Be Gender Neutral

Avoid language that unnecessarily identifies a gender

Do not use a pronoun that denotes a single gender when the information pertains to both sexes

Do not use this:  Each student should put his backpack in a cubbyhole.

Use this:  Each student should place his or her backpack in a cubbyhole

Use this:  Students should place their backpacks in cubbyholes.

Use gender neutral job titles

Do not use: Fireman, policeman, mailman

Use:  Firefighter, police officer, postal worker

Do not attach a biased pronoun to a neutral job title

Do not use: The police officer drove his car to the scene of the crime.

Use: The police officer drove the car to the scene of the crime.

Do not use language that inappropriately makes gender distinctions

Rather than using mankind or “Since the dawn of man,” use terms like “people” or “human beings.”

Writer’s tip: To avoid sexist language, write in the plural. Using “ students … they”  rather than “the student … he” eliminates gender bias, and it eliminates shifts in number (the student-they), the most common grammar error made by student writers. The habit of writing in the plural saves points!

Figurative Language lacks Precision

Figures of speech add color to language and make literary writing entertaining and more interesting than simple straightforward prose.  However, figures of speech are not precise; they add words and can usually be interpreted in more than one way


He is a rock!

Is he steadfast in his support, or is he dense?

His head is a computer!

Is he strange looking? Is he emotionless? Does he have limited memory?

The frisky dolphins frolicking in the frothy foam…

Excellent for a travel agency enticing tourists to come to the island, but not suitable for a field report in Marine Biology.

In persuasive, academic research, and technical writing figures of speech detract from clarity and precision. 

Do not use Euphemisms:  Euphemisms are metaphorical terms used to describe subjects people may consider offensive or unpleasant.


People die; they do not pass away, buy the farm, or pass into the great beyond.

People are pregnant; they are not in a family way or have a bun in the oven.

Writer’s tip; forget the rules-cut the words!  Sometimes trying to follow the rules or to sound impressive causes us to work too hard at writing. When we work too hard at writing, we create documents that are hard to read.  We try to write what we think our teachers want to hear. Good writing communicates ideas, and when we have a unique idea, we want to tell someone.  Tell them what you want to tell them (focus out)-not what you think they want to hear (focused in). Academic writing is not primarily about language for the sake of language, entertainment, beauty of words; say what you mean.