Inclusive
Language Guide

NC State strives to foster an environment that welcomes, includes and empowers every member of the Wolfpack. Follow the guidelines on this page to help make sure your writing supports this strategic goal.

Championing Diversity

As our university, state and nation become increasingly more diverse, it is more important than ever to communicate inclusively. Inclusiveness in our words and imagery conveys respect for others and enables people to work together effectively without causing misunderstanding or conflict that could hinder our work to fulfill a common mission. Inclusiveness helps us attract and retain students and employees who seek environments where they are valued, enhancing our ability to build the best and brightest Wolfpack. In addition, NC State’s strategic plan — Wolfpack 2030: Powering the Extraordinary — commits us to championing a culture of equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging and well-being in all we do.

Communicators have the power to shape perception and serve as catalysts for improving their organizations. Words and images have the power to either perpetuate wrongs or advance equity and inclusion. Small communication choices can have a great impact. In the following sections, we provide guidance to help NC State’s communicators ensure they are being as inclusive as possible.

NC State’s editorial style is based on The Associated Press Stylebook, with exceptions and additions as noted in NC State’s editorial guidelines. When this style guide conflicts with AP style, follow this guide. To resolve questions of spelling, AP recommends using Webster’s New World College Dictionary. We give key recommendations from AP interspersed with guidelines specific to NC State.

 

Guiding Philosophy

Language is constantly evolving, which makes it challenging to keep up with the details of communicating to and about different groups of people. A perspective rooted in cultural humility helps. Cultural humility is a framework based on the premises that everyone has a distinct perspective, and everyone’s perspective matters. Other components of cultural humility include a lifelong commitment to self-evaluation, a commitment to rectifying power imbalances and partnership with those who advocate for others (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998).

Above all, cultural humility assumes a position of readiness to learn about difference and openness to the constant possibility of being more inclusive.

As a practice rooted in cultural humility, consider including statements such as the following in your messaging:

At NC State, we strive to be a welcoming and inclusive environment, where everyone’s perspective matters. Please let us know if you have suggestions for how we can improve our communications.
We welcome your comments to help us embrace the diversity of our audiences. Let us know if we can do better.

 

Topics

Representation

Acknowledging that we are a society of many different groups that don’t always receive equal treatment helps frame the way we communicate. As you create messaging, imagine diverse individuals reading or viewing it. Do they see themselves reflected as more than a token presence? Regularly check your work to see if you’ve represented multiple audiences within it.

  • When creating content, consider whether the names, voices, descriptions, images and experiences you are depicting represent a diverse cross-section of society. Regularly include a variety of identities and experiences in your work, and create opportunities to feature underrepresented identities.
  • Consider who you might be inadvertently excluding or alienating, for example, by assuming a single perspective, such as a specific religious holiday. When possible, reframe your language to encompass multiple perspectives.
  • Those who create visual images should keep in mind that diversity encompasses many facets, some of which are only noticeable in subtle ways. Creativity may be required to construct rarer scenarios that accurately depict the richness of our community.
  • Don’t overdo it. Authenticity is critical. Overinclusion or misrepresentation can be misleading and turn inclusion into exploitation.

People-First Language

Identities are multifaceted, and individuals may identify in diverse or complex ways. It is important to keep this in mind to avoid reducing anyone to a single identity or group. Avoid oversimplification, stereotyping and generalizations when referring to individuals or any group of people.

When possible, refer to a person before their descriptor. For example, “person with a disability” is preferable to “disabled person”; “person experiencing depression” is preferable to “depressed person” or “mentally ill person”; and “uses a wheelchair” is preferable to any descriptor that places the characteristic before the person.

Writing About Diverse Communities

Be careful when using culturally specific descriptions, quotations or phrases with which you’re not familiar. When you’re working with this kind of material, start by doing research to learn as much as you can about the topic, culture or person you’re writing about. Context is key, and authenticity is important. Always be respectful in tone, and consult a knowledgeable reviewer if you need help.

Diversity should be woven into your content throughout the year, not just during specific events or history months for various groups.

Pay close attention to preferred terms for a given group, such as “Native American,” “American Indian,” “Indigenous” or “First Nations” rather than “Indian.” The AP Stylebook’s entry on race-related coverage provides helpful guidance on this topic.

Sensitivity to Historical Harms

Many common sayings have problematic origins. It’s impossible to know all of them, so in general, it’s best to use straightforward wording and avoid idiomatic language. If you choose to use an idiom or common saying, do an internet search first to learn more about the term’s origins, and don’t use it if it’s based on a historical injustice.

Gender Diversity and Pronouns

Cultural norms and legal protections for LGBTQ+ people have changed quickly over the past few decades, and communicators must keep up with the changes to be current and correct. In 2019, Merriam-Webster added the singular “they” to the dictionary. Inclusive organizations may now indicate persons’ gender pronouns after their names, e.g., “Chris Smith (he/him)” or “Sam Jones (they/them).” When writing a story about an individual, it’s good practice to ask the individual their preferred pronouns or to volunteer your own during the interview.

At NC State, we support the use of the singular “they” when referring to individuals who use this pronoun. We also support the use and display of personal pronouns on all communication media. Individuals may choose whether to use and indicate specific pronouns for themselves while supporting those who choose to use or indicate their pronouns.

Do you have a question or suggestion?

Please contact NCStateBrand@ncsu.edu if you have questions or suggestions about this guide.