Why inclusive language matters

Some people roll their eyes when the topic of inclusive language comes up. Others scoff quite openly or even worse. Occasionally someone asks what it’s all about because they’re curious and, I like to think, open-minded.

A friend asked me about it Friday night. I explained one aspect of it in words similar to these:

Let’s say I’m talking to a group of citizens here in Longmont, maybe making a presentation at a city council meeting about the need for safer streets. I start out by saying, “We all ride bicycles in this town…”

I would immediately lose the attention of every non-cyclist in the room and wreck any credibility I might have had just a minute earlier. My message would be lost on the non-cyclists and maybe even some cyclists.

Or let’s say I’m listening to someone in a virtual town hall meeting at work, and she says at one point, “Look, we’re all scientists here, so…”

The speaker would (and actually did) leave me wondering why she didn’t know that a good many of us in the room weren’t scientists. Why wasn’t she talking to the rest of us even though we’d all made an effort to attend? The speaker addressing the scientists lost my attention for at least the next several minutes of her presentation.

You can’t communicate effectively if you don’t know your audience. By using language that actually offends or alienates other people, you lose their attention and their respect.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“That makes sense,” my friend said. “It’s about communication.”


Too many people use offensive and exclusionary rhetoric to hurt others and even incite violence. Few of them will have read this far.

If your goal is to include and welcome people into your community, learn about and use inclusive language. More people will hear you.

If your message matters, all of your words matter. Choose them with care.

You’ll find links to a few of the many available resources below. Others are a simple search away. Do you know of other good ones? Let me know!


Some resources about inclusive language

Ableism and Language https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/dasblog/2012/01/31/ableism-and-language/

ACM – Writing About Accessibility http://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/november-december-2015/writing-about-accessibility

An end to “Blind Review” https://blog.apaonline.org/2020/02/20/an-end-to-blind-review/

An Incomplete Guide to Inclusive Language for Startups and Tech https://buffer.com/resources/inclusive-language-tech/

Anti-Racism in Academia (ARiA) initiative https://aria.uga.edu/inclusive-language/

Conscious Style Guide https://consciousstyleguide.com/

Google – Writing inclusive documentation https://developers.google.com/style/inclusive-documentation

How to Minimize Gender Bias in Your Writing https://www.bouldereditors.org/2020/08/12/how-to-minimize-gender-bias-in-your-writing/

IETF – Terminology, Power, and Inclusive Language in Internet-Drafts and RFCs https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/draft-knodel-terminology

NASA to Reexamine Nicknames for Cosmic Objects https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-to-reexamine-nicknames-for-cosmic-objects

National Center on Disability and Journalism https://ncdj.org/style-guide/