Editorial Style Guide

Gender-Neutral, Inclusive Language

Boston University strives to use language that is free from words, phrases, or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped, discriminatory, or limited views of particular people or groups. The following suggestions about pronouns and gender-neutral words are intended to promote inclusiveness and factual accuracy*:


Avoid reference to gender unless it’s relevant to the topic of the piece. If a person’s gender is noteworthy for a particular reason, use “man” or “woman” for nonclinical contexts, rather than “male” or “female.”

  • Janet Urqua is the first woman to lead the organization since its founding in 1934.

To make your language inclusive, and to avoid the awkward “his or her” possessive, rephrase the sentence with a plural antecedent, whenever possible.

  • Students received their diplomas, not Each student received his or her diploma.

Use of the second person (you and your) is also an option:

  • You have many options when choosing your major.

It’s acceptable to use “their” to mean “his or her” in a singular context when the gender of the person is unspecified or not known:

  • A student left their project on the lab bench.

The singular “they” is commonly used by people who are nonbinary, that is, they do not identify as male or female.


When writing about nonbinary and transgender students, faculty, and staff, ask the individuals which pronoun, and what name, to use.


Avoid assumptions about gender expression and familial relationships by replacing “daughter” or “son” with “student.”

  • Your student will meet with an advisor, not Your daughter will meet with her advisor.

Avoid gender-specific titles and terms:

Instead of

Use

actress actor
chairman chair
coed student
businessman business executive, manager
cameraman camera operator
congressman representative, senator
fireman firefighter
foreman supervisor
founding fathers founders
mailman mail carrier, letter carrier
man person, individual
to man to staff, to run, to operate
mankind people, humanity
manpower workforce, employees
policeman police officer
forefathers ancestors
steward/stewardess flight attendant
waiter/waitress wait staff, server

The gender-neutral pronouns it and its are preferred when making reference to a storm, regardless of name.


The gender-neutral pronouns it and its are preferred when referring to ships and other vessels, rather than the traditional female pronouns she and her.


Some helpful additional information on inclusive language:

  • Chicago Manual of Style, 5.225: Nine techniques for achieving gender neutrality. (Examples: Use an article instead of a personal pronoun: “a student accused of cheating must waive his right to have his guidance counselor present” becomes “a student accused of cheating must waive the right to have a guidance counselor present.” Use the imperative mood: “a lifeguard must keep a close watch over children while she is monitoring the pool” becomes “a lifeguard must keep a close watch over children while monitoring the pool.”)
  • GLAAD Media Reference Guide

Guidelines for referring to people: Use “person-first” language, which seeks to avoid reducing people to a set of labels. Do not use group designations (the mentally impaired). Instead, refer to the person first and the condition second.

Instead of

Use

the homeless people who are homeless
disabled people people with disabilities

*Sources: Chicago Manual of Style, Simmons College, Sarah Lawrence College, Princeton College