Using inclusive language makes your audiences feel welcome and respected, reduces distraction for the reader, and maintains your (and our!) credibility. The books in our Open Access Book Series are downloaded by readers across the world, so we pay particular attention to making sure our books do not present any unnecessary hurdles for readers from other countries and those for whom English is not their first language. We also want to ensure that our books are inclusive of all our very diverse readers.

As the TLI guide on Writing for Diverse Audiences states, “This approach to writing speaks to a diversity of readers, allowing them to see themselves reflected in the subject matter and more easily recognize its relevance to themselves and their contexts. It invites readers to engage with ideas directly and constructively.” Please keep the following advice in mind as you’re writing!

Gender-neutral language

Avoid using “he” as a universal pronoun; binary alternatives like “he/she” are possibly even worse. You can usually rewrite a sentence to avoid the use of a single pronoun. “An engineering student is more likely to share his thoughts in class” could become “Engineering students are more likely to share their thoughts in class.”

We also fully support the use of they/them/their as a single pronoun, either when the individual uses they/them pronouns or if the gender is unknown. Even the Chicago Manual of Style has finally endorsed using the singular “they” in its 17th edition (CMOS, 5.48).

For more guidance on gender-neutral language, refer to the National Council of Teachers of English Statement on Gender and Language (2018).

Other biased language

Sharing demographic data is often an important way to provide context for your research. However, avoid mentioning personal characteristics such as sex, race, ethnicity, disability, age, etc., unless it is necessary to make your argument. When you do need to share these details about an individual, emphasize the person, not the characteristic by putting the person first (Ketcham 2021). Rather than writing “mentally-ill people”, use “people with a mental illness”.

Avoid the “default assumption,” when an author identifies only those people who belong to some special category (whereas others are assumed to be of the majority). Einsohn and Schwartz’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook provides an example: “The next sentence may seem unremarkable: ‘The conference was chaired by a female aerospace engineer.’—until one considers that one would never see its counterpart (‘The conference was chaired by a male aerospace engineer.’) in print” (438).

When writing about race and ethnicity, be as precise as possible (instead of “non-white students”, use “Hispanic students” or “Black students”). If you are not sure what ethnic or racial term is best, do some research! At CEL, we’ve decided to capitalize both Black and White when referring to racial identity (CMOS Shop Talk 2020, Nguyen and Pendleton 2020).

International readers

Using simple, clear language makes your writing more accessible to all readers, but especially to non-native English speakers or people who may be translating your work. Keep your sentences short and your verbs active. Avoid using nominalizations (if you’ve not seen Helen Sword’s great Ted-Ed animation about nominalizations, give it a watch!). Also try not to use slang or idioms that might be confusing for some readers.

You should also be careful about how you use certain higher education terminology that may vary even across English-speaking countries. The most common example is the difference between what “faculty” and “staff” means in different places. In the US, faculty generally refers to the people who teach courses and do research; staff are everyone else who works at an institution. In many other parts of the world, “faculty” is an organizational level (like a department) and everyone who works at the institution are “staff,” including those who teach. 

To ease the confusion, define these context- or discipline-specific terms when you first use them. Other advice:

  • Avoid “sophomore, junior, senior” or other terms for grade-level; refer instead to which year of study a student is in (first-year, second-year, third-year).
  • Describe the institution you’re talking about, rather than relying on a classification like “R1” or “HBCU.”
  • Spell out all acronyms the first time you use them.

We hope these guidelines will help you write with a diverse audience in mind. One of the beauties of language is that it constantly evolves, which means it’s always a valuable exercise to reconsider how we write and how our readers may react to our words. If you have comments or questions, please email me at

This post is just one of many in our series on publishing SoTL – check them all out!


CMOS Shop Talk. 2020. “Black and White: A Matter of Capitalization.” June 22, 2020.

Editorial team, TLI (Teaching & Learning Inquiry). 2020. “Writing for TLI’s Diverse Readers: Principles and Practices.

Einsohn, Amy, and Marilyn Schwartz. 2019. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications. University of California Press.

Ketcham, Caroline J. 2021. “More than Words: Inclusion and Equity for Students with Disabilities.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. June 21, 2021.

National Council of Teachers of English. 2018. “Statement on Gender and Language.”

Nguyen, Ann Thuy, and Maya Pendleton. 2020. “Recognizing Race in Language: Why We Capitalize ‘Black’ and ‘White.’” Center for the Study of Social Policy, March 23, 2020.

Sword, Helen. 2012. “Beware of Nominalizations (AKA Zombie Nouns).” Ted-Ed, October 31, 2012.

Jennie Goforth is the Center for Engaged Learning’s Managing Editor. She works with authors to shepherd their work from proposal through production in the Center’s Open Access Book Series. She also manages production of book websites and supplemental materials for the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching.

How to Cite This Post

Goforth, Jennie. 2023. “Inclusive Writing for International Audiences.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. March 7, 2023.