Inclusive Writing Guide
The University of Idaho strives to be a welcoming environment for students, staff and faculty from all walks of life.
One way that we can make everyone feel welcome and safe is to use inclusive language. Inclusive language is about more than just being politically correct — it’s about showing respect for individual differences, cultures and experiences. It honors the humanity of each person that interacts with our institution, and recognizes that no one race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or heritage is more worthy than another. It opens a dialogue and supports our institutional identity and goals of cultivating a valued and diverse community.
Writing for Our Archetype
At U of I, we are Explorers. That means we use down-to-earth, straightforward language to express our ideas. We treat everyone with equal respect regardless of rank and title. We don’t use a lot of buzzwords or industry lingo. We want all of our writing to be easily understood and approachable. We avoid unnecessary capitalization and punctuation, as well as limit the use of acronyms and abbreviations. See the Editorial Style Guide for guidelines on how to address titles, degrees and other language use examples.
Our writing follows a “show, don’t tell” style. Rather than using buzzwords or lingo, such as “cutting edge,” or “prestigious,” use examples that demonstrate those facts. Often, people will add these adjectives because they think it makes the institution or individual appear more important, but it can have the opposite effect and make the university seem out of touch, elitist or snooty.
Rather than … “The cutting-edge research …”
Try … “The research is the first of its kind in this field …”
Rather than … “The prestigious award …”
Try … “The award is given to only 30 people each year …”
Writing for a Diverse Audience
As a university that serves a global population, it is important to remember that our content may be read by people from across the world.
U of I 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 and sexual identity, etc. When writing content, always consider whether a person’s or group’s identity is relevant to the content. Do not identify someone’s race, gender, orientation, ethnicity, disability status, etc., unless it adds value and context.
In all cases, emphasize the person first. Our focus should not be on the differences. By making simple, thoughtful adjustments, you can ensure that your content will be accessible to people from varying backgrounds and cultures.
Refer to a disability only when it’s relevant to the story. When referring to those with disabilities, generally emphasize the person first but be aware that some people view their disability as central to their identity and use identity-first language, such as “an autistic woman” or “deaf students.” Autistic people and deaf people often — but not always — use identity-first language. Ask for their preference.
When preferences of an individual or group can’t be determined, try to use a mix of person-first and identity-first language.
- Examples of person-first language: “A person with a disability (not a disabled person or handicapped person), “a woman with Down syndrome” or “a man with schizophrenia.”
- A person who uses a wheelchair, not a wheelchair-bound person
- The terms disabilities and disabled are generally embraced by disabled people and are acceptable when relevant. Do not use handicap or handicapped, handicapable, differently abled or physically challenged.
- “Accessible parking” rather than “handicapped parking.”
- Do not use “stricken” or “victim.” Avoid words with negative connotations. Phrases such as “someone living with …” are generally accepted: “someone living with depression” or “someone who has cerebral palsy.”
- Vision: People with complete or nearly complete vision loss are blind or legally blind. Those with partial sight may use the terms low-vision, limited vision or visually impaired. Ask for their preference.
- Hearing: People with total hearing loss are deaf; those with partial hearing loss are hard of hearing. Again, ask for a person’s preference.
- Do not use the word “normal” or “typical” to describe people without disabilities. Instead use “nondisabled” or “people without disabilities.”
U of I has a growing population of students and employees who identify outside of the traditional male-female gender binary. Our content should reflect the experiences of all people, regardless of gender or sexual identity.
For detailed style tips and recommendations, see the GLAAD Media Reference Guide. U of I’s LGBTQ Office, and Employee Development and Learning offer multiple trainings each year to help employees and students learn more about LGBTQ+ identities.
- Rather than saying “men and women,” say “all people” or “all students.”
- Always ask a person their name and pronouns. This can be easily done during introductions: “Hi I’m Joe Vandal, and I use he/him pronouns. What do you prefer?” Someone’s preferred name may not be the same as what appears in the university system. Always use their preference.
- “They/their/them” are acceptable as gender-neutral singular pronouns.
- Only include information about a person’s gender or sexual identity if it is relevant to the content.
- If you are unsure of how to address a person’s gender or sexual identity when writing content, such as a feature article, simply ask “Are there any aspects of your identity that you would like to share in this article?” It is their choice to self-identify. Never identify an individual as a member of the LGBTQ+ community without their permission.
- LGBTQ+: An acceptable reference for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and/or questioning, plus other sexual and gender identities. Fewer or additional letters can be used to be more inclusive or in quotations and names of organizations and events. For example, U of I has an LGBTQA Office.
- Avoid the term “homosexual.” Ask the individual how they identify.
- Use “woman/women” or “man/men” instead of “female” or “male” to be inclusive of transgender people. Female and male refer to biological sex whereas woman/man refer to gender identity.
- Transgender: An adjective to describe people whose gender does not match the one usually associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. “Trans” is acceptable on second reference. Identify people as transgender only when relevant. Ask for their pronouns. People who are transgender may also use additional terms to describe their gender more specifically. Avoid saying that transgender people “identify as” their gender, instead say they are their gender. For example, “Marisol is a transgender woman” or “Tom is a transgender person.”
U of I serves students from countries around the globe. Many of our faculty, post-doctoral researchers and staff members also come from international or underrepresented backgrounds. Many countries, cultures or religious affiliations have different customs and social protocols you should be aware of. The Office of Equity and Diversity offers cultural competency training through Professional Development and Learning.
The International Programs Office also offers intercultural programs and events to help U of I community members learn more about each other. The Diversity Style Guide offers tips for writing about people from a variety of backgrounds.
- Only identify a person’s race, ethnicity or national origin if it is relevant to your work.
- Always ask for a person’s preference and identify someone as specifically as possible.
- Rather than “She is Native American,” say “She is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe.”
- Rather than “He is Asian,” say, “He is from Beijing, China.”
The University of Idaho has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with 10 tribal governments. Members of these tribes make up the President’s Native American Advisory Council. The tribes are:
- Coeur d’Alene Tribe
- Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation
- Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation
- Kalispel Tribe of Indians
- Kootenai Tribe of Idaho
- Nez Perce Tribe
- Shoshone-Bannock Tribes
- Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation
- Spokane Tribe of Indians
- Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation
Be wary of using culturally insensitive slang or appropriating cultural terminology. For example, do not say “powwow” to mean “hold a meeting.”