Writer Resources: Conscious Language

A white background with the outline of a rectangle in a dark gray, medium-thick line. Within the box it reads "Writer Resources:" in the same dark gray, and, below that in purple, "Conscious Language"

The following is a list of resources and style guides to provide you context and consciousness to different communities. I have divided the resources into categories for ease of searching. If you know of any other guide that should be included here, let me know! For obvious reasons, this page will be constantly evolving to remain as up-to-date as possible with the best guidance.

General Consciousness

1. Conscious Style Guide

Conscious Style Guide was created by writer/editor Karen Yin, who is also known for AP vs. Chicago and the Editors of Color Database. Its mission statement is “to help writers and editors think critically about using language—including words, portrayals, framing, and representation—to empower instead of limit. In one place, you can access style guides covering terminology for various communities and find links to key articles debating usage. We study words so that they can become tools instead of unwitting weapons.” A one-stop-shop, the website holds guides for everything from age to gender and sexuality to socioeconomic status (and of course so much more).

2. Radical Copy Editor

“The concept of radical copyediting is based on the fact that language is not neutral. Through language we communicate values, maintain norms, and dictate what’s possible. Words matter: they can be used to harm or to heal; to perpetuate prejudice or imagine a different world; to oppress or to liberate.

A radical copyeditor… helps people align their words with their values, bringing forward awareness and sensitivity in terms of how norms around race, class, ability, gender, sexuality, age, and more show up in language.”

Run by Alex Kapitan, the blog includes articles like when to use the adjective “diverse” or the difference between person-first language and person-centered language.

3. Rabbit With a Red Pen

Rabbit With a Red Pen is run by editor and licensed clinical social worker Crystal Shelley. With the ideology that “language should be used with intention and that words have the ability to empower or to invalidate,” Crystal’s blog includes helpful posts ranging from the language of food and bodies to the language of aging, illness, and death.

4. Diversity Style Guide

While originally a project by the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University, the Diversity Style Guide has grown into its own entity. It contains over 700 entires on topics regarding race/ethnicity, disability, immigration, sexuality and gender identity, drugs and alcohol, and geography. The best part? Each entry includes a link to its source so you can see why a certain definition/guidance was given and gain a deeper understanding of the concept.

5. Becoming Aware of Insensitive Language — and Avoid Using It

Written by Rhiannon Root for ACES: The Society for Editing, this post covers common terms and phrases we use that are insensitive to certain communities, explains why they are insensitive, and then provides neutral alternatives to help you transition the insensitive terms out of your vocabulary.

6. TVTropes.org

When editing someone’s writing, I sometimes come across a harmful stereotype, archetype, or trope. Communicating this to an author is a sensitive process, but I’ve found it is much easier when you have a neutral, third-party source to point out that the stereotype they’ve created is, in fact, quite common in media and can be harmful, even if the author’s intentions were pure. I have found TV Tropes to be a good resource for this.

7. Conscious Language Style Sheet—PerfectIt

For authors or editors who use the Microsoft Word add-on PerfectIt, editor Sofia Matias created a style sheet based in conscious language and published it for you to use, free of charge!

8. Writing With Color

This blog includes some of the most comprehensive posts I’ve ever seen on topics such as describing skin color, hair types, and navigating stereotypes and tropes.

9. APA Style and Grammar Guidelines: Bias-Free Language

APA Style maintains a resource on writing with bias-free language, both generally and more specifically (e.g. age, intersectionality, or even historical context). Short, simple, and to the point, this is a great resource to get you started. They state: “The guidelines for bias-free language contain both general guidelines for writing about people without bias across a range of topics and specific guidelines that address the individual characteristics of age, disability, gender, participation in research, racial and ethnic identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and intersectionality. These guidelines and recommendations were crafted by panels of experts on APA’s bias-free language committees.”

10. Mythcreants Podcast: 312 – Bias Free Language

Mythcreants is a blog and podcast about speculative fiction (i.e. sci-fi, fantasy) storytelling. Episode 312 of their podcast, though, covers the topic of bias in language: what it is, how to see it, and how to fix it. So if the audio format is much more your speed (note: a transcript is available on the page), check it out! This resource is similar to APA’s guidelines in that it is a general overview/introduction. It does have some alternatives to biased language, but that is not the inherent purpose.

11. Conscious language: A to z of terms to consider*

Some of these terms are harmful in all uses; some of them should be reconsidered depending on context. But editor Sofia Matias has rounded up 26 terms (one for every letter of the alphabet) you should think twice about before using, and why.

Racial, Ethnic, and Religious Consciousness

1. National Association of Hispanic Journalists Cultural Competence Handbook

2. Asian American Journalist’s Association Guidances

3. National Association of Black Journalists Style Guide

4. Native American Journalists Association AP Style Insert

5. Native American Journalists Association Tribal Nations Media Guide

6. The Religion Stylebook

7. Anti-Racism Resources

8. Scaffolded Anti-Racism Resources

9. A Copy Editor’s Education in Indigenous Style

10. University of British Columbia’s Indigenous Peoples: Language Guidelines

11. The Sikh Coalition: Sikhism Reporter’s Guide*

12. On capitalizing “black” and “white” in racial contexts: (1), (2), (3)

Disability Consciousness

1. Disability in Kidlit

2. National Center on Disability in Journalism Style Guide

3. The Transcontinental Disability Choir: What Is Ableist Language and Why Should You Care?

4. Writing Alchemy: Oppression Aware Podcast, Fairy Tales, and Games Resources

5. Doctor Behind Asperger’s Syndrome Subject To Name Change*

6. Glossary of Ableist Phrases*

LGBTQIA Consciousness

1. Trans Journalists Association Style Guide

2. GLAAD Media Reference Guide

3. NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists Stylebook

4. Inclusive Descriptions for Gender-Diverse Groups

5. Gender-neutral words for family, relations, and titles (1), (2)*

Body-Based Consciousness

1. The Association for Size Diversity and Health 

2. Little People of America

3. A Guide for Skinny Writers Who Want to Write Fat Characters

*Indicates most recent addition.