Inclusive and antiracist language

The following information has been adapted with permission from the SFU Student Learning Commons' Inclusive and Antiracist Writing Guide.

About inclusive & antiracist writing

Inclusive writing means paying attention to the ways that language can be, and has been, used to exclude people or groups of people. Exclusive language is often used unintentionally, out of both habit and assumption. So, if you want to write in an inclusive way, you have to intentionally think about the perspectives, peoples, and groups that might be excluded and even harmed through careless word choice.

Inclusive writing is also about understanding that language, language-use, writing, and all forms of communicating are always changing. Inclusive writing is not about memorizing a list of the perceived best terms. In fact, there are lots of terms that were once standard that are now understood as exclusionary.

Inclusive and antiracist writing resources

You can access the following resources through the Student Learning Commons' Inclusive and Antiracist Writing Guide:

You can download the complete Inclusive and Antiracist Writing Guide, with expanded explanations, here.

Please note: While these resources have been broken apart to provide focus, the concept of intersectionality (a term coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, see glossary for description) helps us to understand that these aspects of identity do not necessarily occur independently from one another and are often embodied by people in intersecting and interconnected ways. The divisions in these resources are in no way meant to suggest that these identities or experiences are exclusive of one another.

Principles of inclusive and antiracist writing

  • Question assumptions – even the ones we have never noticed before.
  • Choose words thoughtfully and carefully.
  • Revise critically.
  • Seek feedback from external readers, especially those whose experiences differ from your own – these readers can help you to understand your work in new ways.
  • Learn from feedback! As we do this work, we will probably make mistakes, but mistakes are not an excuse to stop trying. Instead, when someone gives us feedback—especially critical feedback—we can thank them for giving us an opportunity to learn more.
  • Think not just about your content (i.e., your ideas), but also about how you are presenting your content. For example, think about the readability of your document (some fonts are easier to read than others), about whether you can simplify your language, and whether you have provided alt-text for any images included with your work (see Glossary for explanation). Did you know that you can run an accessibility check on Word documents and Powerpoint slides?
  • In almost no case is it acceptable to use an adjective to refer to a person or group of people (for example, the gays, the Blacks, the homeless). Furthermore, it is not acceptable to write about an individual as though they speak for or represent an entire group or category of people, or the entirety of a particular experience.

If you have a recommendation for a resource, a new inclusive writing topic, or a change that should be made to the existing materials, please email learning-commons@sfu.ca