The world has become a global village. Walls of difference that previously separated us have now become connecting bridges to help us reach out and communicate with one another. The world you create in your manuscript should reflect the diversity of the world we live in today. Using outdated words and expressions that completely override or deny the rights of certain people indicates a lack of awareness and sensitivity on your part. Other people will find this practice offensive, and it also reflects poorly on your own character and integrity.

Language evolves over time

Language is evolving all the time, so it’s important to stay up-to-date as the culture around us changes and evolves. This means using words that people would use to describe themselves, rather than referencing past labels or lumping certain groups together. For example, describing someone as ‘non-white’ tells readers who they are not, rather than who they are.

A generation ago, there were certain phrases you could have published without any fear of a negative reaction because the world had not yet progressed to our current level of consciousness of diversity and equality. These days, if you decide to incorporate old-fashioned idioms or stereotypes in your writing and use them in the same context as they previously were, it is very likely that you will receive a backlash. Furthermore doing this could possibly result in legal ramifications.

Your written (and also spoken) language should respect the rights and opinions of every group within the community. Of course, acknowledging someone’s opinion or belief does not necessarily mean that you agree with them. It simply signifies that you recognise their rights as individuals and that you expect the same treatment from them in return.

Avoid being judgemental in your writing

It is vital to avoid using language that is widely recognised as being sexist, racist or judgemental in any way in your written (or spoken) communication. It is not necessary to express yourself this way in order to get your point across. Using racist labels or derogatory words that malign someone based on their physical/mental abilities or sexual orientation is disrespectful and will attract negative attention to your narrative. Having said that, if you are writing fiction, you do have some artistic licence with regard to the language and behaviour of your characters (especially your antagonist). However, you should ensure you can justify this tactic as being essential to your story’s plot and characterisation.

Refer to style guides for best-practice advice

For more information about the use of inclusive language, I recommend you refer to such resources as the Australian Government Style Manual or the Chicago Manual of Style. For gender issues, the Conscious Style Guide and GLAAD Media Reference Guide are helpful resources, while for disability issues, the Disability Language Style Guide and People With Disabilities Australia (PWDA) Language Guide provide valuable guidance. You can also learn more from online forums and by consulting someone within the particular community you mention in your writing.