UU Inclusive Teaching Toolbox

Inclusive language in learning materials

There may be certain connotations or bias in language used in your course’s learning materials that may be offensive or hurtful to students. Therefore, it is important to attempt to be as inclusive as possible in this. This can be done by using language which is free from words, phrases or tones that demean, insult, or exclude students because of their background. By using inclusive language, you can make your students feel included, valued, and empowered. However, to apply inclusive language in your learning materials, it is essential to know what language to use in which situation. In this section, we will give suggestions on how to do this. 


General principles when using inclusive language 

  1. Only describe a person’s background (e.g., gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability) if it is important for the context.  
  2. Avoid using words that have negative connotations. For instance, some words are seen as derogatory and hurtful and should thus not be used.  
  3. When in doubt, ask the individual which linguistic terms they prefer. Do not make assumptions.  
  4. You may want to consider using person first/people centric language in which people are not defined by a disability or other characteristic but instead this is mentioned as a part of who they are. For example, some people may have difficulty with the expression ‘disabled person’ as this implies that the person is defined by their disability, whereas ‘a person with a disability’ describes this as a person’s characteristic. 
  5. You may want to avoid language which makes generalized assumptions about people. For instance, using the word chairman makes the assumptions that a chair can only be a man.   
  6. First generation students or students for whom the language in which you teach is not the first language may have difficulty with jargon-heavy texts. Consider which academic jargon is fitting with your audience and provide background reading if particular terms may be unknown by part of your students. 

Should you find language that is not inclusive in your learning material, you may take the following actions: 

  • For material created by you and your colleagues: make sure to attempt to use terms that are respectful and understandable  
  • For material created by third parties: check if non-inclusive language is used. If these materials contain any derogatory terms, you may want to discuss with students that use of these terms is not preferred. Another option is to leave out the material and replace it with other material. 

The American Psychological Association provides some examples of how to improve inclusive language use in your learning material: American Psychological Association. (2021). Inclusive language guidelines   

We recommend you use these as a guide taking your field into account. The list of terms in the guideline is not static or fully exhaustive so if you feel ensure about which term to use, ask, if possible, the individual which linguistic terms they prefer themselves.  

For more information on inclusive language, read: inclusive language.

Additional Resources

For a Guide for Inclusive Language in Court and in Legal Documents refer to CULTEXP Guide for Inclusive Language in Court and in Legal Documents – YouTube

GLAAD MEDIA Reference Guide: guide that offers information and guidelines on use of  LGBTQI+ terms: https://www.glaad.org/reference