Language is constantly adapting and evolving. As a society, we’re always improving our choice of words to be more respectful and affirming of everyone’s identities. That’s why, when writing copy for your brand, it’s essential that your choice of language is inclusive.
Using inclusive language not only demonstrates that your business is welcoming to everyone, but it also builds trust with your audience and boosts your engagement. Research conducted by Google in 2019 found that 64% of people were “more likely to consider or purchase a product” after seeing an advertisement that they considered to be “diverse and inclusive.” When you use inclusive language, your audience feels supported, which means they’re more likely to support your brand in return.
But if language is constantly changing, how do you make sure your brand’s copy is adapting too? Firstly, listen to your audience and their communities. Their voices and opinions are always the most important. Secondly, always be willing to research and learn to ensure your language is up to date. To help you, we’ve put together three essential tips to ensure your copy is as inclusive as possible.
Use Person-First Language
Person-first language emphasises a person before a descriptor. It’s language that describes what a person ‘has’ rather than asserting what they ‘are.’ This type of language is considered respectful when writing or talking about people with disabilities. It can also be applied more generally when describing a person’s traits such as their race, age, or appearance. For example, you should never write ‘a blind customer’ or ‘the blind,’ but rather use language such as ‘a customer who is blind’ or ‘customers who are visually impaired.’ Person-first language ensures that every person is seen first and foremost as a person and only secondly as a person with a specific trait. Before including any person’s traits, it’s also important to consider whether they are relevant to your content. Determine whether it is in fact necessary for context to mention a person’s disability, race, gender, or any other traits. If it isn’t essential for your content to be understood, they don’t need to be included. Be mindful that language continues to evolve, so descriptive terms and phrases can become outdated or deemed offensive over time. When writing about any community or person’s traits, make sure to listen to how they want to be described. Your choice of language should always be informed, empathetic and inclusive.
Be Gender Inclusive
When writing about gender, it’s important not to do so in simplistic, binary terms but rather use language that includes and affirms all gender identities. Language that only refers to ‘men’ and ‘women’ excludes people who are non-binary and people of other gender identities. So, if you’re quoting research or material that only uses the categories of cisgender ‘men’ and ‘women,’ make a note of this, but don’t refer to these gender identities as ‘normal.’ You should also avoid describing biological attributes of sex as exclusive to a specific gender, as this excludes people who are transgender and/or intersex. When writing about your audience, instead of using gendered third person pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘she,’ use ‘they.’ Gendered third person pronouns can be used to describe a specific person, but always make sure to confirm what their pronouns are first. Remember to also use gender neutral terms when referring to professions or industries. Replace words like ‘chairman’ with ‘chairperson,’ as job titles and positions should apply to people of all genders. Being mindful of your language and ensuring that it is gender inclusive will demonstrate to your audience that you’re inclusive and affirm their identities, which will strengthen their relationship with your brand.
Consider the Meaning of Phrases
There are many phrases and sayings in the English language that are commonly used without much consideration. However, many of them are tied to histories and meanings that are deeply offensive and disrespectful. Words that may sound innocuous to you can actually be derived from stereotypes, slurs, and bigotry. Continuing to use them is hurtful to your audience and in turn, your brand. Before including certain phrases in your copywriting, it’s worth researching them first to make sure you are not unintentionally using harmful language. For example, using the words ‘tone-deaf’ to refer to someone as insensitive is in fact ableist. It’s unkind to people who actually are tone-deaf and stigmatises deafness by falsely characterising it as something negative. Another example is the use of the phrase ‘spirit animal’ in popular culture. Often used to describe someone or something that represents an individual’s personality, it is in fact a form of cultural appropriation. The term and concept of a Spirit Animal is sacred to Native American culture, so when people who are not Native American use it casually, it’s disrespectful. Eliminating harmful language choices like these from your copywriting will ensure that you are never disrespecting your audience and will enhance their perception of your brand. It also doesn’t mean you can’t use creative language, as many phrases that are offensive have better, inoffensive alternatives you can use instead.
These three tips are all great ways to ensure your copywriting is inclusive of everyone in your audience. However, they’re only just the start. Our use of language continues to change as we progress as a society and become more aware of our history. Just remember to always be open to learning and adapting your writing, so your content is the kindest it can be.