A Guide to Writing Respectfully and Inclusively - Part 1
The world is quickly changing as societies become more diversified and accepting of different cultures and lifestyles. However, it can be difficult to understand those who are different to ourselves, and this can cause tension and offence.
It's important for small businesses, and anyone who's creating content, to avoid microaggressions in our writing and marketing. Remember, even if you don't find something offensive, you might be negatively impacting people in your audience.
I had to learn a lot about writing respectfully and inclusively while studying journalism, and it's all about making sure your words are positive and respectful of all groups of people.
Seems easy, right? But there are so many things we say in our language that we don't realise have a negative impact!
Although catering to everyone is difficult, we have to try our best. So, how do you make sure to create inclusive, non-offensive writing that caters to your audience and doesn't alienate them?
Race and Culture
This shouldn't need to be said, but your marketing and writing must never include any racist comments! This seems quite simple, but is still not done.
We're currently seeing a movement against racism in the US that is making a global impact. People want to see the brands they follow do their part to be inclusive and anti-racist. But it's not just about making one post about your brand supporting Black Lives Matter - you have to make sure all your marketing is respectful, all the time!
Changing your own mindset about race and racism is the first step. Many people who don't consider themselves racist are still inadvertently causing harm. Words or phrases we use in day-to-day language may not seem offensive to us, but can be 'microaggressions' that still have a negative impact.
"It's a monumental task to get white people to realize that they are delivering microaggressions, because it's scary to them... It assails their self-image of being good, moral, decent human beings to realize that maybe at an unconscious level they have biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings that harm people of color," says the American Psychological Association.
Instead of feeling hurt when your language is corrected, listen, learn and change. You can work to avoid microaggressions in writing by ensuring your words are inclusive, free of assumptions and stereotypes, and don't include race unless it's relevant.
Respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
Since most of my blog readers are Australian, it's important to touch further on the topic of Australia's First Peoples. They are far too often forgotten or stereotyped in the media, and we can often use offensive language towards them, simply because we don't realise it's wrong. It's important for all Australians to become educated on this topic and show respect to the traditional owners of our home.
For example, did you know the term Aborigines is outdated and offensive? Today, the preferred term is "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples". This encompasses their many identities and cultures. "First Nations" and "First Peoples" are also acceptable.
"Aboriginal" and "Indigenous" are widely considered less respectful. However, if someone asks that you refer to them as either of these terms, ensure you capitalise the first letter (i.e. "indigenous" is disrespectful).
It's also important to avoid negative language. Choose wording that is positive and respectful! For more, these resources have lots of information: Reconciliation Australia; Creative Spirits; Common Ground.
There are so many religious groups out there, with different morals and beliefs, that it's almost impossible for your brand to cater to all of them. However, knowing your audience's primary beliefs and writing respectfully for them is vital.
For example, if the majority of your audience is Atheist, your content isn't going to do well if you start talking about God - regardless of what your personal beliefs are!
The opposite is also true. If your audience consists of religious groups who don't drink alcohol, you don't want to be posting 'funny' quotes like "it's wine o'clock!" on Instagram.
This is fairly simple, and just comes down research and common sense!
My best suggestion is to keep religion out of your marketing entirely unless it is relevant or necessary - just don't comment on it. Never say anything that you think might be offensive. However, remember that microaggressions are harmful, and consider how what you're saying may inadvertently cause offence.
Don't forget to look out for part two of this guide next week, where I'll be discussing how to write about mental illness, gender, the LGBT+ community, and more!
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