How well does your digital marketing content follow best practices for inclusive writing? Does it meet website accessibility standards?
If the answer is no to either or both of those questions (or you’re just not sure), don’t fret. Effective content marketing requires ongoing learning and the willingness to adapt to industry and cultural changes. The fact that you’re reading this blog article shows that inclusion and accessibility are on your mind, and you’re open to making improvements.
Keep reading for some helpful tips, online tools, and trusted resources. These recommendations can help you level up your marketing with more inclusive writing and accessible content experiences.
Why does inclusive language matter in marketing?
When inclusivity is lacking in your marketing, it can reflect negatively on your brand and turn away potential customers. It’s simply bad for business. But working to make the words you use more inclusive and free from bias is about more than checking a box.
Committing to writing website content using inclusive language is an important step in making your writing more relatable, relevant, and effective. It shows all people in your target audience that you understand and respect them and that your products or services are for them.
Often, without realizing it, many well-meaning marketers use terms or phrases that can unintentionally exclude certain groups.
“Inclusive language acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities.”Linguistic Society of America, Guidelines for Inclusive Language
Many popular expressions or idioms that were acceptable only a few years ago are now outdated, awkward, or downright offensive. Just as it has for thousands of years, language is constantly evolving, and marketers have a responsibility to advance with it.
5 inclusive writing examples and resources for marketers
When working toward more inclusive writing, here are just a few areas for marketers to get educated on, along with some trusted sources to dig into:
Accepted terms referencing race/ethnicity
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), acceptable terms for referring to racial and ethnic groups change over time. They are often based on personal preferences and experiences.
If you’re referring to an individual or specific group of people, use the terms they use themselves whenever possible.
For collective groups, opt for the most all-encompassing term (e.g., “people of color,” “underrepresented groups”). For a list of terms for specific groups, check out the APA’s racial and ethnic identity guidelines.
Inclusive use of pronouns
Historically, it was acceptable to use he/she (or just he) to refer to people based on their assumed gender. But defaulting to he/him or she/her can be exclusionary to people who identify as transgender or non-binary.
To be inclusive of all gender identities, consider removing the use of a pronoun if it’s not necessary. Or you can also default to using they/them. If you’re referring to a specific person and don’t know their pronouns, just ask them. It’s better to ask than refer to someone the wrong way.
Avoiding gendered words
Terms like “waitress” or “mailman” are so mainstream in our language that you may not even think about the fact that they’re gendered.
Injecting gender into a word when it’s not necessary is a common way many marketers accidentally make their content less inclusive. Fortunately, swapping out gendered words is a pretty easy fix—terms like server or mail carrier work just as well.
Referring to people with disabilities
Be mindful of outdated or insensitive terms used to describe people with physical or mental disabilities. Phrases like “wheelchair-bound” or saying the person “suffers from” their specific disability connote pity.
The National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) says to refer to a disability only when relevant to your story. When talking about an individual, ask them how they would like to be described. If that’s not possible or you’re referencing a group of people, check out the NCDJ’s Disability Language Guidelines.
Language referencing a person’s age
When referring to a person’s age or generation, keep an eye out for biased or hurtful language. The National Center to Reframe Aging says to avoid phrases like “have a senior moment” or “look good for your age.” These promote ageism. They also recommend opting for more neutral terms such as “older people” instead of “elderly.”
More inclusive writing tips and resources
In addition to the above, be mindful of how you discuss sexual orientation, religion, physical appearance, or socioeconomic status when striving for more inclusive writing. Any language that categorizes someone as “other” or “less than” is problematic.
Here are a few more helpful resources to reference:
- National Assembly of State Arts Agencies’ Inclusive Language Guide
- HubSpot’s Guide to Gender-Neutral Pronouns
- GLAAD’s Reference Guide for Telling LGBTQ Stories
- The Story of Reframing Aging
- APA’s Guide to Socioeconomic Status
- Religion Stylebook
- Self’s Guide to Writing About Weight or Body Size
Remember that inclusive writing is not an exact science, and accepted terms and phrases change over time. Using the wrong word doesn’t make you a bad person or even a bad marketer.
As long as you’re committed to learning and open to asking questions, you can stay knowledgeable about the appropriate language to use for more inclusive writing.
Add inclusive language rules to your style guide
Including best practices and rules for inclusive writing in your content style guide can help you ensure your entire team is aligned on the correct language to use in any and all marketing content.
If you don’t already have one, a style guide is a comprehensive document that outlines your marketing messaging. It also explains how your brand voice and tone should sound. Many also include guidelines on things like design, formatting, and buyer personas for understanding your marketing audience.
If you need guidance on developing a style guide or incorporating rules for inclusive language, the Associated Press’s AP Stylebook is a great resource. It provides guidelines for spelling, language, punctuation, usage, and journalistic style.
The latest version (AP Stylebook, 56th Edition) includes guidance on inclusive storytelling, recognizing and overcoming unconscious biases, using thoughtful and precise language, and making content more accessible.
Software and online tools
As more organizations make inclusive marketing a priority, more tools have become available to help marketers improve their content. Online tools like Grammarly, Textio, and Gender Decoder can help you improve your marketing content with more inclusive writing.
AI writing tools, like ChatGPT, can scan your content for potential bias and suggest alternative language. (Just be mindful that AI sometimes brings in its own biases, so a human should review all AI-generated content.)
Microsoft Word even launched a new feature to help ensure more inclusive writing and will review your Word documents for gender bias, age bias, and more.
For some reason, this feature is turned off by default. Check out How to Geek’s instructions to turn it on.
Consider not only the language you use but how it’s presented on the page
When you think about marketing inclusion, you must also consider accessibility. If some people are unable to engage with your content because it’s not accessible to them, they’re being excluded. Don’t miss out on reaching a portion of your audience.
According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)—the accepted standard for accessibility on the web—websites should provide content in a way that is “perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.” Incorporating these principles into your content strategy not only benefits people with disabilities but also makes your content more effective and inclusive overall.
Following WCAG’s recommendations on accessibility for websites (e.g., proper website structure, use of headings, form accessibility, adding alt text to images, using accessible brand colors, etc.) can also boost your search ranking and create a better overall experience for your users.
TBH Creative builds accessible websites and marketing campaigns
Accessibility and inclusivity in marketing are nuanced and complex, so it’s beneficial to have an experienced partner to guide you.
TBH Creative understands the ins and outs of website accessibility and inclusive writing. Our experts can help you adapt your content and campaigns to reach more people. Let’s talk.