our car because we have already compared the gas mileage, safety features, and amenities that other vehicles have and ours is clearly superior. (This assumes the audience doesn’t have their opinion or can’t make the comparisons themselves).

For a senior adult – using technology for the first time.

AUDIENCE SENSITIVE:  Let’s start by familiarizing ourselves with the basics and  progress from there. (Begins with an inclusive statement and implies that we will be successful with the basics and continue on)

NOT SENSITIVE:  Since you probably haven’t used current technology or are unaware in the advances in science, let’s start at the very beginning – how to log on to the system. (This is condescending and maybe even insulting).

Even though the above examples may seem exaggerated, this type of insensitive writing is out there.  Believe me, this type of writing will earn you no profits or goodwill among your audiences.