Before a piece of content marketing can be published on social media, a blog, a website or in a newsletter, it typically will go through several rounds of editing to ensure that it is free of errors. The editor is looking for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, as well as making sure that the piece is consistent in style and voice and is easy to read and understand. This editing step is so important that we’ve even written blogs about it here at Three Girls Media. One component of editing that isn’t discussed as much, and one that I’d argue is equally as important as checking for spelling and grammar errors, is using a critical eye to determine if you’ve used inclusive language in your content marketing.
Using inclusive language is essentially being conscious of the language you choose so as not to exclude anyone from the conversation. Being purposeful about using inclusive language in your content marketing not only shows your audience that you’re aware of issues that affect them in their day to day lives, but that you’re also willing to grow and change as your awareness increases. As stated by Medium, inclusive language “opens up and amplifies your message to more people, making your blog post, job description, or website copy more accessible than before.”
Connecting with your target audience on a personal level should be one of the primary goals of content marketing. It can build a sense of trust with consumers, which in turn will lead them back to your brand time and time again.
In this blog article we will highlight seven areas to look at critically when editing your content marketing for the use of inclusive language.
One of the first things to look for when you’re reviewing a piece of content marketing for inclusive language is to check if you’ve used gender-neutral terms whenever possible. Specific things to look for when editing in the area of gender are:
- The use of partner, sibling, student or child in place of more gender-specific terms.
- Gender-neutral forms of occupations and words. For example, “firefighter” instead of “fireman” and “humanity” instead of “mankind.”
- When appropriate, the use of “they” instead of “he” or “she.”
As Forbes states, “For those who don’t fall neatly into the male or female categories, these constant references to the binary male and female groupings can be alienating. Even for those who do identify as male or female, these constant reminders of gender may have an impact. Constantly dividing everyone into male and female categories may make us perceive men and women as more different than we really are.”
Using gender-neutral language in your content marketing will go a long way to making sure that your work is as inclusive as possible.
Ethnicity, Race And Nationality
Another area your content marketing needs inclusive language is when discussing ethnicity, race and nationality. As noted by the APA, “Terms used to refer to racial and ethnic groups continue to change over time. One reason for this is simply personal preference; preferred designations are as varied as the people they name. Another reason is that designations can become dated over time and may hold negative connotations. When describing racial and ethnic groups, be appropriately specific and sensitive to issues of labeling.”
Things to look for when examining mentions of ethnicity, race and nationality for inclusive language are:
- Determining whether racial and/or ethnic terms mentioned are the ones that the particular group uses themselves.
- Ensuring stereotypes are not perpetuated. For example, the assumption is not made that all members of an underrepresented group are underprivileged.
- Checking that race is referred to only when relevant to the context.
Disability, Health And Neurodiversity
As with all the areas we have discussed, when reviewing content marketing that refers to disability, health or neurodiversity, it is essential to put the human first. While there is some debate in the community, according to the Conscious Style Guide general guidance is as follows:
- Person-first language should be used over identity-first language (for example, “a child with Down syndrome” as opposed to “a Down syndrome child”).
- A disability or condition is only mentioned when it is relevant.
- Terminology that suggests that a person suffers from their disability should be avoided.
- Neutral language is preferred, such as “does not have a disability” instead of “able-bodied.”
The APA handbook states that “Honoring the preference of the group is not only a sign of professional awareness and respect for any disability group but also a way to offer solidarity.”
When content marketing mentions age, there are a few guidelines to make sure that the reference is as inclusive and respectful as possible. Generally speaking, the APA handbook advises that:
- Terms such as seniors and elderly should no longer be used. Instead, use such terms like older adult, or be specific about which age range you’re referring to (such as “someone between the ages of 65-75”).
- Negative attitudes about aging should be avoided.
- Language that conveys aging as a normal part of the life experience is preferred.
Using inclusive language in your content marketing extends beyond being careful of the words you use regarding older adults. Young people deserve respect and inclusion as well.
As the Conscious Style Guide comments, “Age-based discrimination against young people can be minimized by rooting our word choices, portrayal, framing, and representation in respect and accuracy instead of disrespect and dominance. Many children are wiser, more mature, and more self-sufficient than many adults, and for language to be inclusive, it must include everyone.”
