Editorial Style Guide
Guidelines for Inclusive Language
Bias-Free Content Statement
Emerson College is committed to an active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity—in people; in the curriculum; in the co-curriculum; and in the College’s intellectual, social, cultural, and geographical communities. Emerson endorses a framework of inclusive excellence, which recognizes that institutional excellence comes from fully engaging with diversity in all aspects of institutional activities.
This commitment extends to the language we use in our daily verbal communication. Community members should avoid using language that is insensitive to cultural differences or that excludes or offends any group of people (based on their ability/disability, age, ethnicity and race, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, etc.). Ask yourself whether it is appropriate to your communication to share a particular fact about a person (pertaining to social identity, e.g., age, ethnicity). In some circumstances, a person’s or group’s social identity will be irrelevant to what you are communicating, while in other circumstances it will be a very important part of the context.
When referring to people with disabilities, emphasize the person first and then the disability. Use person with a disability, not disabled person or handicapped person.
Use person who uses a wheelchair instead of wheelchair-bound person.
Avoid words with negative connotations, such as stricken or victim. The use of “someone living with ___” is generally accepted: “someone living with depression” or “someone who has cerebral palsy.”
People with almost complete vision loss are considered blind or legally blind (20/200 vision). Those who have partial sight may prefer the term low vision, limited vision, or visually impaired. If possible, ask for a person’s preference.
People who have total hearing loss are deaf. Those with partial hearing loss are hard of hearing. Again, ask for a person’s preference. Some people with partial hearing loss who identify with the Deaf community prefer to be called deaf/Deaf, for example. When referring to Deaf culture, the d is capitalized: Deaf.
Do not use the word normal to describe people without disabilities.
Use accessible parking rather than handicapped parking.
For guidance on usage of specific terms such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, depression, and intellectually disabled, see the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s style guide.
Ethnic and Racial Designations
Some races and ethnicities have multiple terms associated with them. When possible, ask for a person’s preference (e.g., Native American vs. American Indian).
Native American: A member of any of the first groups of people living in North America. (Other terms: American Indian, First Nation, or Indigenous person)
Latino/a or LatinX: Refers to someone of Latin American origin. Hispanic: Refers to someone of Spanish-speaking origin. Spanish: Refers to someone who is from Spain.
African American: Refers to someone of African origin. Some people who have generations of American ancestors prefer the term black.
Asian American: Refers to someone of Asian origin. This is a diverse population with ancestral origins in South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.
Learn more about terms relating to Asian culture:
Learn more about terms relating to black culture:
When referring to race, lowercase black and white.
Use historically underrepresented groups or people of color instead of minorities. People of color are actually the majority in many large U.S. cities.
Do not use a hyphen in ethnic classifications such as African American or Italian American.
Gender, Sex, and Sexuality
Gender is an individual’s internal sense of feeling like a woman, man, both, or neither.
Sex comprises biological and physiological characteristics, including reproductive organs and hormones. Sex is assigned at birth and is not synonymous with gender.
Use gay or lesbian when describing people who are attracted to members of the same sex. Avoid the use of homosexual and homosexual relationship.
People who identify as transgender have a gender identity or expression that differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.
People who identify as gender nonconforming have a gender identity or expression that does not conform to the traditional gender binary.
Respect a person’s chosen personal pronoun. Some transgender and gender-expansive people identify as he, she, or ze but some may identify as both male and female or neither.
For guidance on terminology related to gender and sex, see the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association’s Stylebook.
Find links to additional resources such as the GLAAD Media Reference Guide on the Conscious Style Guide website.
Use gender-inclusive language unless you are talking about something gender specific. There are a number of ways to avoid using a gender-specific pronoun (he or she).
1. Recast the sentence and make the subject and object plural.
Each student must hand in his paper by 2:00 pm on Friday.
Students must hand in their papers by 2:00 pm on Friday.
2. Omit the pronoun or use an article (e.g., the, a) instead of a pronoun.
The cashier should call her manager when a customer asks to use an expired coupon.
The cashier should call the manager when a customer asks to use an expired coupon.
3. Use the neutral pronoun one.
A writer in Boston is likely to earn more than she will in Syracuse.
A writer in Boston is likely to earn more than one in Syracuse.
For more examples of how to rework sentences, see Section 5.225 in the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition).
If it’s impossible to recast the sentence, use he or she, not he/she, s/he, or (s)he.
The singular they/their/them is generally accepted when referencing a person who is gender nonconforming. For example:
McMahon donated their magazine collection to the Archives.
Most style guides do not encourage this practice in the context of general use. However, it is becoming more widely accepted. When possible, recast the sentence to avoid a singular they/their/them (as mentioned above).
Gender-Inclusive Titles or Terms
Anchor not anchorman
Artificial not manmade
Business executive not businessman
Camera operator not cameraman
Chair not chairman
Guard or staff not man (v.)
Humanity not mankind
Layperson not layman
Police officer not policeman
Spokesperson not spokesman
Workforce not manpower
Power-Based Interpersonal Violence
Power-based interpersonal violence is an umbrella term for interpersonal violence, sexual assault, harassment, stalking and threats, abusive relationships and bullying, child abuse, and human trafficking. This term connotes interconnectedness of these forms of violence, as well as the rooting in power and control over someone else.
In circumstances involving those who have been affected by power-based interpersonal violence, use the phrase “person who has experienced power-based interpersonal violence” instead of the term victim, which has a negative connotation. Survivor can be used if an individual prefers this term; however, it can also be considered negative in that it defines a person solely by an experience.
When individuals share their experience of violence, use the terms said, shared, and experience rather than admitted, confessed, and story, which convey disbelief and bias.
When individuals have experienced sexual assault (including rape and child sexual abuse), refer to the behavior as sexual assault instead of sex or any other terms that minimize the behavior and violence. To refer to sexual assault as sex is similar to referring to drowning as swimming.
Use relationship violence, domestic violence, dating violence, intimate partner violence, or abusive relationship rather than dispute, quarrel, and love triangle, which minimize the violence.
Use the term reported instead of accused, claimed, and alleged, which convey bias and disbelief.
Use the active voice (e.g., he raped him, he abused her, they reported that he assaulted them) rather than the passive voice (e.g., he was raped, she was abused, they were assaulted), which removes the accountability of the person who committed the behavior and blames the person harmed. If reporting on a case in a current campus or legal process, utilize what was reported, such as “they reported that he assaulted them.”
When referring to an individual who has been reported for power-based interpersonal violence, use the term respondent during a campus process and defendant during a legal process.
End any article, interview, or report with a referral to local resources for those following the story to connect with support. At Emerson College, refer to Violence Prevention and Response at emerson.edu/vpr. Beyond Emerson, refer to resources including:
• National Domestic Violence Helpline at 1-888-799-7233
• National Sexual Assault Helpline at 1-800-656-4673
• LGBTQ Resources at emerson.edu/vpr/support
• International Resources at emerson.edu/vpr/support
• Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at dartcenter.org
• femifesto Media Reporting on Sexual Violence in Canada at femifesto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/UseTheRightWords-Single-Dec3.pdf
• Jane Doe Media Guide at janedoe.org/site/assets/docs/Learn_More/DV_Homicide/JDI_DVHomicide_MediaGuide.pdf
• GLAAD Media Reference Guide at glaad.org/sites/default/files/GLAAD%20MRG_9th.pdf
• Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault Guide for Journalists at mncasa.org/assets/PDFs/2013MediaManual.pdf