Adapted from mailchimp’s guide under a CC-BY-NC-4.0 license.
We write the same way we live: with a person-first perspective. Whether you’re writing for an internal or external audience, it’s important to write for and about other people in a way that’s compassionate, inclusive, and respectful. Being aware of the impact of your language will help make Mailchimp a better place to work and a better steward of our values in the world. In this section we’ll lay out some guidelines for writing about people with compassion, and share some resources for further learning.
As part of an audience
- Don’t capitalize “audience” unless it’s grammatically necessary.
- Don’t refer to an audience as “it.” Audiences are made up of real people, so always use “they.”
- This goes for individuals, too. Individuals are real people, never pieces of data.
Don’t reference a person’s age unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing. If it is relevant, include the person’s specific age, offset by commas.
The CEO, 16, just got her driver’s license.
Don’t refer to people using age-related descriptors like “young,” “old,” or “elderly.”
When possible, highlight the spectrum of sensory, motors, cognitive, and other abilities, rather than drawing ableist distinctions with language.
Avoid disability-related idioms like “lame” or “falling on deaf ears.” Don’t refer to a person’s disability unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing. If you need to mention it, ask whether your subject prefers person-first language (“they have a disability”) or identity-first language (“they are disabled”).
When writing about a person with disabilities, don’t use the words “suffer,” “victim,” or “handicapped.” “Handicapped parking” is OK.
Gender and sexuality
Don’t call groups of people “guys.” Don’t call women “girls.”
Avoid gendered terms in favor of neutral alternatives, like “server” instead of “waitress” and “businessperson” instead of “businessman.”
It’s OK to use “they” as a singular pronoun.
Use the following words as modifiers, but never as nouns:
- transgender (never “transgendered”)
Don’t use these words in reference to LGBT people or communities:
Don’t use “same-sex” marriage, unless the distinction is relevant to what you’re writing. (Avoid “gay marriage.”) Otherwise, it’s just “marriage.”
When writing about a person, use their communicated pronouns. When in doubt, just ask or use their name.
Use “deaf” as an adjective to describe a person with significant hearing loss. You can also use “partially deaf” or “hard of hearing.”
Heritage and nationality
Don’t use hyphens when referring to someone with dual heritage or nationality. For example, use “Asian American” instead of “Asian-American.”
Don’t refer to a person’s medical condition unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing.
If a reference to a person’s medical condition is warranted, use the same rules as writing about people with physical disabilities and emphasize the person first. Don’t call a person with a medical condition a “victim.”
Mental and cognitive conditions
Don’t refer to a person’s mental or cognitive condition unless it’s relevant to what you’re writing. Never assume that someone has a medical, mental, or cognitive condition.
Don’t describe a person as “mentally ill.” If a reference to a person’s mental or cognitive condition is warranted, use the same rules as writing about people with physical disabilities or medical conditions and emphasize the person first.
Use the adjective “blind” to describe a person who is unable to see. Use “low vision” to describe a person with limited vision.