Writing for everyone in 2021: 4 moves to make your healthcare content more inclusive
Pick up thoughtful and timely tips for making your healthcare content more inclusive. Often there's both a simple and sensitive solution that works for everyone.
Language is always changing. Keeping that in mind can help you craft marketing messages that include everyone. When you use inclusive language, your communications are welcoming and respectful of your diverse audience.
You’re probably already trying to be inclusive with your language, like not saying “man-made” parts when writing about joint-replacement surgery. But could you be doing more? Even the most well-meaning writers can slip into outdated or possibly offensive words. For example, you might make that mistake with gendered pronouns.
To help avoid a few pitfalls, read on.
4 ideas for inclusivity
Blanket assumptions about gender identity, race and ethnicity, age, body type, and socioeconomic circumstances can marginalize your readers.
Here are a four tips to help you create content that is more inclusive today.
- Gender and sex: Consider what’s relevant (and watch your pronouns!).
Sometimes it’s what you don’t say that matters. For example, we often see “men and women” as a synonym for “all adults.” But this assumes all of your readers identify with either of these gender terms. A simple solution to be more inclusive here is to a gender-neutral approach. You could write “adults,” “people” or “everyone.” Or, in more conversational writing, “folks” works too.
You can also use this strategy when specifically addressing female and male health concerns. When writing about any condition associated with the reproductive system, opt for “people” more often than “men” or “women.” For example, in your marketing materials, you might refer to, “people with a cervix” or “people with a prostate gland.” Why? It’s a consideration for nonbinary and transgender folks who also need these types of health services.
That’s not to say that terms like “women’s services” or “men’s health” are taboo. Not at all. Just be mindful of whom you’re speaking to and why.
Another modern move: Embrace the singular “they,” especially when the gender of the person being discussed is unknown. “Ask your provider. They can give you more options” reads just as well as “….He or she can give you more options.” It also lets you avoid awkward “he” or “she” and “his” or “her” repetitions. What’s more, “they” has some serious endorsements. It’s a choice backed up by the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style.
- Think relevance with race and ethnicity.
Don’t mention race or ethnicity unless there is a concrete reason for doing so—and make sure that reason is clear to readers. For instance, race or ethnicity may be relevant when discussing certain health screening recommendations.
And while we’re on this important topic: While some health problems may seem to be a bigger problem for certain demographics, they may actually have a social cause. As the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion notes, social determinants (including discrimination and racism), can make people less healthy. For example, living in a racist society is bad for black people’s blood pressure. In this instance, avoid taking the stance that black people are naturally more prone to high blood pressure. Focus on content that’s helpful to your readers instead of on assumptions, generalizations and statements that may infer blame.
- Don’t be an accidental ageist.
Adages like “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and “senior moment” play into stereotypes that older people are unhealthy or in mental decline. Avoid these and similar turns of phrases. Instead, use language that assumes the opposite and allows for a full range of humanity.
Be wary of biased statements about young people, too. Don’t use language that implies young people are naïve, selfish or thoughtless. When in doubt, assume the best. For example, young people are increasingly interested in wellness. And more than previous generations, they expect organizations to be inclusive in their language, including avoiding ideas that are dated, such as assumptions about gender roles and traditional families. And both millennials and Gen Zers—those born starting in the late 1990s—are more likely than older groups to embrace gender-neutral pronouns.
- Speak to all bodies.
Creating content that addresses weight issues? Avoid wording that assumes anything about someone’s health, lifestyles or emotions. In addition, avoid wording that implies ableism, which defines disabled people by their disability or assumes they require “fixing”.
Here’s the thing about weight issues: Excess weight is a risk factor for health problems, but it’s not a guarantee that they will happen. It’s possible for overweight people to have healthy blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, an exercise routine, and plenty of energy. Avoid stating that extra pounds make someone unhealthy or unhappy by default. Instead, focus on healthy habits that are good for everyone, like nutrition and fitness. That’s a positive message—more inclusive and, ultimately, more helpful.
And be aware that stigma and shame can be just as harmful to health as extra weight, if not more so.
Put it into practice
Language is alive and always changing. That’s why your best tool is often the human eye. Read your own words with an eye for bias. Have someone else read them. Take note of unqualified facts, blanket statements and value judgements about personal health. Meeting people where they are, with plenty of compassion and empathy, ups the chances your message will be heard.
A custom style guide for your organization can be a great tool for keeping communication consistent and sensitive. Besides the tips mentioned above, the Conscious Style Guide offers timely information on inclusive language that may be helpful in developing your own guidelines.