The international guide to gender-inclusive writing

From the content designers at the Gender-Inclusive Language Project:

Contents

Introduction

Hello Content Designers, UX Designers, Product Managers, Localization people, and anyone on a product team. When it’s time to write for your products, refer to this guide for suggested best practices around using gender-inclusive language to ensure that all people feel welcome and acknowledged in your experiences.

Questions to guide gender-neutral writing

Before you start creating content for your product, ask yourself (and your team) these questions to help guide content creation that is inclusive for all types of users.

  1. Is mentioning or requesting biological sex or gender absolutely necessary for the product? (Like it might be for medical apps, dating apps, or matrimonial apps.)
  2. Does your product address users in an appropriate way without causing offense or hurting their beliefs?
  3. Have you used Male, Female, Mr., Ms., or Mrs. to refer to your users? Would they feel respected with these titles—or boxed in? Could they be removed?
  4. Are your forms and error messages genderless to include all users? For example, does your product use gender-inclusive language for input validation errors?

Here’s an example of using unnecessarily gendered language:

Label: Enter your name
Hint text: Mr. Manish or Ms. Priya

Always imagine a very diverse group of users for your products and work to include everyone. Think “How would they prefer to identify themselves?” Avoid excluding people.

How to write for forms

Data-collection forms exist in almost all apps and websites, so it makes sense that we’d work extra hard to make sure our forms are gender-accommodating. Here are our recommendations.

Don’t mix sex and gender

The World Health Organization summarizes the difference between sex and gender in the following way:

Sex refers to “the different biological and physiological characteristics of males and females, such as reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormones, etc.”

Gender refers to “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed. The concept of gender includes five important elements: relational, hierarchical, historical, contextual and institutional.

While most people are born either male or female, they are taught appropriate norms and behaviors – including how they should interact with others of the same or opposite sex within households, communities and workplaces. When individuals or groups do not “fit” established gender norms they often face stigma, discriminatory practices or social exclusion – all of which adversely affect health.” Read more from the Council of Europe.

Explain why you’re asking for details

There are plenty of reasons to ask users to identify their sex or their gender. Medical apps, census apps, therapy apps, or even political apps might be justified in asking users to self-identify for the appropriate collection of data. Our guidance is to make sure that the gender-based data collection benefits the users themselves.

If you’re having trouble articulating why you need this data, consider removing the question altogether.

Include non-binary options in your lists

Accommodate all users by including at least one non-binary option in your selection list. Avoid using the term “Other” because that sounds (and probably feels) alienating.

Allow users to add a custom gender

Let your users decide how they should be addressed. If your product team supports adding custom terms, consider building the most common options into your app’s selection list.

Allow users not to choose

Do you really need to know someone’s sex or gender? If not, consider making the question optional—or removing it.

Include all forms of families

When asking for family members’ details, include all forms of families

Accommodate all users by acknowledging the varied forms, shapes, roles, and unique circumstances that “families” represent.

  • Make sure your inputs accept two parents of the same gender.
  • Consider all the forms of guardians that exist for children: grandparents, aunts or uncles, foster parents, or step-families that include 4 adults who can respond if a child needs help.

Terms like “caregiver” or even just “primary contact” for a child’s guardian are neutral examples from English.

Next, we’ll cover techniques for writing in gender-neutral or gender-inclusive formats.

Use writing forms that exist now​

Many gendered languages already have solutions to incorporate into your writing. Here are examples.

Choose neutral words

English

correct People, team members 

The user must confirm their profile details before logging in. (neutral possessive pronoun “their” in line with the neutral pronoun “they”)” instead of “The user must confirm his profile details before logging in.” 

German:

incorrectArbeiter, Kollege, Manager, Partner, Ansprechpartner

correctArbeitskräfte, Team-Mitglied, Management, Gegenüber, Publikum und ganz generell Leute, Personen, Menschen

Russian

incorrect уполномоченный[-ая], руководители

correct уполномоченное лицо, руководство

Hebrew: 

incorrect מורות, רופאים ואחיות, משרת אם

correct סגל ההוראה, צוותי רפואה, משרת הורה

Hindi

लोगों को जेंडर न्यूट्रल तरीके से संबोधित करें:

incorrect पुरुष और महिला

correct   वह, वे, उन्हें, उनके और उनकी

Portuguese:

<incorrectNossos usuários; Mantenha-se atualizado

correct As pessoas usuárias; Continue se atualizando 

Romanian

correct persoană/persoane, lume, echipă, grup, comunitate, audiență, public sau alte substantive colective care se potrivesc în context.

