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Section 6.1 Writing with Respect

Writing with respect is a crucial component of writing with awareness. By demonstrating to your readers that you strive to be aware and respectful of their various identities and experiences, you make your writing more inclusive and inviting—and make it more likely that your audience will engage with your ideas.

To write respectfully about other people, it is helpful to be aware of our own identities and positionalities. We are all informed by our experiences, and it is not always easy to recognize how our cultural lenses affects our world-views. We are all, to some degree, ethnocentric; we know our own culture (and gender, ability, race, sexuality, class, religion, etc.) best, and we cannot help but view and evaluate other cultures through our own experiences; we may even implicitly consider our own identity to be superior to that of others, and it may take explicit attention to remember that there are other equally valid lifestyles and experiences. In order to write with awareness, then, we should avoid writing ethnocentrically.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you write:

  • Am I making broad generalizations, or do I write with complexity and nuance about people who are different than me? Am I considering other perspectives respectfully rather than in a patronizing or paternalistic way?
  • Am I making value judgments about other ways of living? If so, are they appropriate to the specific discipline or course for which I'm writing?
  • Do I use thorough and fair scholarly sources?
  • Are all of my claims supported with evidence?
  • Do my warrants (the logic connecting my evidence to my claims) rely on Western/American definitions or world–views (for example, evidence: a certain group of people still uses hunting and gathering as its primary mode of subsistence; claim: people in this group are uncivilized; warrant: “civilization” is defined by advanced agriculture)?
  • Am I aware of my own cultural biases and mindful about how they might affect my scholarship and language choices?

Here are some tips for writing with respect:

Write with specificity.

Don't make generalizations about groups of people. No individual represents an entire group, and individuals cannot be wholly defined by the groups they are in.

Write with attention and the desire to keep learning.

Don't intentionally write harmful, bigoted, or ignorant statements about people or groups of people. If you're unsure of whether or not what you're writing is harmful, do some research or ask people who have a greater knowledge of the group in question, preferably someone within that group.

Write with equity.

Don't make marginalization central to your discussion of marginalized individuals or groups, unless marginalization is the topic at hand. For instance, a woman of color can be a scientist—just as someone with a less culturally marked identity can be. When you write about a woman of color who is a scientist, unless the focus of your writing is how her identity has impacted her professional life, concentrate on the science she does.

Use your best judgement about using people–first language.

People–first language, can be an important way to emphasize a person rather than one aspect of their identity. For example, saying “She is an asthmatic” can emphasize her disability while “She is a person who has asthma,” emphasizes that she is a person first—a person who may also be a parent, a teacher, and a person with any number of other significant identities. At the same time, there is no universal preference for people–first language; there are many situations where person–first language might actually be more awkward or inappropriate. For example, many members of the Autistic community are resisting being called “a person with Aspergers” as opposed to Autistic or Aspie, saying this IS a central part of their personhood and that the other theoretically more inclusive language is dismissive of their experience. This is similar to how we would not call a black person “A person with blackness.” When writing, do some research and use your best judgment to determine if you should use people–first language, and whenever possible use the language preferred by the people or community you are writing about.