Gender Sensitive Language in Academic Writing

Both in oral communication and correspondence, English-speaking people have been traditionally taught that a usage of masculine nouns and pronouns is preferable for indicating the subject(s) whose gender is variable or unclear, or when a group consists of
representatives of both sexes. However, over the last century, women have become involved in public life so actively that the way gender relationships and identities are expressed was reconsidered. Because both men and women deserve social equality and rights, we should be careful with the words we use. This is especially true of nouns and pronouns.

Guidelines on How to Use Gender Sensitive Nouns

  • 1. When writing a letter, you often do not know who the recipient is: male or female. To avoid any confusion, you may write
    “To Whom it May Concern,” but this impersonal appeal is not always appropriate for business correspondence. So, it is better to use
    “Dear Sir/Madam,” “Dear Service Representative,” or “Dear Editor.”
  • 2. In informal writing, be careful with the expression “you guys” because it is gendered male. Instead, use “my friends” to ‘refer to a group that consists of both men and women.
  • 3. Use the contractions “Mr.,” “Miss,” and “Mrs.” correctly. You can write “Mr.” to refer to any man, whether he is married or single.
    As to appeal to women, you should use “Mrs.” to refer to a married woman, while “Ms.” does not indicate marital status.
  • 4. When you are writing about two or more people with the same last name, you should use his or her full name every time you refer to this person.
  • 5. Refer to women as to men by their full titles.

Tips on How to Use Gendered Pronouns

According to current linguistic and social norms, you can not substitute sex-neutral third-person singular nouns (“a teacher,”
“the politician”, or “someone”) with a pronoun “he” as it was earlier. In situations when the referent can be both male and female, you should:

  1. Use “they”
    Even if the reference is singular, you should substitute it with a plural pronoun “they.” For example: If a teacher wants to
    know about new trends in teaching methodology, they should take refresher courses.
  2. Use he or she or he/she
    This option is still used, but it gradually became obsolete and is increasingly being replaced by “they.” For example:
    A real teacher is the one who teaches students to think rather than memorize mechanically. He or she should be a mentor and supporter.
  3. Alternate genders and pronouns
    This option is used rarely and mainly in hypothetical situations. For example, training and courses are useful for
    both male and female teachers. So, you can write: “Every teacher should be an active participant in educational trainings and courses. He should ask questions.
    She is supposed to participate in the discussion.”
  4. Eliminate a pronoun altogether
    For example: Stanley Davidson is a dedicated teacher. This author of many scholarly monographs remains with the students
    after classes to explain material in detail.

Helpful Vocabulary for Alternatives to Gendered Nouns

Gendered Noun Gender-Neutral Noun
chairman chair person, chair, coordinator
congressman congress person, representative, legislator
freshman first-year student
mailman postal worker, mail carrier, letter carrier
man person, individual
mankind people, humanity, human beings
man-made machine-made, synthetic
steward, stewardess flight attendant
the common man the average person, the ordinary person
to man to operate, to staff, to cover

When writing a letter, you should avoid gender-biased nouns and pronouns and replace them by gender-neutral ones. You have to know in advance who
your receiver is: male or female. This will help you to avoid confusion.