As an organisation and in communications with our users, we should write in a way which is clear, compassionate and respectful.
When we build government services, we must ensure they’re accessible and inclusive to everyone who needs to use them.
Inclusive language builds trust and allows us to communicate effectively with our users.
This guidance is not comprehensive, but aims to provide principles and specific suggestions for writing and talking about diverse groups of people.
Writing inclusive content
- only ask for a person’s age if it is needed - for example, if a person must be over 18 to use a service
- only refer to someone’s age if it’s relevant to what you’re writing about
- use age-related descriptors like ‘young’ or ‘old’ - use specific age ranges, such as ‘18-24’ or ‘over 65’
Follow our accessible design principles and consider how your language is inclusive to people who face different barriers to accessing services.
- clearly signpost users to alternative methods of accessing a service and get support, if needed
- recognise the variety of barriers in society that can make life harder for people
- use positive and person-centred language, when talking about people with disabilities - for example, 'people with health conditions or impairments'
- use language that implies conditions or disability being a barrier - instead focus on removing barriers that they might face in society
Sex, gender and sexuality
- only refer to a person’s sex or gender if relevant and there’s a reason why you’re collecting this data
- allow for flexibility around this information, such as asking for both a person’s sex and their gender, to ensure that the data captured accurately represents the individual and their needs
- allow people to self-describe - use language that reflects how a person refers to themselves
- ask for, or refer to, a person’s sex only when it’s relevant for biological data, not when concerning how a person identifies
- refer to the sex someone was registered with at birth
- provide options other than male and female where possible
- allow people to disclose whether their sex registered at birth is different from their sex at present if you need to understand a persons’ current needs
- refer to gender when relevant to how a person identifies, rather than when referring to biological characteristics - for example, if you need this data to understand the needs of users for policing, housing or asylum accommodation purposes
- use gender neutral pronouns - for example, ‘Alex Brown has settled status, they have the right to live and work in the UK’
- use language that reinforces harmful stereotypes and assumptions
Find out more about how to ask users for their sex or gender in the sex and gender pattern.
- give a reason for asking a person’s sexuality, if you need to ask for it
- always use gender neutral terms when referring to people and their relationships
- give ‘same-sex’ relationships as a different radio option from ‘spouse, partner or cohabitant’ in questions
- use language that makes assumptions about a person’s sexuality
Ethnicity, nationality and religion
- only refer to people’s ethnicity or religion if it’s relevant to the content
- ask how people identify themselves, and be aware of complexities within ethnic and religious identities
- recognise the negative impacts of using broad terminology to homogenise diverse communities
Ethnicity and nationality
- sense-check your language with ethnic diversity in mind
- capitalise ethnic groups and nationalities when writing about, or asking users for their, ethnicity or nationality
- group diverse geographical regions together - spell out specific nationalities and ethnic groups when relevant
- use acronyms like 'BAME' or 'BME' - they do not refer to a singular homogeneous ethnic group
- use language that can be linked to harmful stereotypes and assumptions
- always consider the various religious practices and beliefs that people have - and recognise the diverse needs of people from different faiths in your writing
- use language that may inherently exclude those of different faiths - for example, referring to certain religious celebrations but not others
Use our quick reference inclusive language posters as best practice guidelines while you design and research.
Download the posters for your office space and help colleagues think about how to write inclusively.