Skip to main content
Logo image

Sound Writing

Chapter 6 Writing with Awareness

Language use is part of this work of diversity; as writers, we are also part of that work. While the impacts of language on individual feelings and circumstances may, on the surface, seem insignificant (“sticks and stones,” as the adage goes), language can embody prejudice, discrimination, and status hierarchies. Words, like people and societies, have histories. Some words, such as racial slurs, are overtly bigoted, while others more subtly express longstanding stereotypes or attitudes about particular groups of people. For instance, patronizing and parochial treatment of specific languages or linguistic types derives from discrimination and intolerance of groups who speak those languages.
By acknowledging the role language plays in reinforcing inequalities, we recognize the privileges and disadvantages of different groups of people. Additionally, using words rooted in hate and oppression perpetuates hate and oppression and denies groups of people opportunities to reclaim their individual and collective agency. However, if we are unfamiliar with such histories, it can sometimes be difficult to identify terminologies of oppression.
This chapter aims to offer different ways for us, as scholars and citizens of the world, to be intentional about and ethical in the language we use. We have attempted to clarify terms and provide more inclusive, equality-based alternatives, and we hope that these will help us all as writers to be aware of and attentive to the diversity of experiences that our audiences will have.
Because terms and preferences vary and change, we have compiled only general guidelines, and our suggestions should be considered in the contexts of their usages. Please also note that each section deals with a complex subject, and there are excellent resources here on campus for learning more. We make suggestions in each section below about departments and programs that offer relevant courses, but our suggestions are not comprehensive. Look for courses that address identity, power, and education, as well as programs offered through your campus diversity center.
We’ve tried to be as nuanced as possible in a short space, but, there are surely things we have missed and things we still need to learn. However, just as language can change, so, too, can this handbook. If you would like to suggest any improvements to the guidelines that follow, please email us at 1 .