We often think of formal academic writing as neutral and objective. But there are complex issues about how we refer to scholars, groups and individuals in-text. 

For example, APA 7th has been released, and with it an updated and expanded section about bias-free language. The style guide joins MLA in endorsing gender-inclusive language, including the use of singular ‘they’


What does this mean and why is it important?

Using ‘they’ when citing a scholar whose pronouns you’re unsure of means that it is easier to avoid making assumptions about their gender. 

You can also use ‘they’ to avoid implying that there are only two genders, and erasing non-binary and gender diverse folks.

For example, instead of writing:

A doctor must use his or her best judgement

You can write:

A doctor must use their best judgement  

There are other gendered terms to avoid in your writing. Instead of using ‘businessman’ and ‘mankind’, try alternatives like ‘business executive’ and ‘humanity’. 


What else is involved in inclusive academic writing?

Bias-free academic writing does go beyond gendered language. The new APA 7th provides phrasing that avoids harmful stereotypes relating to socioeconomic status, age, racial and ethnic identity, sexual orientation, and disability. When you’re writing, think about what biases you may be confirming and make a conscious effort to revise your language to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes or making generalisations.


Want to know more about how you can make your citing and writing practices inclusive? 

This year, Monash Library is celebrating Diversity and Inclusion Week by hosting an interdisciplinary expert panel discussion that will explore political and ethical citation practices, and how citations can reinforce inequities.

Event details
Date: Thursday, 17 September
Time: 3 – 4pm
Register here to attend the Zoom session


Authors: Anna Stokes is a Subject Librarian and Lenise Prater is a Learning Skills Adviser at Peninsula Library.