Editing for gender neutrality
How to be politically correct without mangling the English language
by Jean Hollis Weber
This article has been revised and included in Gender-neutral technical writing. It is included here for archive purposes only.
The reader should not notice the writing.
- Do not use he, his, or him unless the antecedent is obviously male.
- Do not use they and their as singular pronouns (too many people object to this).
- Bypass the problem of gender whenever possible. Use:
- imperative mood ("Do this.")
- second person (you, your)
- plural nouns and plural pronouns ("Customer engineers should be well trained on the machines they service.")
- Avoid contrived phrases such as he or she, he/she and so on.
- Avoid contrived nouns such as layperson.
- Avoid pronouns completely when you can:
- repeat the noun (sometimes this also makes your meaning clearer)
- use a or the instead
- find another solution
- In examples, use a mixture of male and female names, unless the situation clearly cannot include both sexes. You can then refer to John as "he" and Mary as "she". But beware of stereotyping the senior person as the male, and the subordinate as the female.
- Never use a "feminised" noun (manageress, for example) when the normal noun (manager) covers both sexes.
- Never say woman doctor, lady lawyer, male nurse, or similar phrases.
The writer should know his reader well.
The writer should know their reader well.
Writers should know their readers well.
The writer should know the reader well.
When the documentation team is first chosen, the team leader should ask how they like to work. He will probably find that some team members prefer quiet, while others like to listen to the radio.
... The team will probably find that some members prefer quiet, while others like to listen to the radio.
... Most teams include some people who prefer quiet, and others who like to listen to the radio.
Technical documentation exists for the reader. You are writing it for him, not for your boss, not for your ego...
... You are writing it for the reader, not for...
No one can be a technical writer unless he has a fair degree of writing skill.
No one can be a technical writer without a fair degree of writing skill.
People cannot be technical writers unless they have a fair degree of writing skill.
The technical writer and the technical editor may assume certain responsibilities of the other. The role the technical writer most often assumes is that of the author. He is the generator and communicator of ideas. His aim is to...
... Technical writers most often assume the role of the author. They are the generators and communicators of ideas. Their aim is to...
The technical editor has some of the concerns of the technical writer. He too must worry about clarity and conciseness of language, but he can do it with much greater objectivity. The editor can be detached. He must always keep the reader uppermost in mind...
... Editors too must worry about clarity and conciseness of language, but they can do it with much greater objectivity. Editors can be detached. They must always keep the reader uppermost in mind...
This is a very important part of his job.
This is a very important part of the editorial job.
Another cause of obscurity is that the writer himself is not quite sure of his meaning. He has a vague impression of what he wants to say, but has not, either from lack of mental power or from laziness, exactly formulated it in his mind, and it is natural enough that he should not find a precise expression for a confused idea.
Another cause of obscurity is that the writer has a vague impression of wanting to say something but has not, either from lack of mental power or from laziness, exactly formulated it mentally, and it is natural enough that such a writer should not find a precise expression for a confused idea.
A handicapped child may be able to feed and dress himself.
A handicapped child may be able to eat and get dressed without help.
Style means that the author has fused his material and his technique with the distinctive quality of his personality.
Style is the fusion of both technique and material with the distinctive qualities of a writer's own personality.
The successful applicant will use his skills to contribute to the commission's work in remote areas. He will be posted to various locations during his two-year appointment. His removal costs will be paid, and he will be entitled to one return air fare each six months to the capital city of his choice.
(If a recruitment advertisement)
As the successful applicant, you will use your skills to contribute to the commission's work in remote areas. You will be posted to various locations during your two-year appointment. Your removal costs will be paid, and you will be entitled to one return air fare each six months to the capital city of your choice.
(If a report - before the person is selected)
The successful applicant's skills will contribute to the commission's work in remote areas. The person will be posted to various locations during a two-year appointment. Entitlements include removal costs and one return air fare each six months to the capital city of the person's choice.