Words matter. Psychological science shows that the language people use is critically important as individuals strive to create a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive world. In an effort to build a common vocabulary, APA has introduced the inclusive language guidelines—a place to find the most relevant language to use when communicating about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).
APA’s EDI office routinely receives requests for assistance on how to use language grounded in EDI principles. We hear from people throughout the field of psychology: APA staff, members, volunteer leaders, psychology students, clinicians, and educators. Some of those questions include the following:
- Should I use the term “people of color” or the acronym “BIPOC”?
- Is person-first language preferred to identity-first language?
- Why is the term “pipeline” offensive to some Native American communities?
People have many concerns about language. These include how to define various terms, which terms to avoid because they are considered offensive or outdated, how to use pronouns correctly, and so forth.
The inclusive language guidelines seek to provide guidance for the utilization of the most contemporary language based on psychological science to guide EDI communication. During the development of the guidelines, we consulted with experts who study the psychology behind discrimination, marginalization, and the experiences of different social identity groups. We also turned to APA Style’s comprehensive bias-free language guidelines, APA’s own policy statements, practice guidelines, and psychological research in journals and books. The inclusive language guidelines are meant to be used in conjunction with, not in place of, the bias-free language guidelines in Chapter 5 of the Publication Manual.
If you are working to champion EDI in the spaces that you learn, teach, work, or conduct research, these guidelines are for you.
Here are three key things you should know about the new guidelines.
1. The inclusive language guidelines are comprehensive.
We divided the inclusive language guidelines into two broad categories:
- using inclusive language in writing
- avoiding microaggressions in conversation
Our goal was to provide direction not only for research articles and formal writing but also for verbal communication, bearing in mind the importance of building relationships and being inclusive in your day-to-day exchanges.
Within the document, you will find
- definitions related to issues of power and equity that cut across various social identities
- differences between person-first and identity-first language with numerous examples
- identity-related terms that cover age; disability status; race, ethnicity, and culture; sexual orientation and gender diversity; and socioeconomic status
The guidelines also tackle how to avoid cultural appropriation, pejorative language, and the use of casually offensive language in conversation. Where possible, we suggest useful alternatives to mitigate against harmful terms or phrases.
2. The inclusive language guidelines are rooted in psychological science.
APA’s inclusive language guidelines are unique because of their heavy reliance on psychological science. Psychology has contributed significant scholarship to the long-term effects of inequity and discrimination—the inclusive language guidelines reflect those findings. That scholarship includes seminal work on bias, identity development, privilege, and the psychological impact of various -isms (i.e., ageism, ableism, classism, homophobia, racism, and sexism) at the individual, interpersonal, institutional, and structural levels. Subject matter experts among APA’s staff and appointed and elected leaders/scholars reviewed and vetted the content.
3. The inclusive language guidelines are designed to be flexible and iterative in nature.
Language is constantly changing, and APA is prepared for that. We created the inclusive language guidelines to be a living document that will evolve over time. We expect that new terminology will emerge alongside new scholarship within psychology in the years to come. As with all our efforts, we strive to be inclusive and welcome feedback about topics that may need more in-depth coverage. Your input is extremely important to this process. We appreciate any guidance provided as we continue to develop subsequent editions of the inclusive language guidelines. Feel free to comment below or email the EDI office with your suggestions or ideas.