In academic writing, it is important to avoid using language that can be seen as biased. Bias happens when writers choose language that is either not specific or not sensitive to labels. Section 5 of the APA Manual covers the many ways that bias can appear in writing and how to avoid those. This overview can help academic writers understand how to avoid bias.
Use Third Person Point of ViewWhen writers use first person plural pronouns like we, us, and our, these words assume that the reader has the same experience or viewpoint as the writer. As this is not always the case, it is better to use third person pronouns.
- Example of bias: We find that these laws interfere with control in the classroom.
- Correct revision: Teachers find that these laws interfere with control in the classroom.
Choose Words Carefully When Making ComparisonsA writer might want to compare two things in writing. However, the words used to compare groups, people, companies, or ideas can create a bias if the words reveal the writer’s personal feelings. Words like bad present the writer’s feelings about the topic. Similarly, using a word like normal to describe something suggests that other things are abnormal, which is a biased opinion.
- Example of bias: Waxler Corporation, which is better than Anderson Inc., shares profits with employees.
- Correct revision: Waxler Corporation shares profits with its employees, which is a benefit not present in Anderson Inc.
Be Specific When Writing About PeopleOften, academic writing requires writers to describe people. When writing about people, it is important to be as specific as possible. For example, refer to people by their specific age (or age range) vs. using a term like elderly or senior. The same is true when describing people’s cultures and ethnicities. The standard is to be as specific as possible.
- Example of bias: After using the medicine, Asian children showed a 25% decrease in disease.
- Correct revision: After using the medicine, Filipino children showed a 25% decrease in disease.
Use People First LanguageSometimes writers refer to people using adjectives instead of nouns. For example, someone might write “the disabled person” which uses the word disabled to describe the person. This is problematic because it reduces the person to that single trait. People should be referred to first, and then the descriptor should come after as part of a complete noun phrase. Instead of diasbled person, writers should use the person with a disability. The tip is to remember to always name the person first.
- Example of bias: The special education student scored 10 points higher.
- Correct revision: The student in a special education program scored 10 points higher.
Use Gender Neutral PhrasesThere are many common phrases and words that use the word man. For example, mankind, manpower, and man a project. Instead of these words, try to use alternative language. For example, people, workforce, and staff a project.
- Example of bias: The chairman disagreed.
- Correct revision: The board member disagreed.
Use Inclusive or Preferred Personal Pronouns
The use of personal pronouns other than he/she is a currently evolving conversation in the linguistic community, among other communities. When known, use a person's preferred personal pronoun of he, she, they, ze, or another preferred personal pronoun.Using inclusive personal pronouns such as they/their, ze/hir, or ze/zir can help identify a person without assuming a gender. Rather than assume a person's gender, you can use an inclusive personal pronoun instead of he/his or she/her, which assume binary gender identification only. While the pronouns they/their have historically been plural only, it is grammatically acceptable to use them as singular pronouns.
- Example of bias: The student was encouraged to submit her assignment electronically.
- Correct revision: The student was encouraged to submit their assignment electronically. The student was encouraged to submit hir assignment. The student was encouraged to submit zir assignment.
- Other examples using preferred inclusive personal pronouns: Ze is waiting. I'm waiting on hir [or zir].
Check for Gender AssumptionsWriters often use pronouns, like he or she to avoid referring to people by name over and over in writing. However, sometimes a writer may refer to unnamed people or groups of people using these pronouns. When this is the case, academic writers have to ensure they are not presenting a bias by assuming the gender of people. For example, when writing about teachers, a writer may find him or herself referring to a teacher as she without knowing the gender of the teacher. To avoid this, either vary the gender used to refer to people or avoid gendered pronouns.
- Example of bias: In her classroom, the teacher must have a management plan.
- Correct revision: In the classroom, the teacher must have a management plan.