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Bias-Free Language in Academic Writing

July 11, 2024| Category: Writing Tips

Academic writing in 2024 draws attention to diversity and inclusivity. So, to make your writing readable and welcoming to a broad audience, it’s necessary to use language that recognizes and respects different points of view. However, discriminatory practices and harmful stereotypes can spread throughout our speech, making it rather hard to change. Thus, here are some pointers for bias-free language that will help you improve your writing skills.

Sexual Orientation vs. Sexual Preferences

No wonder that discussing sexual orientation and preferences has always been a sensitive topic. With this in mind, we should be careful with these terms in academic papers as well. To clear up the meaning, a person (persons) you find attractive and want to build relationships  determines your sexual orientation. Sexual preferences, on the contrary, are the actions or characteristics that seem appealing. So, never write that somebody has a “sexual preference” for the same gender loving. It’s their orientation that cannot be changed. More than that, instead of the word “homosexual,” we now utilize the following terminology: “bisexual men,” “bisexual women,” “gay men,” and “lesbians.” Use suitable wording to avoid accidentally promoting negative stereotypes or presumptions!

Men vs. Boys, Women vs. Girls

Talking about genders is another common context in which we mistakenly employ prejudiced word choices. Males and females above the age of 18 are always considered men and women, not boys and girls. Yes, it’s easy to use the incorrect word, especially given how frequently young women are referred to as “girls.” However, calling an adult man a “boy” can sound abusive and even discriminatory at times. We should respect individuals of all ages and prevent the spread of damaging gender stereotypes by actively choosing appropriate language.

No Gender-Biased Pronouns

To avoid gender bias is a key consideration when using pronouns. For instance, we often use “he” by default when we do not know someone’s gender, but this excludes women and other gender identities. So, the first step towards reducing gender stereotyping is to use gender-neutral pronouns, such as “they,” including singular use of “they.” The OWL provides the following example here: “Someone left his or her backpack behind → Someone left their backpack behind.” Another option is to use the name of the exact person rather than a gendered pronoun. This way writers can include a wider range of people and identities.

No Gender-Based Terms

When referring to men and women in work titles and descriptions, it is preferable to use gender-neutral terminology. To illustrate, you should use the terms “chairperson” or “committee chair” in place of “chairman” in academic writing when you are not aware of a certain gender. In a similar vein, calling someone a “policeman” or “anchorman” could support preconceived notions about who is qualified for particular positions. As an alternative, try using terms like “anchor” or “police officer,” which are gender-neutral. Another example is finding substitutes, such as business owner, manager, executive, or businessperson, for a frequently used word “businessman.” As a result, it’s important to develop the practice of writing in a gender-neutral manner since it shows respect for individuals of different origins and sexes and involves everyone in the discourse.

Using Person-First Language

Using person-first language is one more technique to show your writing is bias-free. This means putting the individual over their illness, impairment, or other defining characteristics. For example, we should write “a person with a disability” rather than “a disabled person.” In such a manner, we admit that people are more than just their condition. When referring to individuals with disabilities, the APA Manual of Style also advises utilizing emotionally neutral language, like “a person with emphysema” instead of “a person suffering from emphysema.” What is more, if a disability isn’t important to your discussion, there is no need to focus on it. Simply said, using appropriate language is a sign of respect for other people, and we should be conscious of what we’re writing.

Escaping Racism

If you’d like to write about someone’s race or ethnicity, please make sure this information is related to the topic. Besides, labels related to ethnicity and race frequently change, making it challenging to figure out which term is appropriate now. So, what to do? The best option is to check the current terms on official websites, TV news, or newspapers. For example, it’d be correct to say “African American” instead of “Negro” or “Asian American” on behalf of “Oriental.” Next, you may also ask people what term they favor since individuals may identify themselves with distinct ethnic and cultural groupings. To illustrate, a large number of people classified as “Hispanic” by the U.S. Census actually choose to be called “Latino or Latina.”

Importantly, you should carefully check punctuation. It’s not appropriate to hyphenate “Asian American” or “African American.” These are nouns. But we need to hyphenate these terms when using them as modifiers, e.g. “the Asian-American students.” In addition, you should steer clear of the words “non-white,” “culturally deprived,” and “culturally disadvantaged.” The thing is that such phrases bring across the idea that one group’s culture is superior to another or that cultures of other groups do not exist. Last but not least, take religious sensitivity into account. Avoid assuming anything! For example, not all Arabs are Muslims, and most countries and ethnic groups practice distinct religious customs. Indeed, we should not generalize or create stereotypes about people of a certain ethnicity or race because they are not the same.

Avoiding Ageism

There is also no need to point to someone’s age when it’s not relevant, and when describing groups of people, it’d be better to use neutral phrases, e.g. “people over age X,” “older populations,” “older adults,” etc. However, when needed, provide more exact information about the demographic or age range. For instance, “The target of this study is African-American males between the ages of 60 and 70.” You will write less biasedly and more accurately if you follow this method.

Similarly, it is critical to avoid language that causes negative preconceptions about aging and older people:

  • Phrases like “of a certain age” may imply that growing older is a source of shame.
  • Phrases like “aging well” and “successful aging” suggest there are correct and wrong ways to age.
  • Don’t describe people or groups of people as “geriatric” – it’s about medicine.
  • Save the term “elders” for Alaska Natives/American Indians, for whom it may be acceptable due to cultural differences.
  • Steer clear of terms with potentially insulting overtones, such as “boomer,” “senior citizen,” “the aged,” and so on.

You may definitely improve your essay by writing in a courteous, inclusive, and non-biased manner.


Being politically correct isn’t the only reason why academic writing should use language free from bias. Maintaining an inviting and inclusive atmosphere where each person is treated with respect and value is the key. Our words have power. So, if you aren’t sure your writing is not biased, simply check the official information. What is more, please refrain from making assumptions or generalizations that are not pertinent to the paper.


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