The PR Pro’s Guide to Inclusive Language

Every communications professional is more than familiar with the Associated Press Stylebook. The AP Stylebook is updated annually with the best grammar and language practices for communications practitioners. The Associated Press also regularly posts AP Style updates on the @APStylebook Twitter and AP Style Blog. Even though the AP Stylebook is an evolving set of standards that is constantly updated, there has been criticism around the AP Stylebook’s rules regarding inclusive language in news writing.

Recently, the AP announced the AP Stylebook will now capitalize Black “in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense, conveying an essential and shared sense of history,” as well as Indigenous “in reference to original inhabitants of a place.” This aligns with AP Stylebook’s long-standing guidelines to capitalize ethnic identifiers such as Latino, Asian American, and Native American.

The recent change was made after the National Association of Black Journalists issued a Statement on Capitalizing Black and Other Racial Identifiers. The NABJ asserted that it is important to capitalize Black “when referring to (and out of respect for) the Black diaspora.” In response to protests against police brutality and racial injustice, many newsrooms across America have followed suit and made this change in their usage.


The AP cited the need to be “inclusive and respectful in our storytelling.” As of now, no decision has been made on capitalizing white in reference to people. For more information, read AP Stylebook’s updated guide on race-related coverage.

In the past, the AP Stylebook has also debated the use of they/them as a singular gender-neutral pronoun in news writing. As of 2017, the AP Stylebook included the limited use of they/them as a singular pronoun.

In 2019, they was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year, noting a shift toward gender-neutral language in writing. When explaining its decision to include the new definition, Merriam-Webster said, “English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years.”


It is still the preferred AP Style to use he/she when referring to an unknown subject’s pronouns because they/them might confuse readers. The AP Stylebook also does not recognize other gender-neutral pronouns like xe or ze and encourages limited use of Latinx.

In news and PR writing, people are often the focus of our stories. Though we have a duty to write honest and compelling pieces, we can do so in a way that makes people feel seen and respected. One word can make all the difference when you’re writing a press release, blog, social content, or conducting an interview. Even if AP Style doesn’t have all of the answers, here are some additional resources that can help you be a more inclusive PR professional:

General

●     Diversity Style Guide

●     The Journalist’s Toolbox: Diversity

●     Bias Busters: Cultural competence guides

●     Editors of Color

Sexuality/Gender

●     NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists Stylebook

●     GLAAD Media Reference Guide

●     Gender Spectrum Guide to Gender Terminology

●     Media Guide to Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates + Politicians

Race/Ethnicity

●     Race Forward Race Reporting Guide

●     National Association of Black Journalists Style Guide

●     Asian American Journalists Association Handbook

●     Native American Journalists Association Style Guide

Religion

●     Religion Newswriters Association Religion Stylebook

Ability

●     Disability Language Style Guide

●     Tips for interviewing people with disabilities

●     Disability Writing & Journalism Guidelines

●     Time to Change: Responsible reporting on mental health

Age

●     Elevate Aging through Language: A Usage and Style Guide

Other

●     AP Stylebook Coronavirus Topical Guide

●     South Asian Journalists Association COVID-19 Resources

●     The National Institution on Drug Abuse Media Guide