Inclusive language

You should always strive to use inclusive language in your work because your audience will come from a variety of ethnic, social, political, socio-economic, ability and gender backgrounds.

To discriminate against one group would be to alienate that group, something your Editor or Producer would not want you to do. It is also QUT policy to use inclusive language, and you will lose marks in your assessment if you do not follow these guidelines.

However, in reported speech, you cannot change the words of others (and, indeed, reported direct speech may condemn a person as discriminatory by itself without any comment from you).

A section on the use of non sexist language can be found in the Australian Government Publishing Service’s Style Manual – For authors, editors and printers (available in the QUT Library). It defines sexist language as that which “discriminates against women by not adequately reflecting their role, status and – often – their very presence in society, despite the increased participation of women in the workforce and public life”.

That Style Manual describes four major forms of sexism in the English language – invisibility, dependence, trivialisation and stereotyping.

Invisibility for women

Often happens when the term or suffix “man” or words like “he” and “his” are used generically to refer to men and women.

The Style Manual offers some alternatives for terms using or words ending in “man”. Choose one with which you feel your audience would be comfortable.

Dependent women

Are sometimes portrayed in language as being the deviation from the norm or as having a subordinate status to men.

Eliminate the unnecessary modifier in expressions such as “woman lawyer”, “lady doctor”, “female employer”, as these (and their ilk) indicate that women are often regarded as an oddity in certain situations and thus deserve or need special linguistic treatment.

Do not use feminine suffixes. Use “author” not “authoress”, “poet” not “poetess”, “steward” not “stewardess” and “waiter” not “waitress”.

Be careful with social titles and terms of address for women which may describe them in terms of men, such as “Bob Jones and his wife Sarah”; “grandmother Sue Smith”; “Mrs Black, wife of trainer Jim Black” and “Mrs Jim Black, Reg’s widow”.


Do not say things, such as “he cried like a woman”, “even a housewife”, “or an office girl” and “a girl Friday”.

A man in either of the last two roles would be called a “filing clerk” or “administrative assistant” and if it is good enough for men, then it is good enough for women.


Steer away from describing women in a stereotyped manner, such as “wife of”, “mother of three”, “home maker”, “housewife”. Similarly, while the physical attributes and appearance of men are seldom mentioned, those of women are frequently described, even when irrelevant.

If you are not sure whether something is sexist or not, try this simple test. Substitute a male role or name for the female role or name in question. Re-read the sentence with the new details and see if it seems stupid, bizarre or totally out of place. If it does, there’s a good chance it has crossed the line into sexist territory.

Other areas to be careful of in newswriting include disabilities, religion, blasphemy and swearing.

QUT has published a general guide to inclusive language and presentation for staff and students, Working with Diversity, which you should consult for further information. You can get a copy from the Academic Staff Development Unit (ASDU).


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