How to Avoid Bias in Your Writing
Avoid Sexist Language to Keep Readers Happy
When you’re writing nonfiction, you want all of your readers to feel like they matter—like you wrote your book or article with them in mind. You want them to finish reading what you’ve written!
Unfortunately, once individuals or groups feel shunned, they lose interest in your book or article, and they move on . . . or they join a forum and belittle you and your naughtiness.
Either way, all of your hard work goes down the drain.
“Everything is in the way the material is composed.” ― Joseph O'Connor, Star of the Sea (Click to Tweet)
There are many types of biases, so there are many opportunities to offend someone. Some examples are ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, family status, and religion.
Today, we'll focus on avoiding sexist language.
How to avoid sexist language:
1. Repeat the Subject
Biased: The poker player should count the money only after her game is over.
(There are men and women poker players, so to remove this bias (her), replace it with the original subject (poker player).)
Unbiased: The poker player should count the money only after the poker player’s game is over.
2. Remove the Pronoun
Biased: The poker player should call a hand when the dealer signals that it’s her time to call.
(This bias is easily fixed by removing the pronoun (her).)
Unbiased: The poker player should call a hand when the dealer signals that it's time to call.
3. Replace the Pronoun with an Article (the, a, an)
Biased: A poker player caught eyeing another player’s cards should lose his spot at the table.
(Anyone can be a cheater, so let’s stop being sexist and replace that pronoun (his) with an article.)
Unbiased: A poker player caught eyeing another poker player’s cards should lose the spot at the table.
4. Make Your Subject Plural
Biased: A poker player should regularly improve her people-reading skills.
(Let’s pluralize this to include everyone.)
Unbiased: Poker players should regularly improve their people-reading skills.
5. Replace His/Her or He/She with “One”
Biased: A poker player will win more hands against an amateur player than he will against a professional.
(This is probably not true. Haven’t you heard of beginner’s luck? Anyway, take out the gender-specific pronoun (she).)
Unbiased: A poker player will win more hands against an amateur player than one will against a professional.
Yes, it looks like stuffy writing, but it works.
6. Replace His/Her or He/She with “Who”
(This one can be tricky because you might need to change the sentence up a bit.)
Biased: If a poker player lacks patience, he has a smaller chance of winning the tournament.
(I'm pretty sure there are also impatient women.)
Unbiased: The poker player who lacks patience has a smaller chance of winning the tournament.
7. If You Can Take Out the Pronoun, Do It Already!
Biased: A poker player should always wear dark sunglasses while she is illegally counting cards.
(See the “she is” part of the sentence? It’s not necessary, and we’re implying that only women know how to count cards.)
Unbiased: A poker player should always wear dark sunglasses while illegally counting cards.
8. Sometimes You Do Have a Specific Audience
While it’s politically correct to include everyone in your audience, sometimes you’re simply not writing for everyone! At this point, use whichever pronoun you need.
If you’re writing an article titled How to Manicure Your Chest Hair, of course, use he/his/him all you want. You’re obviously reaching out to men.
If you’re writing about PMS medication, well, you know who you’re writing for.
There are more guidelines to help you keep your writing bias-free (I like to refer to The Chicago Manual of Style Online), but these tips should give you a good understanding of how simple changes to your sentences can keep your audience happy and your name from being ripped to shreds on forums.
I’ve studied the boring stuff so you don’t have to.
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Sarah Flores, Owner and Editor
Write Down the Line, LLC
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