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Use of Inclusive Language in Academic Work – A Guideline for Undergraduate and Taught Postgraduate Students

379/318 amended

The University of Hong Kong is committed to creating, promoting and maintaining an environment for staff and students which provides equality of opportunity and is free of any discrimination or harassment.

This Guideline on the Use of Inclusive Language in Academic Work aims to encourage students to be aware of the ways in which the use of language can marginalise, demean, and exclude social groups such as women, sexual minorities, ethnic groups, persons with physical or psychosocial disabilities, etc. This often occurs through unconscious bias and lack of awareness of the implications of the language we use. This guideline aims to increase awareness of these issues and to generate a more thoughtful and respectful use of language.

To further these aims, the University encourages all students to adopt the principles of inclusive language in their academic work in all languages, whether written or spoken.

Inclusive language helps to reduce discrimination by promoting a balanced and considerate engagement with social diversity. It avoids words and phrases that stereotype, marginalise and demean social groups.

General Principles:

When engaging in writing, discussing, and making oral presentations, students should bear these general principles in mind:

  • Think about the fact that you are addressing a diverse audience
  • Be mindful and considerate of others, particularly those in different life circumstances to your own
  • Question established language structures that may be discriminatory
  • Listen and adhere to an individual’s or group’s preferences on how they wish to be spoken about

The following examples illustrate some areas in which students should think about using non-discriminatory language.

* When speaking of people generally, use person-centric language (ensure groups, especially gender groups, are not inadvertently rendered invisible):

Consider using:
‘Students must work hard if they wish to get good grades’ instead of ‘A student must work hard if he wishes to get good grades’;
‘Humans’ or ‘Humankind’ instead of ‘Man’ or ‘Mankind’;
‘Chairperson’, ‘Firefighter’ and ‘Police officer’ instead of ‘Chairman’, ‘Fireman’ and ‘Policeman’.

* When using word-pairs repeatedly, vary the word orders to avoid dominant word hierarchies. For instance:

Consider using:
both ‘Women and men’ and ‘Men and women’;
both ‘Old and young’ and ‘Young and old’.

* When it is relevant to identify a group, address all its members:

Consider using:
‘Hong Kong people speak a variety of languages’ instead of ‘Hong Kong people speak Cantonese’;
‘Busy CEOs must find time for their spouses’ instead of ‘Busy CEOs must find time for their wives’.

* When describing groups of people, use respectful terms (avoid derogatory or outdated terms):

Avoid terms such as ‘locusts’; ‘ethnics’; ‘the handicapped’; ‘maids’, etc.

* When referring to individuals and groups, use their preferred terminology:

Use a person’s preferred gender pronoun (ask if unsure) and preferred honorific (eg ‘Ms.’ or ‘Mrs’);
Use preferred surnames (note a woman may keep her surname after marriage);
Whenever possible, reproduce the spelling and cultural nuances of an individual’s given and family names accurately (e.g. ‘Ms. Pérez Rivera’ instead of ‘Ms. Perez Rivera’).

* When presenting case studies and illustrations, use a diverse range of examples relevant to your discussion and assume a diverse audience:

Portray both men and women in a variety of roles;
Discuss same-sex partnerships as well as heterosexual partnerships;
Use examples of people from a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

* When referring to people with disabilities, avoid language that stigmatizes, or that defines people solely in terms of their disability:

Use ‘person with a disability’ instead of ‘handicapped person’ or ‘cripple’;
Use ‘people with a mental illness’ instead of ‘the mentally ill’;
Use ‘people with autism’ instead of ‘autistic people’;
Use ‘people with addiction’ instead of ‘addicts’.

Useful references:

American Psychological Association – General Guidelines for Reducing Bias

American Philosophical Association – Guidelines for Non-Sexist Use of Language

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

University of Pittsburgh Gender – Inclusive Guidelines

University College London – Guide to Non-Discriminatory Language

The UK Government – Inclusive language

March 2018
Amended May 2018

Note: This is adapted from the Guidelines developed by the School of Humanities in April 2017.