In November 2017, I was taken aback when I saw a C&EN headline that read, “Proteomics goes native.” As a science writer and editor with a PhD in biochemistry, I knew the article would be about an important advance in proteomics research. But as someone with roots in India, I understood the phrase “goes native” was derogatory to people of color who lived under colonialism. The headline caused hurt when the intention was lighthearted wordplay.
When I became the leader of the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect (DEIR) in spring 2021, the first thing I wanted the office to do was tap into the power of words. If the American Chemical Society was going to succeed with its strategic goal to embrace and advance inclusion in chemistry, we needed to start with language.
Enter the idea of creating an ACS Inclusivity Style Guide. I was inspired by the C&EN Style Guide, an internal document that I relied heavily on for inclusive language during my tenure at the magazine. Using the C&EN Style Guide as the framework, ACS launched the ACS Inclusivity Style Guide by the end of 2021. The free online resource was, and continues to be, created by a cross-functional team of writers, editors, web designers, and DEIR experts from across ACS.
The guide can be consulted to ensure you use welcoming language and images for everyone in your audience—whether you’re creating emails, memos, articles, surveys, or other types of materials. We have received feedback saying that the ACS Inclusivity Style Guide poses as the language police, but it is literally what it says it is: a guide.
The guide is regularly updated to respond in a timely fashion to evolutions in language. It focuses on US English, and I hope it inspires speakers of different languages to create similar resources. The whole ACS Inclusivity Style Guide can be found at www.acs.org/inclusivityguide.
Tip sheets, which accompany the guide, are being highlighted in C&EN in this special series. These tip sheets pull advice from evergreen portions of the guide. An introduction and two tip sheets will be available in this issue and the next five issues of C&EN. If you can’t wait that long for the full collection, you can find all the tip sheets in the “Related resources” section in the online guide.
The tip sheets in this installment focus on general language guidelines as well as inclusive narratives, frames, and sentence structures. You’ll learn how to avoid reducing people to one characteristic and find examples, including of active phrasing.
If you have feedback about the guide, please email ISG@acs.org. If you have suggestions for other types of resources that will help create an inclusive and welcoming environment for you and others around you, please email the Office of DEIR at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like what you’ve read? See the full guide and the most up-to-date tip sheets from the American Chemical Society at www.acs.org/inclusivityguide.
Visit the full guide periodically to ensure your language stays up to date. Periodic reviews for outdated language are especially important for those maintaining web pages.
Be as inclusive and collaborative as you can while creating content, particularly when writing for a broad audience. Do not rely on the same person every time a topic relating to a group they belong to arises.
Ask people how they want to be described, and respect that language. This includes the use of pronouns, the mention of racial or ethnic background, the use of honorifics or titles, and even the career role and spelling of someone’s name.
Mentioning a characteristic such as race for some people and not others can introduce bias. Mention personal information only when it is immediately relevant to the topic.
Avoid labeling people by a characteristic, and recognize that a particular characteristic does not define or describe a person as a whole.
✓ Use: older people
⦻ Avoid: the elderly
Avoid relying on a label for a large group of people when discussing only a subset of that group.
✓ Use: Black, Hispanic, and Asian students reacted positively.
⦻ Avoid: Students of color reacted positively.
The way people or issues are described can promote or disrupt stereotypes. Some elements of frames and narratives include the following:
Choose a sentence structure that names oppressors. Avoid wording that is more passive and abstract and that omits agents.
✓ Use: The university discriminated against her.
⦻ Avoid: She was discriminated against.
⦻ Avoid: Discrimination occurred at the university.
⦻ Avoid: There was discrimination at the university.
Recognize when an explicit or implied “we” refers to only a subset of people. Also notice when lists of identity groups might fail to acknowledge overlapping identities.
✓ Use: In 2020, White people in the US finally began to reckon with racism in the US.
⦻ Avoid: In 2020, we finally began to reckon with racism in the US.