The year is 1995. You’re sitting on the sofa, the aroma of freshly baked Bagel Bites sauntering into the living room from the kitchen. Sitting atop the coffee table, in all of its shutter-like glory, is evidence of your most recent Guess Who? victory.
Claire, with her blue-framed glasses, flower-adorned hat, and peach puckered lips, stands alone.
What do Claire and this classic board game have to do with inclusive copywriting, you ask? Perhaps more than meets the (bespectacled) eye.
Think of writing inclusive copy like playing Guess Who? backward. Instead of narrowing down your audience with a flick of your index finger and an oh-so-satisfying clack, consider what might occur if the use of conscious language had the power to flip those faces back up—and invite a few more into the mix.
Pick up your game tray and let’s work backward to find out how your writing can bring more diverse faces to the table.
What is Inclusive Copywriting?
Shift your eyes back to the coffee table. Aside from her distinctive accessories and orange marmalade hair, how much do you really know about Claire? The answer: not much.
For starters, she might be slightly peeved that we’ve assumed her preferred pronouns are “she” and “her.” She might even be a bit fatigued by the amount of copy saturating the internet that has seldomly considered factors such as:
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Physical ability
- Socioeconomic status
- Political interest
Simply put, inclusive copywriting avoids making any assumptions about the audience to which you’re speaking. Instead, it aims to include, not exclude—to acknowledge, not dismiss.
The Inclusivity Paradox
Now, we’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the inherent paradox that exists within inclusive copywriting itself. Most seasoned copywriters know that their content is written for a target audience, often determined by the client they’re writing for. That audience is—by design—exclusionary. A subset extracted from a whole.
Suppose you’re writing for a purveyor of herbal and true teas. From a marketing perspective, it might not make the most sense for this brand to extend a large portion of its promotional efforts toward coffee loyalists. Instead, they may choose to focus on an audience that’s a bit more narrow:
- Tea drinkers (duh)
- Health- and eco-conscious adults
- Residents of a particular region in which tea consumption is particularly high
Have we whittled down the audience to a smaller, more exclusionary group of consumers? Yep. Is there still room within that space to be inclusive? You betcha.
As an inclusive copywriter, your job is to figure out how to maximize that space and infuse it with a welcoming atmosphere.
Not sure where to start? Keep reading.
Best Practices for Consciously-Crafted Copy
When you make a conscious effort to speak to the Claires of the world as multifaceted humans—not as an amalgamation of data on a spreadsheet—you begin to think more like an inclusive copywriter.
Follow these tips to help you enrich that relationship and make room for the Susans, Marias, Davids, and Alfreds, too.
Tip #1: Test Your Own Bias
If you’re committed to writing inclusive copy, there’s a place you can start that doesn’t involve writing at all: measuring your unconscious bias.
There are two types of biases:
- Conscious bias – You’re a born-and-raised Bostonian, and you’ll outwardly declare your support for the Red Sox (and utter loathing for the Yankees) until the Green Monster turns gray. That’s a conscious bias—you’re fully aware of your superfandom and you don’t intend to have it any other way.
- Unconscious bias – Unconscious biases, on the other hand, typically form and exist beyond our conscious awareness. Including everything from ageism to sexism, unconscious biases take shape in several different categories and often influence the way we feel about and interact with the world around us.
To put it simply, one bias is intentional, the other is not.
To find out if you might be harboring a secret bias—and infusing it into your copy without realizing it—start by taking the Hidden Bias Test. From there, you can approach your next article with more self-awareness than before, preventing any bias blunders from occurring within your copy.
Tip #2: Put People First
If you’re anything like us, you put cats before most humans in your life. However, when writing copy—or using language in any capacity, for that matter—consider taking a people-first approach. That means the language you use should refer to people as, well, people—not as mere categories under which they may fall.
Consider the difference between these sentences:
- If you’re a Celiac, swap out traditional wheat flour for almond flour from Mark’s Mauve Mill.
- If you’re a person living with Celiac disease, swap out traditional wheat flour for almond flour from Mark’s Mauve Mill.
Thanks to the second sentence, Anita and Tom, who came across your blog post and appreciated feeling addressed as people—not as the autoimmune disease that wreaks havoc on their small intestines—pop their heads back up on the game board and lend a closer ear to your copy.
Tip #3: Be Mindful of Gendered Language
To flood your game board (and your copy) with even more faces, you might want to take gender into consideration, too. Although they didn’t exactly nail gender-inclusivity back in 1776 when writing the Declaration of Independence, that doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to get it right now.
Had the Declaration’s original writers consulted with an inclusive copywriter first, perhaps the final draft of such a historically significant document would have turned out like this:
- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal
- We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…
If we had to bet on it, our copy won’t likely be a major player in the unfolding of a new nation, but it could draw in a few more customers for our clients when written with gender neutrality in mind.
Consider these simple swaps when approaching copy:
- Man-made → machine-made, hand-crafted, manufactured
- He/she → they
- His/her → their
- Husband/wife → spouse, partner
Let’s face it—we’ve still got a long way to go before we can evict every bit of gender bias that’s been living in our language rent-free for centuries. That said, being mindful of it in our own writing is a good place to start.
Tip #4: Befriend the Internet
Part of writing inclusive copy (and being human) is understanding that the way we use language is constantly changing as the world around us changes—but it’s also leaving room for us to grow along with it. We may not always be able to keep up with its constant shifts, pivots, and trends, but we can tap into a tool that’ll help us catch our breath: the internet.
If you’re not sure whether what you’re writing earns a gold star for inclusivity, consult with some helpful resources that’ll get you a bit closer:
- Purdue Online Writing Lab – Tap into this article for more information about stereotypes and biased language.
- Hamilton College Writing Center – Refer to this guide for suggestions regarding how to speak about race, socioeconomic status, disability, and more.
- Textio – Upload your documents to this bias checker to learn more about your gender tone and to uncover any hidden biases that may have snuck into your writing.
Why is Inclusive Copywriting Important?
It feels good to feel welcomed, doesn’t it?
If that’s not enough to justify the why behind inclusive copywriting, consider this:
- Build trust with consumers – Think about how the language you sometimes use with a partner, a friend, or a family member can either strengthen your bond—or drive you apart. When a business considers the tone used to communicate with their audience, they lay the groundwork for a relationship that’s either built around trust or devoid of it.
- Clarify brand values – Take a hop, skip, and a jump from 1995 to present day. The year is now 2022, and guess what? More than 60% of Americans think diversity in advertising is a must. Consider what you want your brand to stand for, ensure your business is conducted with those values in mind, and let inclusive copywriting speak on your behalf.
Copycat: Conscious Cats on a Mission to Include
Put simply, words and the way we use them matter. When we’re working to build empathy with a friend or stranger, words matter. When we’re addressing a nation or speakers of other languages, words matter. And because copywriting is alive in so many aspects of our day-to-day—from cereal boxes and subway ads to emails and social media posts—the words we use to speak to and about those who read them matter, too.
At Copycat, we know language is a powerful tool that can have one heck of an impact on how we perceive others and how others perceive themselves. Plus, we’re a diverse group of copy-loving cats who choose to lead with compassion.
So, talk to us about your mission and what kind of inclusive story your brand wants to tell—your first project is on us.
Forbes. 4 Inclusive Marketing Trends For 2021 That Will Impact Your Brand.
UCSF. Unconscious Bias Training.
Purdue University. Stereotypes and Biased Language.
Hamilton College. Writing About Race, Ethnicity, Socioeconomic Status, and Disability