Introduction and FAQ
Inclusive language, also referred to as conscious, equity, or bias-free language, is language that avoids excluding or alienating people because of race, gender identity, disability, education level, socioeconomic status, or any other factor. The Linguistic Society of America says, “Inclusive language acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities.”
Research has shown that stereotyped language can do harm. In contrast, more inclusive language can create positive change (for example, more gender-neutral language can reduce bias). Inclusive language and images make content more accurate and ensure that it finds the widest possible audience.
Inclusive communication also supports the American Chemical Society’s core value of diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect and its strategic goal 5, “Embrace and advance inclusion in chemistry.”
The following guidelines may change over time, as language is always evolving, and what is acceptable phrasing today may not be in the future. ACS will alter language guidance as needed for accuracy, fairness, and respect for audiences. In addition, this guide does not cover all topics related to inclusive language. ACS will update it over time. When this guide conflicts with other style guides, ACS staff should follow this guide on matters of inclusive language and images.
This resource is available to all both at www.acs.org/inclusivityguide and in the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication. To give feedback on this guide, please email ISG@acs.org or use the Feedback button on this web page. Communicating inclusively is important to ACS, and staff and members should support each other in updating ACS materials over time. If you have suggestions for how to update content to follow these guidelines, please email email@example.com.
Please note that the guide will include examples of harmful terms, frames, and narratives. We do this to make everyone aware of what to avoid, but we recognize that these terms can be upsetting. Please engage with the content in a way that prioritizes your self-care.
Why should you use this guide?
Inclusive communication helps you. We all have implicit biases (sometimes referred to interchangeably as unconscious bias) and unchecked, these biases can appear in writing and images. The human brain is capable of change, and with awareness of those biases and purposeful work to overcome them, we can create environments that are truly inclusive of everyone.1
Inclusive communication is more accurate. Respecting the way that people want to be described—for example, by using their correct pronouns—makes communication more accurate.
Inclusive communication expands your reach. Being inclusive helps you reach a wider audience. When people feel respected and included in words and images, they are more likely to engage with the content.
Inclusive communication demonstrates a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect. Inclusive language and images support the American Chemical Society’s core value of diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect and its strategic goal to “promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect; identify and dismantle barriers to success; and create a welcoming and supportive environment so that all ACS members, employees, and volunteers can thrive.”
1. There is much peer-reviewed research, resources, and trainings on the topic of implicit bias. We recommend the National Institutes of Health Sociocultural Factors web page, the 2017 State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review from the Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, and a summary of studies on the existence of implicit bias for more information.
When should you use the guide?
These guidelines are intended to help users create content that is free of bias. Use this guide during the planning stages of your content so that you can incorporate an inclusivity mindset from the beginning and not have to redo work later to fix problematic language and images.
Apply these guidelines to all content, regardless of the topic, to avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes and attitudes linked to factors like race and ethnicity, sexuality, gender, health, and age. Even if you are knowledgeable about a topic or belong to the community that you are writing about or depicting in images, familiarize yourself with these guidelines because everyone has unconscious biases that could appear in content. In addition, this guide incorporates perspectives from advocacy and journalistic groups that may have identified ways to be inclusive that you were unaware of.
Use special care when covering communities and identities that have been historically marginalized and when communicating about experiences that you and your team have not lived. For example, pay careful attention if you are discussing health issues that arise from a condition that no one on your team has had, or challenges faced in lower-income regions when no one on your team has experienced poverty.
Examples of content that this style guide can assist with creating include the following:
- Program websites
- Promotional brochures or marketing materials
- Eligibility criteria for a grant or award
- Email campaigns
- Journal articles
How should you use the guide?
While all the guidelines could apply to your material, we recommend first searching the table of contents for the sections you think are most relevant to your topic. After familiarizing yourself with those guidelines, return to relevant sections as necessary to remind yourself of the recommendations. Use the guide’s table of contents and search function to find specific entries. For ACS staff, the Inclusivity Style Guide should take precedence over other style guides when it comes to inclusive language and images.
Each entry contains a recommendation. If you are unsure about why the guide makes a particular recommendation, read the background section, which explains the context and motivation behind each recommendation. In addition, most entries have one or more examples showing inclusive practices, and you can find more information in the related resources at the end of each topic area and linked throughout the guide.
This guide was written by people who live and work in the US. Some of the language guidelines may not apply in the same way for content developed outside the US. The principles in the “General guidelines” section regarding specificity and respect should still apply, however.
Because language is constantly evolving, the guide will be updated frequently. For this reason, we do not provide a downloadable option. The top tips for most topics are available as downloadable tip sheets.
What should you do if a question related to inclusive language and images isn't answered by the guide?
If your question isn’t answered in the guide, the basic principles included in the “General guidelines” section may provide the direction you need. You can also consult other style guides, guidance from advocacy organizations, and articles by social justice advocates. If you aren’t sure where to look, start with the resources linked throughout the guide. Also ask your colleagues to share their perspectives, and consider consulting a sensitivity reader.
If you are still unsure of the answer to your question or if there is a topic you believe should be added to the guide, contact us at ISG@acs.org or through the Feedback button on this page.
What if you disagree with something in the guide?
When this guide falls short of its goals—when it makes people feel excluded or hinders understanding—exceptions to the guidelines may be made. If you think a guideline is out of date or requires more context, please email ISG@acs.org or click the Feedback button on this page.
How do you give feedback about the guide?
Email ISG@acs.org or click the Feedback button on this page. All feedback will be taken seriously and carefully considered. The guide will be updated as needed to incorporate new and revised information.