Italian:

correct Persona, individuo, popolo, membro, contatto, team, personale, comunità, corpo, gruppo

Choose words that are the same for all genders

Choose words that are written in the same way for all genders but can be read in both male and female forms. Spoken language rules might be different, so these suggestions might not work for voice interfaces (VUI/VUX/CD).

Hebrew

correct רוצה, נרשמת, בשבילך, אותך, שלך, תרומתך, שכחת

German:

incorrectStudent, Partner

correctStudierende, Mitwirkende

Russian: 

incorrect ученики и ученицы, учителя и учительницы, читатели

correct учащиеся, обучающие, читающие

Hindi: 

ऐप में लिंग फ़िल्टर के उदाहरण:

incorrect पुरुष, महिला, लड़के, लड़कियां

correct सबके लिए, सभी के लिए

Romanian: 

correct tu, dumneavoastră, noi, voi

Portuguese:

incorrect Nossos clientes; os diretores; os funcionários

correct Clientes da empresa; a diretoria; as pessoas que trabalham na empresa

Italian: 

correct partner, utente, cliente, rappresentante, presidente, docente
(as long as the grammatical gender is not marked by an article or a preposition)

Change to a neutral person or an impersonal construction—as if the user is referring to themselves

Hebrew: 

incorrect הצטרף, הירשם לעדכונים, התחל, אני מאשר, האם תרצה

correct צרפו אותי, שלחו לי עדכונים, נתחיל, קראתי ואישרתי, אשמח

English

Write in a style that addresses users directly using the pronoun “you.” This is also called “second person.”

incorrectThe user must confirm his profile details before logging in.” 

correct “Please confirm your profile details before logging in.”

German:

incorrect“Mit Absenden des Formulars, bestätigt der Nutzer die Richtigkeit seiner Profilinformationen.”

correct“Bitte bestätigen Sie Ihre Profilinformationen.”

Russian

incorrect Первое, что видит пользователь, когда он заходит на сайт…

correct Первое, что видно при входе на сайт…

Hindi:

लेंगिक भाषा से परहेज़ करें:

incorrect दूसरों को दिखाएँ कि आप कितने हैंडसम दिखते हैं|

correct चित्र जोड़ें और दिखाएँ कि आप कैसे दिखते हैं|

Romanian

correct “Contul tău” în loc de “Contul tău de utilizator”

correct “Creează un cont nou” în loc de “Devino clientul nostru”

correct “Profil profesional” în loc de “Profil de candidat”

Portuguese

incorrect “O usuário precisa confirmar os dados do perfil antes de se conectar”

correct “Por favor, confirme seus dados de perfil antes de se conectar.”

Italian

incorrectIl cliente deve confermare i propri dati di fatturazione per proseguire.

correct Per proseguire è necessario confermare i propri dati di fatturazione.

correct Conferma i tuoi dati di fatturazione per proseguire.

Change to a neutral plural form

English:

incorrect “The user must confirm his profile details before logging in.” 

correct “Users must confirm their profile details before logging in.” 

correct “Every user must confirm their profile details before logging in.” 

Hindi:

एरर संदेश के लिये लिंग वाले उदाहरण ना दे:

incorrect अपना नाम दर्ज करें (उदाहरण: सुश्री प्रिया/श्रीमान मनीष)

correct कृपया अपना नाम यहां दर्ज करें

German:

incorrect“Der Angeklagte hat das letzte Wort.”

correct“Angeklagte haben das letzte Wort.”

