Language is important for an open and inclusive environment. We do not want to use language that could – even unintentionally – make some of our readers feel excluded or disempowered. To achieve this, we take care not to reinforce stereotypes or make assumptions about people. It is important to note that inclusive terminology is constantly changing. Guidelines and advice may not keep up with these changes, and as such this cannot be a definitive guide.
The images, profiles and case studies we use on our website should be fully representative of our staff and student community.
When creating webforms, consider carefully if you require users to give details of their sex, age, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion or any disability. If this information is required, you should offer users the option to select ‘prefer not to say’ where possible. You should also explain why you are collecting this data, how it will be stored and what it is used for. For more information refer please refer to the University’s Data Protection policy.
The University’s Equality and Diversity Unit is happy to help with any questions you might have. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Umbrella terms like gay or homosexual cannot be assumed to be acceptable to all.
The University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans + Advisory Group uses the acronym LGBT+ rather than LGBTQ. Whilst the term queer (the Q in LGBTQ) has been reclaimed by some, others still see this as a derogatory term. The + is inclusive of other groups, such as asexual, intersex, queer, questioning etc.
Also see Stonewall’s guide to inclusive digital services for LGBT+ users.
Sex and gender
Distinguishing between sex and gender means to recognise that someone’s biological sex is separate from their social role (gender) or personal identification (gender identity).
Gender specific terms like ‘mankind’, ‘manpower’ or ‘sportsmanship’ have fallen out of common use in publications, as they are seen to reinforce stereotypical gender roles.
Similarly, where appropriate use more neutral terms like ‘family leave’ instead of ‘maternity leave’.
Gender identities exist on a spectrum and may not always be binary. This means that there are more gender identities than ‘man’ and ‘woman’.
Using ‘they’ instead of ‘he or she’ is therefore recommended to include everybody.
- Example: If the applicant is shortlisted, they will be invited for interview. Or rewrite the sentence to avoid using pronouns that make assumptions.
- Example: Shortlisted applicants will be invited for interview.
If you are writing about a specific person, make sure to use the pronouns they prefer.
Transgender or trans is used as an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. If you are unsure about which terms to use, refer to the glossary in the University’s Transgender Policy and Guidance.
The Equality and Diversity Unit offers more information on good practice in communication.
Writing about disabilities and health conditions
Mention the individual before making any reference to their disability. Do not equate the individual with their condition and avoid using disempowering language.
Write about ‘people with disabilities’ instead of using ‘the disabled’, though ‘disabled people’ may be an acceptable usage. However, not everybody who needs disability benefits and services identifies with having a disability. Consider using ‘people with health conditions or impairments’ if this seems more appropriate.
Avoid phrases like ‘suffers from’, especially when writing about a range of people whose state of mind you do not know. It is enough to say that people ‘have’ a condition or disability, or that they ‘live with’ one.
Avoid terms like ‘stroke victim’ which carry connotations of passivity and hopelessness. Use ‘person who has had a stroke’ instead.
People who use a wheelchair may not view themselves as ‘confined’ to their mobility aid.
Writing about race and ethnicity
The way we talk about race and ethnicity varies from country to country. In the UK it is common to refer to BME (Black and minority ethnic) and BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities.
BME is more commonly used at Oxford University. However, both terms have limitations. In some instances, the term People of Colour is used to refer to any group that is not White.
Avoid references that draw undue attention to ethnic or racial backgrounds. When references are valid, use the term preferred by the group concerned.
Capitalise Black just as you would capitalise nationalities or regional identities. It is helpful to capitalise White to emphasise that it is also an ethnicity.
Use ‘marginalised groups’ or ‘underrepresented groups’ instead of ‘minorities’.
If needed, use ‘minority ethnic groups’ rather than ‘ethnic minority groups’ to avoid emphasis on ethnicity as the main issue.
The concept of ethnicity assumes that a group of people share an identity, and therefore consider themselves part of the same ethnic group. However, some people are being ascribed a racial or ethnic identity by a dominating group – an identity they did not share originally. In such cases, it is more considerate to use the term ‘racialised group’.
- Example: minority ethnic and racialised groups can experience discrimination
Advance HE provides more guidance on approaching terminology around race and ethnicity.