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Academic Resource Center (ARC) Research & Writing Resources

Reducing Bias: Principles
  • Focus on relevant details (is it necessary to describe an individual's age, gender identity, racial or ethnic identity?)
  • Gender identity: be specific e.g. cisgender women, transgender women NOT "women"
  • Sexual orientation: specify e.g. lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, straight people) NOT broad labels such as gay people
  • People first: avoid using labels to dehumanize individuals

Inclusive/ Bias Free Language

  • Avoid open-ended descriptions such as "under 18" or "over 65"
  • Use exact age or age ranges rather than broad categories e.g. 18-30 NOT under 30
  • Pick appropriate terms for different age groups
    • Individuals aged 12 and under: infant (for very young child), child, girl, boy, transgender girl, transgender boy, gender-fluid child
    • Individuals aged 13 to 17: adolescent, young person, youth, young woman, young man, female adolescent, male adolescent, agender adolescent
    • Individuals 18 and older: adult, woman, man, transgender man, trans man, transgender woman, genderqueer adult, cisgender adult
    • Older adults: older persons, older adults, individuals 65 years old and older, Avoid terms such as seniors, elderly, aged which may be stereotypical
  • Person first: the person is emphasized not the disability. e.g. a person with epilepsy NOT an epileptic
  • Identity first:: Individuals can claim their disability and choose their identity: blind person, autistic person or amputee. Terms may vary depending on disability: Deaf individuals prefer to be called Deaf rather than person with hearing loss
  • How to choose person-first or identity first?  Can mix either approach; be mindful of preference of group you are describing and always focus on choosing language that respects individuals.
  • Terms to avoid:
    • Don't use negative terms that focus on restriction: wheelchair-bound or confined to a wheelchair (use wheelchair user instead), 
    • Avoid negative labels: AIDs victim (use person with AIDS), brain damaged (use person with a traumatic brain injury) alcoholic or addict (use person with alcohol use disorder or person with a substance abuse disorder)
    • Be specific rather than general: rather than say high functioning or low funtioning specify the person's strengths and weaknesses
    • Avoid euphemisms such as special needs or handicapped

Gender  is a social construct and a social identity which is different from sexual orientation

Use gender when referring to social groups

  • Refer to all people by the name they use to refer to themselves. Use terms that are specific: people identified as cisgender women, transgender men, nonbinary.
  • Use the pronouns a transgender person identifies as: they, ze, Xe, hr, per, va, ey, hen, he and/or she
  • Avoid binary identifications: do not use opposite sex or opposite gender (instead use another sex or another gender)
Racial & Ethnic Identity

Race describes physical differences 

People may identify their race as African American or Black, Asian, European American or White, Native American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander or some other race.

Race is a social construct that varies so be careful not to use racial labels on ethnic groups.

Ethnic Identity - shared cultural elements (language, ancestry, practices and beliefs

For example people may identify as Latino or another ethnicity

  • Use the racial and ethnic terms that your participants themselves use
  • Be clear and specific . (e.g. rather than say Asian American or Hispanic American use more specific labels that identify their nation or region of origin such as Chinese American or Dominican American
    • People of African Origin: This group may include people from a variety of locations such as the Caribbean islands, Latin America, countries in Africa, some regions in the U.S. or elsewhere. Some people prefer Black while others prefer African American.
    • People of Asian Origin: Asian refers to Asians in Asia not people in the United States; use Asian Americans for those living in the U.S. You may also refer to specific regions of origin such as South Asia (India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal), Southeast Asia (eastern parts of India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines), East Asia (China, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea/North Korea and Taiwan) Refer to the specific countrry or region of origin
  • Racial and ethnic terms are proper nouns and are capitalized. Use Black or White, Native American, Hispanic etc.


Sexual Orientation

Use sexual orientation rather than sexual preference, or sexual identity. Avoid terms such as homosexual or homosexuality. 

Frequently used terms: lesbian, gay, heterosexual, straight, asexual, bisexual, queer, polysexual and pansexual

Abbreviations such as LGBTQ, LGBTQ+ LGBTQIA and LGBTQIA+ may also be used to refer to multiple groups.

If using an abbreviation define it and be sure it is representative of the groups about which you are writing.

Be specific when necessary; when writing about transgender use that term not LGBTQ.

Be sure to define the term you are using. The word gay can be viewed as applying to all genders or more specifically to include only men. Describe what you mean by the term.

Socioeconomic Status (SEO)

Socioeconomic status (SES) includes income, educational status, occupational status and perceived social status. SES can express attributes of quality of life and be a predictor of psychological outcomes.

Because it is complex, SES descriptions should include a much detailed information as possible about an individual's income, education and occupation. When using the term "low-income participants" or "high income participants" provide information about the size of the household and the relationship between household income and federal poverty guidelines.

SES reporting can also include environmental conditions such as housing (does the participant rent or own a home or live in subsidized housing), neighborhood characteristics (median household income, percentage of unemployed persons or percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch in local schools).

Avoid broad, general terms such as "the homeless", "inner-city", "ghetto", "the projects", "poverty stricken" 

Use person-first language and be specific:

  • Instead of "welfare mothers" say "mothers who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits." 
  • Rather than say "the homeless" "people experiencing homelessness," "people who are homeless," "people in temporary shelters," or "people in transitional housing."
  • Rather than use general terms such as "low income" or "poor" include ethnic information in the description (e.g. "the sample includes low-income and middle-income Dominican mothers." 
  • Avoid deficit-based language. Instead of saying someone is a "high school dropout" or is "poorly educated" be more specific and sensitive ("people who do not have a high school diploma or equivalent." An alternative strengths-based approach is to include specifics about what education a participant has attained ("people who have a grade school education.")

Individuals have multiple identities and may be members of social groups that have experienced structural inequalities that can result in marginalized identities. 

Black lesbian women may have experiences that are not the same as other Black women. They may experience discrimination based on their race, gender and/or sexual orientation. A Jewish adolescent may experience privilege being perceived a White but also be the target of anti-Semitic slurs at school and in social media because of their religious beliefs. An immigrant from Cambodia who has a disability may experience discrimination or lack of access to community resources because of their disability.

Identify relevant characteristics and group memberships of individuals:

  • ability/disability status
  • age
  • gender and gender identitty
  • generation
  • experiences of marginalization (historic or current)
  • immmigrant status
  • language
  • national origin
  • race and/or ethnicity
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • social class