Behaviour Change Platform for D&I

Inclusion Guideline: How to Write Inclusive Copy

Reach a wider audience with this easy inclusion checklist for copywriting.

Inclusive writing is about focusing on what the reader needs and how the reader interacts with content. As language evolves, content marketers and writers alike must learn new ways to continue producing content that resonates with a wide customer base.

When it comes to writing and editing for inclusivity, follow this checklist to push forward. While your audience or company may need something specific - this list is not a guarantee of “perfectly inclusive content” - it will increase not only writing quality but also the size of potential audience who will resonate with it.

This article is broken down into four categories, each offering further advice:

  • General Practices for More Inclusive Writing

  • Inclusive Blog and Public Relations Writing

  • Inclusive Ad and Email Copywriting

  • Inclusive Social Media Copywriting

While each piece of advice could apply to many types of writing, skip to the category that fits what you’re writing for an easy reference guide.

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General Practices for More Inclusive Writing

  • Research your audience to identify the words and phrases they use (e.g. ‘house’ versus ‘home’ convey specific meanings to different audiences).

  • Write ‘global first’, assuming every person on earth will eventually read your content. Then pare down as needed.

  • Be aware of laws in your area such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), or other relevant non-discrimination laws.

  • Shorter sentences are typically better. The only caveat to this is long names or titles that express one concept but require many words.

  • Use gender neutral pronouns. Using “he” or “she” isn’t necessary in an example unless referring to a specific person. If you feel uncomfortable using the gender-neutral “they” in every instance, switch things up to have “he,” “she,” and “they” throughout.

  • Use diverse imagery in stock photos and content illustrations.

  • Be precise with meaning. Some catch-all terms have histories of being used to discriminate.

    • Instead of dumb, try useless

    • Instead of crazy, try intense

    • Instead of insane, try outrageous

  • Focus on emotional triggers from ideas instead of garnering reactions to people or identities. Idea-based triggers come from human senses, describing what the reader may see, feel, touch, hear, or smell. Identity-based reactions aim to get the same emotional response using someone else as the trigger, describing femininity to imply weakness or masculinity to express strength, for example.

  • Be descriptive so screen readers can convey information to people with vision difficulties who can’t see pictures.

  • Have a glossary or footnotes if you use complex terms that can’t be avoided.

  • Leverage inclusion tools like Textio to help eliminate bias in writing.

  • Avoid casual phrases created from regional metaphors. Write more literally about what you’re comparing or implying.

  • Avoid phrases that suggest individuals with disabilities are victims such as “suffering from” or “a victim of.

  • Avoid euphemisms like “differently abled” or “light in his loafers” as most end up demeaning the group of people they intended to empower.

  • Don’t use mental health issues as metaphors for everyday behaviour. Instead of prompting a reader with “feeling depressed about xyz?”, ask “feeling frustrated about xyz?”.

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Inclusive Blog and Public Relations Writing

  • Write about benefits first so the reader understands what they are getting even if they don’t pay attention through the whole article.

  • Explain the context of your content. This is usually done with a strong introductory section, but is also achieved in the first sentence of each paragraph for longer articles.

  • Write about people first, adjectives second. It’s not about being an “epileptic person”, but a “person with epilepsy.”

  • Read only the first sentence of each paragraph to test whether you’ve properly written based on the “inverted pyramid”.

  • Cite sources. In the blogging and PR world, a hyperlink is a valid citation in most cases.

  • Use smaller blocks of text to make it easier for the reader to follow along.

  • Use clear hierarchy in headings and subheadings.

  • Write descriptive headings and subheadings to walk the reader through the article and foreshadow what they will read in the section.

  • Cut all additional words. Context may require more words but go through the exercise first to ensure the words are necessary.

    • For example, “buying their very own house” could become “buying a house” or “buying their house

  • Be descriptive in hyperlinks so folks who use screen readers have an easy time understanding what you’re linking to.

  • Use alt text on images for easy context providing for cursor hovering and screen readers.

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Inclusive Ad and Email Copywriting

  • Focus on benefits over identity aspirations in all ad copy - how will the customer’s life be better with your product?

  • Focus on interests, not demographics.

  • Write so the reader gains a sense of power or ownership.

  • Use testimonials to let diverse users talk for you.

  • Use high colour contrast on ad copy and within emails to make text easy to see.

  • Vary font sizes, call outs, bolding, and italics to make content easier to engage with.

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Inclusive Social Media Copywriting

  • Keep wording general so it can be understood by the greatest number of people.

  • Follow diverse voices on social media for inspiration on copy and engagement strategy.

  • Write to the reading level of your target audience.

  • Use specific comparisons. Vague comparisons like “lacking culture” often imply a comparison to the dominant ideal, usually implying the dominant or most common element is better and anything else is lacking.

  • Describe features. Tell the social media world what your product, service, or content offers or will do for them.

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Inclusion in the 21st Century

Inclusive writing principles call the writer to think more globally and use descriptive language over mental shortcuts. Almost inevitably, you’ll make mistakes. When they happen, correct the error and move on. Depending on the severity of the error, it may warrant an apology.

Either way, focus on learning, correcting mistakes, and growing. Instead of trying to be right in every instance and never making mistakes, focus on high quality writing that will resonate with the largest possible customer base.

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