Writing about people
All kinds of people interact with our website. We want to create a positive relationship with each and every visitor. This means using inclusive, non-judgemental language. No one should feel excluded or judged by the content we publish.
It's therefore essential to be aware of how language can affect people differently.
Read the guidelines below to make sure your content takes into consideration different experiences and identities.
Ability and disability
If a person's situation, medical condition, illness, or injury is relevant to the content, be as specific as possible and avoid inserting value judgements about their circumstance. For example, use "has mental health problems", not "is afflicted with" or "suffers from".
Just like with language around race, gender and other identities, it's always best to ask people how they prefer to be described. Here are a few key pointers:
- Use people-first language.
- Use disabled people, not the disabled or people with disabilities. Disabled people have impairments, but they are disabled by outside forces.
- Avoid terms that contribute to stigmas around disability or mental illness: crazy, dumb, lame, insane, psycho, schizophrenic, or stupid.
- Avoid terms that contribute to stigmas around sensory disabilities: blind spot or tone deaf.
The disability charity Scope has more tips on the language that many people prefer.
Avoid referring to someone's age, unless it's relevant to what you're writing about, for example when referring to benefits that are available to people of certain ages. And remember these key things:
- Don't use women or older relatives as a substitute for novice or beginner. For example, don't say that something is "so simple your mother can use it".
- We prefer older person or senior to elderly.
Gender and sexuality
Make content gender neutral wherever possible, and strive to write in a gender-fair way. If you're writing about a hypothetical person or if you're unsure of the person's pronouns, use they or them instead of he/she.
Avoid words and phrases that indicate gender bias, such as irrelevant descriptions of appearance.
Use descriptors of gender identity or sexual orientation as modifiers, not as nouns, for example, transgender person, cisgender person, or lesbian woman. Avoid guessing sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. When in doubt, either reconsider the need to include this information or ask the person you're referring to how they identify and what terms they prefer.
- Use different sex instead of opposite sex (because this recognises gender as a spectrum, rather than a binary).
- We support using they or their as singular pronouns.
- Avoid "guys" as a way to refer to mixed-gender groups.
- Don't make assumptions about marital or family relationships. For example, use "spouse" or "partner" instead of "husband" and "wife"; use "parent or carer" instead of "mother" and "father".
Be consistent about how you address people. For example, people in authority are more likely to be referred to by their surname if they are a man, and by their first name if they are a woman. Avoid this by always using someone's full name on the first mention and then their surname after that.
Try to avoid grouping people by nationality or making generalisations about people from a particular country. If you need to, use an adjective with "people", so "German people" or "Russian people" rather than "the Germans" or "the Russians".
Don't conflate a country's government with its people:
- The UK authorities made changes to service provisions. (Preferred)
- And not: The UK made changes to service provisions.
How you refer to the public is largely dependent on context. Feel free to choose from any of these words: people, the public, or users (if talking about users of our website).
Be as specific as possible. Depending on the situation, you may want to say something like people who need healthcare or people who need to access government services online.
Race, ethnicity, and religion
Avoid using words, images, or situations that reinforce racial, ethnic, or religious stereotypes (even stereotypes that may appear to be positive). Avoid the term non-white, or other terms that treat whiteness as a default.
Don't make assumptions: ask how people identify themselves, and be aware of complexities within racial, ethnic, and religious identities. For example, not all Arabs are Muslim, and many nationalities and ethnicities include various religious practices and traditions.
When referring to a person's race or ethnicity, use adjectives, not nouns (for example, an Indian person, not an Indian).