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About inclusive & antiracist writing

Inclusive writing means paying attention to the ways that language can be, and has been, used to exclude people or groups of people. Exclusive language is often used unintentionally, out of both habit and assumption. So, if you want to write in an inclusive way, you have to intentionally think about the perspectives, peoples, and groups that might be excluded and even harmed through careless word choice.

Inclusive writing is also about understanding that language, language-use, writing, and all forms of communicating are always changing. Inclusive writing is not about memorizing a list of the perceived best terms. In fact, there are lots of terms that were once standard that are now understood as exclusionary.

Principles of inclusive and antiracist writing

  • Question assumptions – even the ones we have never noticed before.[1]  
  • Choose words thoughtfully and carefully.[2]
  • Revise critically.
  • Seek feedback from external readers, especially those whose experiences differ from your own – these readers can help you to understand your work in new ways.
  • Learn from feedback! As we do this work, we will probably make mistakes, but mistakes are not an excuse to stop trying. Instead, when someone gives us feedback –- especially critical feedback –- we can thank them for giving us an opportunity to learn more.
  • Recognize and respect diversity in all its forms! Sometimes people make sweeping generalizations about others based on some aspect of their identity (for example, “all women are emotional,” “all queer men are liberal,” etc.). People cannot be defined or categorized according to one aspect of their identity alone, and all groups of people are made up of individuals who have their own thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc. [3]
  • Think not just about your content (i.e., your ideas), but also about how you are presenting your content. For example, think about the readability of your document (some fonts are easier to read than others), about whether you can simplify your language, and whether you have provided alt-text for any images included with your work (see Glossary for explanation). Did you know that you can run an accessibility check on Word documents and Powerpoint slides? Think, also, about the linguistic strategies and repertoires that you use. There are many valid and effective ways to use the English language and many ways to engage with multilingualism in writing as well! 
  • Recognize when a dominant experience or perspective is being applied (incorrectly) to everyone. For example, "women got the right to vote in 1918." This comment is specific both to Canada and to white women. [4]
  • In almost no case is it acceptable to use an adjective to refer to a person or group of people (for example, the gays, the Blacks, the homeless). Furthermore, it is not acceptable to write about an individual as though they speak for or represent an entire group or category of people, or the entirety of a particular experience.

See the SLC’s suite of handouts about inclusive writing for more specific support, examples, and resources. [5]

Inclusive and antiracist writing resources

The following specific resources are available and you can navigate to them using the menu on this page. 

  • Glossary of Inclusive and Antiracist Writing Terms
  • Inclusive and Antiracist Writing: Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
  • Inclusive and Antiracist Writing: Black Peoples, Indigenous Peoples, People(s) of Colour (BIPOC)
  • Inclusive and Antiracist Writing: Ableism, Disability, Mental Health, and Neurodiversity
  • Inclusive and Antiracist Writing Exercises
  • You can download the complete Inclusive and Antiracist Writing Guide, with expanded explanations, here

*While these resources have been broken apart to provide focus, the concept of intersectionality (a term coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, see glossary for description) helps us to understand that these aspects of identity do not necessarily occur independently from one another and are often embodied by people in intersecting and interconnected ways. The divisions in these resources are in no way meant to suggest that these identities or experiences are exclusive of one another.

If you have a recommendation for a resource, a new inclusive writing topic, or a change that should be made to the existing materials, please contact us at learning-commons@sfu.ca.

Additional resources 

Notes & acknowledgments 

These writing resources were developed on the unceded lands of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically those of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), and Səlílwətaɬ (TsleilWaututh) peoples. We hope that these resources will be valuable to all those working to do decolonizing and empowering work in the academy and beyond.

[1] Note: This step can be pretty challenging, both practically and emotionally. On a practical level: read widely, listen to those whose perspectives differ from your own, and share your work, paying close attention to the feedback you receive. On an emotional level: be gentle with yourself and get support from others, especially if you find yourself questioning previously important beliefs.

[2] The word careful is often used to mean cautious. Here the word carefully literally means with care and in a caring way. This is an important distinction because sometimes inclusivity is thought of as a way of not upsetting anyone. That idea is often referred to as being politically correct. The focus in these resources is on extending care and consideration for the impact of our work and our words.

[3] Thank you to Ally Flynn, Media Librarian & Liaison Librarian for Communications, English & Technology from Camosun Library for the suggestion to add this principle. 

[4] This insight comes from Anti-Racist Scholarly Reviewing Practices: A Heuristic for Editors, Reviewers, and Authors and is paraphrased here with gratitude. This is also a useful and recommended resource for researchers, authors, peer reviewers, writing coachs, and editors. 

[5] Thank you to Ashley Brooks, former Coordinator of Out On Campus at SFU; Vivian Ly, President of SFU Autistics United; and David Le and Mitchell Stoddard from SFU’s Centre for Accessible Learning for their feedback and suggestions on all of these writing resources.