Using Gender-Inclusive Language in Writing

Language is powerful. It shapes so much of our lives and how we perceive and interact with those around us. It can both include and exclude, empower or marginalize, so it is important to be conscious of the words we use and the context in which we use them. 

Without a doubt, there has been growing awareness and debate about the importance of gender inclusivity in our language and also in our writing. As with most topics that involve inclusion, misinformation sneaks its ugly head by sharing arguments that claim to be based on grammar to discredit any attempt at gender inclusivity. Thankfully, those arguments hold no weight and there is space in writing to be both grammatically correct and gender inclusive. 

Fighting Bias and Stereotype

The enemy of gender-inclusive language is bias and stereotype. Assuming that people exist as binary men or women denies the fact that gender exists on a spectrum. Gender-inclusive writing promotes equality, inclusivity, and sensitivity to all individuals, and it recognizes and respects diverse gender identities and expressions, such as non-binary, genderqueer, and transgender individuals.

Pronouns and Gender Neutrality

One of the key aspects of gender-inclusive writing is the use of gender-neutral pronouns. While there are new pronouns like ”Zie”, “Sie” and “Ve,” the most recognized gender-neutral pronoun is they/them/their. 

Traditionally, the pronouns “he” and “she” have been used as default, assuming a person’s gender based on the context of the situation and appearance. Singular “they” is far from new but there is still some resistance to using it for fear that it is grammatically incorrect. 

TRUTH TIME: the Oxford English Dictionary can trace the use of the singular “they” all the way back to 1375! Much like “you” can be used to refer to an individual or group, so can “they”… making it a perfectly valid and grammatically correct pronoun…one that respects a person’s identity. 


Writers, especially if they are heterosexual and cisgender, tend to feature binary people in their works. If you are writing a work of fiction, consider including characters that may be outside the binary…but take care in their representation so as not to typecast or reinforce harmful stereotypes. It’s important to do your research. (Please do not just include the “side-kick best friend” as your chosen representative token and call it a day…)

If you are writing a work of non-fiction, consider reaching out to the real-life characters and asking them how they identify to ensure accuracy in your portrayal. 

Avoiding Gender Stereotypes

By avoiding gender-specific language when it is unnecessary, we can prevent reinforcing societal norms that limit individuals based on their gender. This can be as simple as using the word “firefighter” instead of “fireman” or “humanity” instead of “mankind.” (Some other common word changes include “quality” for “craftsmanship,” “staffing” instead of “manning,” and “handwriting” instead of “penmanship.”) These small changes not only challenge gender stereotypes but act as subtle indications that the writer considers the impact of their words on the reader. Breaking free from these stereotypes allows us to create a more inclusive and diverse representation of people in our writing.

But gender stereotypes go way beyond specific words. Think about the choices you make with your characters…are you perhaps unconsciously adding to the bias? Do all your women characters wear skirts? Do the men fix cars and watch hockey? Okay, so these are pretty obvious examples, but I have worked with authors who didn’t realize that all their women characters were the same, pretty much. Think about how your characters express emotion—is there a difference between your characters that could be attributed to gender? Do you include any non-binary or transgender characters? (It’s perfectly fine if you do not, as it’s really hard to include every single type of person in one piece of writing that accurately represents all these groups of people, but sometimes just sitting with yourself and acknowledging that there are more than the two genders and then pondering who you want to include in your story adds to how you portray the genders that you do include.)

I feel so strongly about this topic that I dedicated a whole blog to this topic called Avoiding Gender Stereotypes in Fiction Writing.

Using Inclusive Terminology

Essentially, using inclusive terminology means avoiding terms that are exclusive or reinforce gender norms. One of the best examples of this would be when a speaker (in person or in your writing) is addressing a crowd. The traditional salutation has been “ladies and gentlemen,” but that language is exclusive to anyone who does not identify with one of the binary genders. It’s now outdated. Chuck it in ye olde recycling bin, please and thank you. Consider, instead, using “folks” or “everyone” or a simple “hello,” and you suddenly have an inclusive greeting that nobody will blink twice at. Inclusive terminology isn’t about taking anything away from anyone; it’s about demonstrating respect for the experiences and identities of all individuals in both physical interactions and in your writing. 

Isn’t this a little overkill? you might be wondering (especially if you are a heterosexual, cisgender man). No, it’s really not. While people love to argue “what’s the harm? It’s just a word!” or “nobody ever complained about that word before—you’re too sensitive!” the truth is, these terms, words, and phrases are outdated, as they eclipse entire groups of people. 

Remember: Language changes all the time, responding to society and human evolution. This isn’t the first time that specific phrasing has been questioned. (If you don’t believe me, go pick up a text from the middle ages, a Shakespearean play, a novel from the eighteenth century or Victorian era and circle words you no longer use.) It’s okay to upgrade our vocabulary to match society’s current understanding of language nuisances. In fact, it’s encouraged and necessary if we are to truly communicate with one another in an inclusive manner.  

Writing Guidelines and Resources

Many style guides and resources have been developed to help writers embrace gender-inclusive writing. These guides offer practical recommendations on using gender-neutral language, pronouns, and inclusive terminology. Here are some great resources:

Inclusive Writing – Guidelines and Resources (Government of Canada)

Gender-Neutral Language Sheet (Qmunity)

Affirming and Inclusive Language (Eagle)

Guidelines for Gender-Inclusive Language in English (United Nations)

Inclusive Language Style Guide: University of Victoria

Rabbit with a Red Pen

Conscious Style Guide

Your local advocacy groups are also great resources.

Incorporating gender-inclusive writing is not about political correctness; it is about recognizing and affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Ensuring that all individuals (regardless of their gender identity) feel seen, respected, and valued is the kind thing to do. You have no idea who might be reading your writing—you certainly don’t want your message/story to be missed or interpreted in a way different from what you intended because of a word or two, right?