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  • Writer's pictureJen Ottolino

Inclusive Language Guides in 2023

Is your inclusive communication racing to keep up with the times? Here are some resources to help get you up to speed.

“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.” --Angela Carter

Why Inclusive Language Is Important

Words are powerful. So powerful, in fact, they can alter our very perceptions.

The Portuguese word “saudade” has no English equivalent. Roughly, it translates to “a feeling of nostalgic longing.” The word originated during the Great Portuguese Discoveries, when daring (and rash?) explorers would set sail to destinations unknown. Saudade was what these sailors felt when saying goodbye to loved ones, not knowing if they would ever see them again.

Looking out at the sea from the jagged rock of my Portuguese island, I sometimes feel saudade: an acute longing for the soft beige and green landscapes of my midwestern childhood home. A yearning for simpler times, for my grandmother and mother, for the person I used to be before I left my home to embark on my own winding journey. I never would have been able to recognize this feeling if this new Portuguese word hadn't been injected into my vocabulary. For as Ludwig Wittgenstein noted, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

The words we hear, think, and speak shape our experience of reality. And when our knowledge about reality changes—such as when our historical or scientific knowledge takes giant, unprecedented leaps—our words should change, too. In this way, language and culture integrate new and important understandings and ensure they are passed on to future generations of humans.

Despite our good intentions, we have used words and phrases that:

  • enforce social hierarchies and do not promote equality

  • foster separateness over unity

  • perpetuate biases and historical and scientific untruths

  • disrespect or disempower members of historically marginalized groups

Let's stop doing this. We can help create a more just world by retraining our language choices. This may seem like a daunting task. But it’s a lot less daunting when you have the right resources at your fingertips.

The Mother of All Guides on Inclusive Language: AP Stylebook

If you’re a journalist or other communicator looking for the most up-to-date and comprehensive technical guidelines on inclusive language, look no further than the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. One of the most trusted English-language style guides there ever was, it is updated annually to reflect best practices in grammar and language . Spiral-bound and online versions of the guide are available for purchase, and the AP also posts regular updates on its twitter feed and blog.

Inclusive Communication in Health Care

Inclusive communication in health care settings helps people feel safe and ensures they get the care they need to live vibrant, full lives. The following inclusive language guides were developed specifically for those working in the health professions.

Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created the free Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication as a living document, to be adapted as cultural norms change over time. This is not meant as a technical style guide. Rather, it provides best practices, resources, and suggestions for developing inclusive public health communications to support health equity.

Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative, and Concepts

Authored jointly by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association, Advancing Health Equity explores the “narrative ecosystem.” These are the ways in which stories are deeply embedded within cultures, giving power to some and stealing it from others, producing vast disparities in wealth and health. Against this backdrop, the document frames its specific recommendations for inclusive language in health care settings.

If you have time for a deep dive, reading this guide will help you understand the connections between language, social power, and health disparities in a way you won’t soon forget.

Inclusive Communication in Academic Publishing

A recent article in Learned Publishing describes three free inclusive language academic publishing style guides. These guides view inclusive language as evolving and context dependent. They go beyond the technicalities of "use this word, not that one" to emphasize the principles behind inclusive communication and the reasons for certain language choices.

AMA Manual of Style

The 11th edition of the American Medical Association (AMA) Manual of Style has an entire section devoted to inclusive language for authors and editors in the health sciences. The section addresses race and ethnicity, sex and gender, sexual orientation, personal pronouns, age, socioeconomic status, and terms for persons with diseases, disabilities, and disorders. The section on reporting race and ethnicity was extensively updated in 2021.

ACS Inclusivity Style Guide

The American Chemical Society (ACS) Inclusivity Style Guide helps society members and staff communicate respect for diversity in all its forms. The guide provides in-depth recommendations as well as easy-to-read, downloadable “tip sheets” on communicating about different areas of diversity, including age, body size, disabilities and disorders, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and othe topics. The guide is reviewed and updated at least three times per year.

Coalition for Diversity & Inclusion in Scholarly Communications (C4DISC) Guidelines on Inclusive Language & Images in Scholarly Communication

The C4DISC Guidelines provide recommendations for authors, editors, and reviewers on using both language and images in ways that are inclusive and culturally sensitive. The guidelines are updated annually by soliciting input from the scholarly publishing community.

Some Closing Thoughts on Inclusive Language

We're all in this together!

It’s normal to stumble from time to time when practicing new skills. Learning to use inclusive language is no exception. Try not to get frustrated when someone gently nudges you about your words. At the same time, be gentle when providing guidance to others.

Remember why we’re doing this. We're updating how we use words to reflect modern knowledge and promote greater equality among current and future generations of humans. Bet you didn't think that grammar and usage could be that exciting (editor winks).

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