The American Psychological Association (APA) has introduced inclusive language guidelines
to provide recommendations for the use of language that embraces the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We encourage researchers in all disciplines to consult these guidelines to raise their own awareness of inclusive language and promote its use in their research writing and in their verbal communications within their research communities.
What does inclusive language refer to?
Inclusive language is the use of language that recognizes and values our differences and demonstrates mutual respect in our interactions with one another. Words matter. They have the power to influence and to include or exclude. In our research writing, we strive to communicate precisely, accurately, and respectively. This includes treating people with value and respect by making an intentional effort to use language that is not biased, discriminatory, or in other ways harmful toward groups of people and individuals.
Especially for researchers whose first language is not English, understanding the nuances and connotations of English words can be difficult, and using a term that is insensitive can be unintentional. Below I have highlighted a few recommendations from the guidelines that research writers whose first language is not English may find particularly helpful.
Choosing “person-first” or “identify-first” language
In “person-first” language, the individual is emphasized rather than an identity-associated descriptor, such as a disability or a diagnosis. In “identity-first” language, the associated term, such as the disability, is foregrounded. As stated in the inclusive language guidelines, identity-first language “is often used as an expression of cultural pride and a reclamation of a disability or chronic condition that once conferred a negative identity.” APA recommends that in selecting person-first or identity-first language, researchers should defer to the preference of the individual or group that is represented. For example, the identity-first term “Deaf person” is preferred by many in the Deaf community rather than “person with deafness.” Some identity-first terms to avoid include “mentally ill person,” “addict,” and “AIDS victim”; suggested alternatives are “person with a mental illness,” “person with a substance use disorder,” and “person with AIDS,” respectively.
Language use related to age
Ageism has to do with discriminating or stereotyping based on the age of a person or group. For example, there are many choices in English for describing individuals aged 65 years and older; however, as explained in APA’s guidelines, words such as “the elderly,” “elderly people,” “aging dependents,” and “senior citizens” carry stereotypical connotations that imply that individuals in these groups are apart from society. APA’s recommended alternative terms are “older adults,” “older people,” “persons 65 years and older,” and “the older population.” When appropriate for the context, use specific age ranges rather than broad labels or categories.
Language use related to socioeconomic status
Socioeconomic status has to do with income, education, and perceptions surrounding occupation and social class. APA recommends using “person-first” language as an alternative to terms such as “the poor,” “low-class people,” and “poor people” that many find pejorative. APA suggests using the phrases “people whose incomes are below the federal poverty threshold,” and “people whose self-reported incomes were in the lowest income bracket.” When referring to “low-income” or “high-income” study participants, be sure to fully define the income brackets.
Take time to investigate guidelines that may be produced by organizations within your research discipline. Examples are the American Medical Association’s Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narrative and Concepts
and the American Cancer Society’s Inclusive Language and Writing Guide
. In addition, keep in mind that language is continually evolving, and language preferences change over time. APA has noted that its guide is a living document that will be updated as new terminology and concerns emerge.
American Psychological Association (2022). APA Style Blog. Three key things you should know about APA’s new inclusive language guidelines. Posted by Maysa Akbar, February 9, 2022. https://apastyle.apa.org/blog/inclusive-language-guidelines
. Accessed 7/27/22.
American Psychological Association (2021). Inclusive language guidelines
. Accessed 7/27/22.
American Psychological Association (2019). APA Style Newsletter. General Principles for Reducing Bias. Posted September 2019. Updated July 2022. https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/bias-free-language/general-principles
. Accessed 7/27/22.