Revising for Style: Choose words that are sensitive to your audience

Learning Objectives

  • Identify strategies for revising for style
  • Evaluate strategies for revising for style

As you revise for style, look closely at the language you have used in your drafts. Often, we write words that are fairly common but might be offensive to some readers or make them feel like they are excluded from being valuable members of your audience. Revision is a chance to think carefully about your language choices and to make sure you are considering all potential readers. Below are some examples of language choices that can help you be more inclusive in your writing:

Gender terms

Use gender-neutral pronouns when appropriate. For example, don’t use the word “he” unless you are referring to just a male. Use terms like “he or she” when singular or “their” when plural. In fact, one easy way to make language more inclusive is to pluralize when possible. For example, a sentence such as, “Any student wishing to go on the trip must turn in his money to the teacher by Friday,” could easily be changed to, “Students wishing to go on the trip must turn in their money to the teacher by Friday.” Unless you were writing about an all-boys school, the second sentence is a much better choice.

Here are some other examples:

  • police officer rather than policeman
  • mail carrier rather than mailman
  • humankind rather than mankind

Racial or ethnic terms

Use terms that are likely to not be offensive to readers. Despite common usage, some terms like “Indian” are not the preferred label for many members of that group. Additionally, it can be confusing because people from the country India can be called “Indian.” Use “Native American” or even “American Indian” instead.

Here are some other examples:

  • Latino/a rather than Mexican
  • African American rather than colored or other terms
  • Inuit or Native Alaskan rather than Eskimo

Terms for people with disabilities

Terms referring to disabilities are often insensitive and sometimes even inaccurate. For example, the term “blind” has negative connotations. Think about how we also use it in negative ways: “Jill is blind to the fact that her old friends don’t want to hang out with her anymore.” Further, some people may be called blind when they actually have partial vision. The term “visually impaired” is a better choice for multiple reasons, even when someone has complete loss of sight.

Here are some other examples:

  • mentally disabled or mentally ill rather than retarded or crazy
  • hearing impaired rather than deaf
  • person with disabilities or a person with a disability rather than cripple or handicap



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