Use infinitives

Hebrew 

incorrect היכנס/הירשם, הזמן תור, ערוך, סגור, אשר, הוסף כרטיס, שנה סכום

correct כניסה/הרשמה, זימון תור, עריכה, סגירה, אישור, הוספת כרטיס, שינוי סכום

Russian

incorrect Удалить сообщение? [Нет, я передумал]

correct Удалить сообщение? [Нет, оставить]

Find a bypass and rephrase

When you reconsider your word choice, you can often come up with a gender-neutral phrase.

Hebrew 

incorrect משתמש חדש

correct פעם ראשונה באתר? 

German:

incorrect“Arzttermin”,  “Autofahrer”, “Öffentlichkeit” statt “Bürger”

correct“Behandlungstermin”, “Personen am Steuer”, “Bevölkerung” oder “Öffentlichkeit”

Russian

incorrect Ты получил(а) сообщение

correct Тебе пришло сообщение

Romanian

correct “Căutăm o persoană cu experiență” în loc de “Căutăm un profesionist”

correct “Echipa noastră” în loc de “Colegii/ angajații noștri”

correct “Oferte speciale pentru afacerea ta” în loc de “Oferte speciale pentru antreprenori”

correct “Lumea prezentă la concert” în loc de “Fanii prezenți la concert”, 

Portuguese:

incorrectVocê está pronto?; Ficou interessado?; Mantenha-se atualizado

correct Você é uma pessoa pronta para?; Tem interesse? / Interessou-se?; Continue se atualizando

Italian:

incorrect Grazie per esserti registrato alla newsletter

correct Grazie! Presto inizierai a ricevere la nostra newsletter

incorrect Benvenuto

correct Ti diamo il benvenuto

Talk about the action instead of the noun

German:

incorrect “Benutzer”, “Bewerber”, “Die Demonstranten”, “Der Gewinner ist Kim.”

correct “Diejenigen, die die App nutzen”, “Wer sich bewirbt…”, “Alle, die hier demonstrieren”, “Gewonnen hat Kim”, oder “Den ersten Platz macht Kim”

Russian:

incorrect пользователи приложения, читателей

correct люди, пользующиеся приложением; читающих / Читают:

Romanian

“X a câștigat” în loc de “X este câștigător”

“Persoanele care folosesc aplicația” în loc de “Utilizatorii”

Use people’s names when addressing them

German:

incorrect “Hallo Herr Müller”

correct  “Hallo Kim”; “Guten Tag Maxi Müller”

Russian:

incorrect Уважаемый(-ая) Мария!

correct Здравствуйте, Мария!

Hindi:

 नमस्ते! मनीष, नमस्ते! प्रिया

Romanian: 

“Dragă Ana” în loc de “Dragă abonat”

Italian:

incorrect Gentile abbonato

incorrect Gentile sig. [name]

correct Gentile [name]

correct Ciao, [name]

Use passive voice when appropriate

Hebrew 

incorrect איקס שיתף/שיתפה את המצגת

correct המצגת שותפה על ידי איקס 

English

correct “Confirmation of your profile details is necessary before login.” 

incorrect “The user must confirm his profile details before logging in.”

German:

incorrect “Der Antragsteller muss den Antrag doppelt einreichen.”, “Teilnehmergebühr“

correct “Der Antrag ist in zweifacher Ausfertigung einzureichen”, Teilnahmegebühr“

Russian

incorrect Ты обновил(а) способ оплаты

correct Способ оплаты обновлен

Italian

incorrect I candidati devono presentare la domanda tramite questo modulo

correct La domanda deve essere presentata tramite questo modulo

Use present tense

Russian

incorrect [Мария] начал(а) отслеживать ваши обновления

correct [Мария] теперь отслеживает ваши обновления

Write it twice, in both forms

If possible, avoid these forms unless it’s your only option because they are long and heavy, and they reinforce binary thinking.

Hebrew 

incorrect נהג, מנהל, מורות, רופאים

correct נהג או נהגת, מנהל או מנהלת, מורים ומורות, רופאים ורופאות

German:

incorrect “Schüler”

possible use “Schülerinnen und Schüler” 

Please note: this version is not inclusive as it highlights a binary gender system. Other options are preferred.

