What Is Inclusive Writing: A Guide for Content Creators

What Is Inclusive Writing: A Guide for Content Creators

Do you know for sure who exactly will be reading your content? You don't. Read on to learn how to write content that serves and resonates with as many people as possible.

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Wait, did I just say "he"? Read on to see what inclusive content means and why we all need to care.

What exactly is inclusive writing?

Look at the world today. Take the fashion industry, for example. Online clothing stores where models are all white, tall, and thin are quickly disappearing. I tend to shop on websites with plus-size models, models from every race and ethnicity, and models who look just like me. And honestly, I prefer these websites much better.

The world gets more global and grows more diverse psychically, ethnically, religiously, and racially. 

Writing inclusive content isn't just the right thing to do. It's a business need.

Look, it’s simple. You never know who exactly will be reading your content. But your messages should resonate with people from all backgrounds, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, religion, ability, or sexual orientation. To make your messages resonate, you should always think about what words you use and how they will be received by a diverse audience. 

Writing that respects and recognizes different groups of people connects with readers and makes the world a better place. 

I break inclusive content down into 5 categories:

  1. Inclusive language
  2. Inclusive visuals
  3. Source and opinion diversity
  4. Accessible content 
  5. Counterstereotypes 

Let’s unpack these components one by one.

1. Write guilt-free narratives using inclusive language 

To express yourself in a way that’s inclusive, you need to carefully choose the words for your copy. 

This means you need to use respectful terms for physical disability or mental health, use positive, enabling language, avoid referencing age unless it's absolutely relevant, use neutral, non-gendered forms for professions, and avoid cultural racism.

Let me give you a few examples:

  1. If you mention people who deal with physical, mental, and emotional challenges, you don't want to present them as victims. That's why you'll say:  
  • “People with disabilities” instead of “the disabled” 
  • "A person with diabetes" instead of "diabetic"
  • "A person with Down's syndrome" instead of "a person with Down's"
  • “People living with HIV/AIDS” rather than “AIDS victims”
  • “People who use wheelchairs” rather than “wheelchair-bound” 
  • "Someone with mental health difficulties," never "mental person," "schizo," or  "lunatic"
  • "He was diagnosed with" instead of "he suffers from"
  1. If you talk about professions, use:
  • "Businessperson," instead of "businessman" or "businesswoman"
  • "Firefighter" instead of "fireman"
  • "Police officer" instead of "policeman" or "policewoman"
  • "Work hours" instead of "man-hours"
  • "First-year student" instead of "freshman"
  • "Flight attendant" instead of "stewardess" or "steward"
  • "Artificial" instead of "man-made"
  • "Ancestors" instead of "forefathers"
  1. If you write about someone who identifies as male or female, use "she," "her," "he," "his." Otherwise, use "they," "their."

Here is a quote from Lexico, an Oxford dictionary:

In the past, people tended to use the pronouns he, his, him, or himself in situations like this:

  • If your child is thinking about a gap year, he can get good advice from this website.
  • A researcher has to be completely objective in his findings.

Today, this approach is seen as outdated and sexist. Instead, you can use the plural pronouns ‘they', ‘them’, ‘their’ etc., despite the fact that, technically, they are referring back to a singular noun:

  • If your child is thinking about a gap year, they can get good advice from this website.
  • A researcher has to be completely objective in their findings.
  1. If you mention the ethnic origins of someone or something, don't generalize it.
  • "This is Ecuadorian" instead of "This is South American"
  • "Indonesian food" instead of "Asian food" 
  • "She grew up in Zimbabwe" instead of "She grew up in Africa"
  1. Don't use phrases like “culturally deprived,” “economically disadvantaged” and “underdeveloped.” These phrases transmit a sense of superiority.
"Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Verna Meyers, Public Speaker

2. Show diversity using inclusive visuals 

When you're picking images and photos to accompany your blog posts or other marketing materials think about how well your visual choices represent your audience.

Do you believe that your target audience consists only of white people? You might be wrong. 43% of the 75 million Millennials in the US identify as African American, Hispanic or Asian, according to a Nielsen report.

Pick out images that show diversity.

For example, let's say you are doing a search for photos that show "team meeting." Most likely, the first photo you find will show you a group of white people sitting in an office. 

Like this:

Photo by Leon on Unsplash

In this case, you need to dig a little deeper. Your goal is to find the images that represent all of your customers, not just one. Try adding terms like “African American,” “Hispanic,” “senior,” “gay,” or “disabled” and you’ll see more options. 

Like this:

Photo by Yogendra Singh on Unsplash

3. Do research to show the truth from multiple perspectives 

Inclusive content doesn't only have inclusive language and visuals, it also reflects diversity in your choice of sources, examples, quotes, interviews, and so on. Your job as an author is to seek diverse perspectives, especially those that differ from your own and give voice to multiple perspectives and cultures. 

Incorporating different sources of information, featuring experts and thought leaders from diverse backgrounds along multiple dimensions of identity (gender, race, ethnicity, ability, etc.) and covering diverse and even conflicting viewpoints can make your content more “multi-perspectival,” more complete, and will help people understand the complex world better.

Readers will pay more attention to the content that speaks to or serves their identity. The more opinions, examples, sources you have, the more likely you are to foster relationships with your readers.

4. Make your content accessible and effortless 

Your content needs to be accessible which means it should be easy to consume for people with different abilities. Long-winded sentences, large paragraphs, little white space, few or no headers, illegible fonts, complex vocabulary, and syntax are driving people away from your site. You need to make sure your content is visually accessible and readable. 

According to the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), content that doesn’t exceed an eighth-grade reading level or a lower secondary education reading level can be read and understood by a wide audience, including people with disabilities.

I talk about readability in my book From Reads To Leads which you should absolutely read to learn and practice writing rules that separate high-quality content that brings leads from content that sits on a server and gathers dust.

5. Fight stereotypes and stand out in a crowded space

Inclusive content avoids bias, stereotypes, and hurtful cliches. A counterstereotype means going against a standardized image that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.

Unfortunately, the world of marketing and media is still full of content that repeats the same stereotypes: portraying a woman as a doting mother and a man as a high-achiever in the business world, labeling Latin American men as unprofessional and violent and Americans as industrious and intelligent, showing criminals with tattoos and piercings and men in the office wearing suits and ties, portrays aging as a time of isolation and loneliness and adolescence as a time of heightened storm and stress. The list can go long.

No matter how open-minded we are, we all have unconscious biases that get reinforced by stereotypes transmitted in the media.

Addressing or debunking stereotypes in content doesn't only help you reduce unconscious bias. It can do good for your brand. Counterstereotypes grab attention. In content marketing, where cutting through the noise is getting harder and harder, that’s what we want.

Let's look at a few simple examples of how you can address stereotypes in your content.

A stereotypical businessperson looks like this:

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

But in your content, they could look like this:

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

Love doesn't necessarily need to be a heart:

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash 

Or a heart-shaped balloon:

Photo by Christopher Beloch on Unsplash

It can also be this:

Photo by Stanley Dai on Unsplash 

A healthy lifestyle doesn't have to look like this:

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

It can also be this:

Photo by Jade Orth on Unsplash

Inclusive content gives you a chance to change old habits and reach people in new and different ways.

Watch it on YouTube:

I hope this blog post has inspired you to write content with compassion, respect, and empathy. 

Thanks for reading and subscribing to my YouTube channel.

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