Using Inclusive Language

After you create your survey and write your questions, you should take a moment to make sure that your questions are written inclusively and with sensitivity to the experiences of marginalized individuals. We’ve offered some suggestions below on the main considerations and common pitfalls that people run into with writing inclusive language.

It’s important to value people more than the specific rules we have around language. We should always focus on the person rather than specific aspects of the person as it is dehumanizing to refer to someone using just an aspect of their identity. Ultimately, our language should be used in a way that is respectful, caring, and informed by how the individual chooses to identify. When in doubt, put the word ‘person’/’people’ before any descriptors about an individual or community.

Unless it is essential to what is being communicated, you should avoid identifying people based on characteristics such as their race, skin colour, national origin, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, and religious or spiritual affiliation.

Inclusive language regularly changes because of the terms that people use to self-identify change. Regularly researching the appropriate language to use when referring to marginalized peoples and communities helps in speaking about others in a way that is both respectful and inclusive.

When creating questions based on gender, you should consider whether it is even relevant. If gender is relevant, it is ideal to use gender-neutral terms wherever possible - unless you know the pronouns of the reader. Additionally, you should never assume the gender of an individual based on their appearance.

✅ Do: Offer a variety of gender options.
✅ Do: Use gender-neutral language and pronouns wherever possible.
❌ Don't: refer to people based on their perceived sex.

When asking questions based on sexual orientation, it is essential to be inclusive of all relationship statuses and orientations. As well, it is important to consider if someone’s sexuality is even relevant to the content. Some individuals may self-identify using terms that were or are derogatory, as a means of reclaiming the meaning behind the language. These terms can only be used to self-identify and should not be used if you aren’t a part of the community the terms have targeted.

✅ Do: be inclusive of all relationship statuses.
✅ Do: use open questions to allow users to describe their sexual orientation.
❌ Don't: refer to someone’s sexual orientation as a ‘sexual preference’.
❌ Don't: use terminology that is only appropriate for members of a community to self-identify as, such as ‘queer’.

When asking questions about race, ethnicity & nationality, it is essential to refer to individuals and communities using the terms they prefer to be referred to as. Unless it is essential and appropriate to the context, avoid referring to people based on their race, skin colour, and/or national origin. As well, it is especially important to avoid generalizations and stereotyping people based on someone’s skin colour, cultural background, or ethnic origin.

✅ Do: use the appropriate, accepted terminology for a community or individual.
❌ Don't: use words that have negative racial connotations, such as ‘blacklist’ or ‘slave’.
❌ Don't: make assumptions about someone’s nationality or cultural background based on their appearance.