Bias-Free Language

Bias-free Language is language that is inclusive and respectful of others.

Key Concepts: Audience; Diction; Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Reasoning

When writers use language that implies a biased or judgmental attitude, the audience may take offense.

Sometimes, people’s association with words, especially the connotation of words, is different from yours (see Diction). This can lead to unintentional bias.

Language that is insensitive to ageism, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status should be avoided. Just as writers hope their audience will be willing to respect their perspective and point of view, they need to respect the diversity of a broad base of readers. Language that is inclusive and fair may contribute to the credibility, the ethos, of the writer and uphold the audience’s sense of dignity and self-worth.

Use gender-inclusive language:

  • he or she or they instead of he
  • humankind instead of mankind
  • garbage collector instead of garbage man
  • server instead of waitress

Use correct or accepted racial and ethnic terms:

  • African American instead of colored or Negro
  • Asian instead of Oriental
  • American Indian or Native American instead of Indian
  • Native Alaskan or Inuit instead of Eskimo
  • Hispanic instead of Spanish
  • Latino instead of Mexican

Use language that respects people for who they are or recognizes a specific ailment:

  • persons with disabilities instead of handicapped, challenged, disabled, or retarded
  • visually impaired instead of blind
  • persons with hearing loss instead of deaf individuals
  • mentally ill instead of crazy, moron, or loony
  • those with arthritis instead of arthritis sufferers
  • people with diabetes instead of diabetes patients 

Recommended Resources

Bias-Free Language. American Psychological Association, 4/20/21.

Statement on Gender and Language. National Council of Teachers of English. 4/20/21.