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Business Writing Skills Part III: Avoiding Sexist Language

Many businesspeople are unfamiliar with business writing.
Concise writing will build your business because you will better
connect with customers and prospects. In this four-part series,
I will teach you how to make your writing and other business
correspondence clearer, understandable, and more direct.

Avoiding Sexist Language in Writing By Linda Elizabeth Alexander

Why avoid sexist language in your business writing? Biased
language can alienate any potential reader. If you alienate your
readers, you lose credibility. Without their faith in your
words, you have lost your audience and cannot make your
argument. Therefore, avoiding sexism in your writing benefits

Here are some tips for avoiding common mistakes regarding sexist


The use of a masculine pronoun to refer to both genders is
offensive to many people. Also, using terms such as "man" to
define people can often be confusing - are you referring only to
"men" or to "all people"? The easiest and best way to get around
this is to rewrite the sentence in the plural, or avoid using a
pronoun altogether.

Example: The executive cannot do his job properly until he
understands how. Correct to: Executives cannot do their jobs
properly until they understand how.

You could also say "The executive cannot do his or her job
properly until he or she understands how." However, this tends
to be clumsy, especially after being used repeatedly.

Ms./Miss/Mrs. Miss refers to an unmarried woman. Mrs. Refers to
a married woman. Ms. is a universally accepted form of
addressing a woman regardless of her marital status. This should
be adopted whenever possible.

However, there are women who indicate a preference for either
Miss or Mrs., and that preference should be honored if known.
When addressing general audiences, or if you are not sure of the
woman's marital status, always use Ms.

Other ways to avoid sexism in your writing:

Don't assume that a particular job is filled by a particular
gender: there are many female constructions workers and doctors;
there are also many nurses and office assistants that are male.

Instead, talk about "mail carriers" instead of mailmen, "flight
attendants" instead of stewardesses, and "police officers"
instead of policemen. Certain job titles refer to both men and
women; "lineman" is one such example.

Try not to be confusing by going overboard with terms such as
"saleswoman" or "salesman" or "salesperson." Instead, use simple
words like "sales associate" or "chair" instead of

About the Author

Linda Elizabeth Alexander is a business writer and marketing
consultant based in Longmont, Colorado, USA. Improve your
writing skills at work! Subscribe to her FREE ezine. Write to
the Point at or visit


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