Romanian

Pacienți și paciente, candidați și candidate, studenți și studente, cetățeni și cetățene

Italian

incorrect L’aggiornamento interessa tutti gli abbonati al piano Premium

correct L’aggiornamento interessa tutti gli abbonati e le abbonate al piano Prem


Language innovation

These are not tools used within the language, nor are they technological solutions. For this approach, it’s all about changing the language at the source.

Write both suffixes separated with a special character

Write using the gendering letters of both feminine and masculine forms and separate them with a period (.), asterisk (*), slash (/), colon (:), parentheses () or pipe character (|).

Hebrew

incorrect מטפלים, משתמש, תורם

correct מטפלים.ות, משתמש/ת, תורם-ת

German:

incorrect“Schüler”

possible use“Schüler/innen”; “SchülerInnen” (Please note: the notation with a slash (/) or a medial capital “I” are not inclusive as they highlight a binary gender system.)

correct“Schüler*innen”; “Schüler_innen”; “Schüler:innen”

The asterisk (*), underscore (_), and colon (:) are used to visibly include all genders within the spectrum. Read more on Wikipedia.

Russian:

incorrect блогер, дизайнер, студент, друзья, читатель, актер

correct блогер_ка, дизайнер_ка, студент_ка, по_дру_зья, читатель*ница, актр*иса (these forms are not generally accepted in Russian)

Romanian:

correct client(ă), candidat(ă), student(ă)

Portuguese:

incorrectUsuário, Produtor; Você está preparado?

correct Usuário(a); Produtor(a); Você está preparado(a)?

Italian:

incorrect Amico, Abbonato, Socio

possible use Amico/a, Abbonato/a, Socio/a

Write both suffixes with no separation

Consider writing the feminine and masculine suffixes one after the other, with no separation.

Hebrew

incorrect כולם יודעים, שווים

correct כולםן יודעיםות, שוויםות

Portuguese:

incorrectUsuário; :canditado.

correct Usuário ou usuária; candidato ou candidata.

Invent a new set of words, letters, or characters (neologisms)

These new words can be read both in masculine and feminine form, leaving it up to the readers to decide.

English:

  • Hir (a rare, but fully neutral pronoun)
  • Latinx (the “x” replaces “a” or “o” to make it neutral)

Italian:

  • ragazz@
  • ragazz*

Hebrew:

Portuguese:

  • Usuári@
  • Amig@

Cut the word

Consider cutting the word at its gendered ending to omit it completely.

German:

incorrect  “Schüler und Lehrer”

correct  “Schülis und Lehris” (Read more about the “Gender-i”)

Add a new neutral ending

Russian:

incorrect  Насколько вы грамотный?

correct  Насколько вы грамотны?

Portuguese:

The ə letter (schwa) is not accessible to screen readers, so the solution is less than ideal.

Usuárie; Elx; Elxs, Amigue; Você está preparadə?

Italian:

incorrect Bentornato

correct Bentornatə

The ə is not officially accepted—it’s just a proposal in a very harsh debate since Italian language has no neutral.

Also, like Portuguese, the ə letter (schwa) is not accessible to screen readers, so the solution is less than ideal.

Use a plural verb for singular nouns or pronouns

Russian:

incorrectЯ не получил(а); [Мария] поделился(-лась) публикацией

correct Я не получили; [Мария] поделились публикациеthe w

Technological solutions

Use a customer-determined variable

Ask your users at sign up or at the beginning of the session how they would like to be addressed.

Use variables to split the interface into two (or more) user views, in the male or female form (and in a neutral form, if you have one in your language). Then display all gender-related terms using the applicable user gender.

Replace gendered terms programmatically

  • The industry is currently faced with major {manpower} shortages.
  • The industry is currently faced with major {personnel} shortages.

A rewrite is generally always better than trying to force a word replacement fit.

  • There are currently not enough workers for the industry.
  • Not enough people are working in the industry.
  • Companies struggle to fill open positions.

Conclusion

We hope this guide has led to some insights about how to design gender-inclusive experiences in your language. This guide is a work-in-progress open to contributions from you. If you’d like to contribute, please reach out to Kinneret Yifrah (kinnerety@gmail.com) or Bobbie Wood (bobbie@uxcontent.com). Thanks for reading!

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