According to the APA, “Socioeconomic status (SES) encompasses not only income but also educational attainment, occupational prestige, and subjective perceptions of social status and social class.” As such, it’s important that you take care when creating content and referring to someone’s SES. Some things to consider when editing content marketing for inclusive language include:
- Person-first language should be used. For example, instead of saying “a homeless person” use “a person who is homeless.”
- Be careful to avoid language that blames people for their circumstances. An example of this would be to say, “a person without a high school diploma” over “a high school dropout.”
- Words such as “ghetto,” “the projects” or “inner city” can be associated with negative connotations. Specific details about where something is located would be preferred.
As you may have noticed, the goal here is similar to many of the other topics we’ve discussed. Inclusive language with regards to socioeconomic status relies on putting the human before the perceived problem. Allowing people to retain their humanity regardless of their situation is much needed in all forms of content marketing.
Since your primary goal in editing any content marketing is to make sure that it is easy to read and understand, taking the time to ensure that plain language has been used is important. Oftentimes businesses are tempted to use jargon and big words to prove that they are experts in their industry and know what they are talking about. This, however, isn’t a form of inclusive language and can be off-putting for many customers.
Additionally, for many people who aren’t native English speakers, some words and phrases may be difficult to understand. Medium further expands on this, saying, “We also avoid using metaphors (visual and written) that are specific to just one culture or class. So for instance, we avoid using phrases like “knock it out of the park” or “hit a home run,” even though these phrases are pretty common in North America, because they’re just not going to resonate outside of the US. Not because people will be offended by a reference to baseball, but because they won’t be as familiar, so the meaning won’t be as clear.”
Some things to look for when editing content marketing for plain language are:
- The words and references used should be understood by many people.
- Explanations for certain words and concepts should be provided in order to make the language as inclusive as possible.
- Words or phrases that someone who speaks limited English may not understand should be avoided.
While some of this may seem difficult or unnecessary, especially in many technical lines of work, ensuring that your content marketing is accessible to as many people as possible should be a priority.
Images can be immensely powerful in any type of content marketing. They are especially useful for conveying emotion and helping brands connect with their audience on a more personal level, especially imagery that portrays human faces. While images may not need to be reviewed for language specifically, they should be examined to make sure that they are as inclusive as possible. Your audience wants to be able to see themselves in your content marketing, both in the text and in the images they see. Things to look for when reviewing images for inclusivity are:
- Diverse groups of people are found in the imagery. This can include different races, genders, ages and abilities.
- Members of diverse groups completing tasks that they are traditionally underrepresented in. An example of this could be a woman of color shown in a leadership position.
The importance of having a diverse group of people in your content marketing imagery cannot be stressed enough. In order for someone to connect with your brand, they have to feel that your company sees and understands them. If a person can identify themselves immediately by looking at your social media, blog or website, a gigantic first step has been taken in gaining their trust.
The ideas listed above are certainly not the only areas where you should edit for inclusive language in your content marketing, but they are a good place to start. While incorporating this type of language may seem like a hefty and unnecessary task, in practice it is fairly simple to employ, and is essential to successful content marketing. As Medium states, “the English language is such a flexible, expressive language, so there are all sorts of ways to say what you need to say without indicating anything that might be exclusive. It just takes a little imagination, empathy, and practice, that’s all.”
Having a critical editing eye in your content marketing to ensure that you are using inclusive language as much as possible is extremely important. You want your customers to see your brand as one that cares, one that is willing to stretch themselves and one that is willing to listen. You may not be able to use (or even need to use) inclusive language in every area of your content marketing, and you may make mistakes, but consumers will see you trying. And that’s an important first step.
As Hubspot reminds us, “inclusive language is about widening your message and allowing it to resonate with as many people as possible, so it’s critical for your business’s bottom-line that you do everything you can to communicate more inclusively every day.”
One more thing that’s important to note is that you’re not expected to know everything all the time. Guidance on using inclusive language changes frequently, and it can be difficult to keep up. All major style guides have sections on the correct usage of inclusive language in the areas that have been mentioned above. When editing your content marketing for inclusive language, consult style guides, dictionaries and most importantly, when in doubt, ask someone for advice.
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