Tag Archives: conscious language

The 2021 CIEP conference: Conscious and inclusive editing: Understanding conscious language and the editorial role

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Suzanne Arnold reviewed Conscious and inclusive editing: Understanding conscious language and the editorial role, presented by Crystal Shelley.

Words can uplift, empower and inspire, says Crystal. But they can also invalidate, marginalise and erase. ‘Language … has the power to perpetuate stigma and stereotypes and to misrepresent.’

Editors have an opportunity to help authors recognise and replace potentially harmful language before it’s published.

What is conscious language?

Conscious language is rooted in compassion, choosing words to reflect our intention.

For example, many wheelchair users dislike the phrase ‘wheelchair-bound’ because it implies the chair is a negative thing, whereas they see it as a tool that helps them go about their daily lives. So if we say that someone is wheelchair-bound, it’s often inaccurate and can be stigmatising.

‘Many conscious language issues are unintentional’: most of us don’t deliberately offend or upset people. The problem is using words or phrases unthinkingly or out of habit – perhaps terms that we were taught as children or hear other people use.

Why care?

This isn’t about the author’s intent, but the impact on readers.

Language conveys our values and beliefs, and so, unintentionally using harmful language can affect reputation. It can also, of course, have real-world consequences, including negative reviews, bad publicity, even cancelled contracts or financial loss.

What can editors look out for?

First, don’t worry if this seems daunting. We all have to start somewhere and learning can be an ongoing process.

To help us watch out for potentially problematic language, Crystal gave the following pointers, with examples.

Ask yourself whether the language is:

  • disrespectful (eg using ‘pow wow’ to describe a meeting at work strips the term of its cultural significance)
  • stigmatising (eg ‘crazy’ – even if it’s not being used to stigmatise those with mental illness or whose behaviour seems ‘different’, it may provoke an unintended emotion in the listener or reader)
  • inaccurate (eg ‘wheelchair-bound’)
  • biased (eg default ‘he’)
  • excluding (eg referring to ‘both’ genders)
  • outdated (eg ‘oriental’, ‘senile’)
  • dehumanising (eg ‘illegal immigrant’ – we may think of phrases such as this as ‘the norm’, but they strip people of their humanity and individuality)
  • presumptuous (eg Columbus ‘discovered’ America – people lived there long before he arrived)
  • judgemental (eg ‘suffers from’)
  • rooted in oppression.

How can editors raise these issues with authors?

Don’t feel afraid that you’re trying to impose your own views or biases on the text. We raise these issues because ‘they may interfere with the author’s ability to get their message across effectively to readers’.

And that’s the key to giving feedback – keep it focused on the reader and potential unintended effects on them. Keep it constructive and professional, offer suggestions for other wording they could use and share links to relevant resources.

Find out more

You can learn more from Crystal’s blog posts. She also sells conscious language toolkits (one for writers and one for editors), which include lists of problematic terms explaining why they could do harm and suggesting alternatives.

The Conscious Style Guide is another good source of information.

In summary

This statement of Crystal’s reminds us why it’s worth making the effort:

‘Most readers won’t notice the absence of harmful language, but they’ll notice its use.’

Suzanne Arnold is an Advanced Professional Member who specialises in copyediting and proofreading non-fiction for adults.

 

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

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Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Let’s stop and think to make sure all voices are heard

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 2 to 4 November. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Miranda K Lloyd reviewed Conscious language: making editorial decisions for inclusion, presented by Sarah Grey.

Delegates at the 2019 SfEP conference.

As a proofreader and editor with a disability, I was excited to attend Sarah Grey’s session, Conscious Language: Making Editorial Decisions for Inclusion.

I already knew a bit about the importance of person-first language and inclusivity in publishing, and I was excited to learn more from an expert.

What did I learn? And what can we do to be more inclusive?

Inclusivity is more than person-first language

In fact, there is some lively debate about whether person-first language helps promote equality.

Words shape our perception of the world, how we see ourselves and how we feel. Editing for conscious language emphasises kindness, empathy, justice, respect, inclusion and accuracy. The way language is used has a huge influence over people and events, especially in politics and public forums.

As editors, we have great power over, and responsibility for, how language is shaped and used.

Consider the last speech you heard on the news. How did it make you feel? How might it be perceived by others? What will the consequences of a piece of writing be? Will it do any harm?

Language is changing faster than ever before

Be aware of these changes and check how a word or phrase is used. I was shocked to find that a common UK word is considered a grievous slur in parts of North America, and many people were deeply hurt when it was recently used in a popular TV series.

Ask the right questions

Who is the author? Who is the audience? Who is mentioned in the text? Is their perspective included? Does the author’s perception of their audience match the audience’s perception of themselves?

Will the audience appreciate a cultural reference or turn of phrase? Will it add to their experience or alienate them? Is an author forgetting a section of their readership? And if so, what can we do to include them?

Be aware of your own lack of knowledge

Ask yourself: ‘Am I the right editor for this job? Do I have the experience and background to appreciate the cultural context, sensitivities, dialect and other characteristics around this text?’

Listen, read and seek out diverse perspectives. Follow different communities and debates on social media – Twitter is great for this – and consider consulting a sensitivity reader.

Check your (and your author’s) sources

If your author is using sensitive or outdated terms, is the reader made aware of this? If you’re working on an academic text, are the citations consistent? Alert your client if they’re citing female authors by first name and male authors by last name.

Academics’ reputations live or die by how often their work is cited. Citing works by authors from underrepresented backgrounds makes their work visible and draws them into the mainstream.

And finally …

If your client ignores your advice on inclusive language, credits you and publishes anyway, you can say, ‘I gave some advice that was not taken’ and move forward, confident you did your job.

Follow Sarah @GreyEditing on Twitter.

Miranda K Lloyd began working as a freelance proofreader and editor in December 2019. She has a disability and is committed to championing inclusivity in publishing, and making equality and diversity central to her business. Miranda is an Intermediate Member of the CIEP. She is currently taking on work and welcomes all enquiries. Contact her @mirandaklloyd on Twitter.

 

 


Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.