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Chapter 18. Avoiding Sexist Language > Keeping Your E-Mail Gender-Neutral

Keeping Your E-Mail Gender-Neutral

Eliminate the offending pronoun.

Do not write: The executive should read his e-mail from clients and vendors daily.

Write: The executive should read e-mail sent from clients and vendors daily.

Repeat the noun and rewrite.

Do not write: The intern could not understand why the human resources director was so upset when she used the company e-mail system for personal use.

Write: The intern could not understand why the human resources director was so upset when the intern used the company e-mail system for personal use.

Recast sentences into the plural.

Do not write: An e-mail writer should use correct grammar and punctuation in his writing.

Write: E-mail writers should use correct grammar and punctuation in their writing.

Use the generic pronoun, one.

Do not write: A novice computer user is likely to find the local computer retailer and a reputable bookseller his best sources of basic technical information.

Write: A novice computer user is likely to find the local computer retailer and a reputable bookseller one’s best sources of basic technical information.

Rewrite using who.

Do not write: The assumption of many e-mail users is that if a writer corrects his grammar and proofreads his document, he is wasting time.

Write: The assumption of many e-mail users is that a writer who corrects a document’s grammar and proofreads it is wasting time.

Use an article (a, an, the, this, that, these, those).

Do not write: The contractor received a healthy bonus for his quick, professional work.

Write: The contractor received a healthy bonus for the quick, professional work.

Use the second person form when appropriate (if you know your audience).

Do not write: The e-mail writer must take the greatest care when he is using copyrighted reference material.

Write: As an e-mail writer, you must take the greatest care when using copyrighted reference material.

Reword the sentence.

Do not write: A writer who decides not to footnote source material puts his reputation at risk.

Write: Failure to footnote source material puts a writer’s reputation at risk.

Use plural pronouns (they, them, their)—if you do not mind rankling a few readers.

This option violates the long-standing rule of English grammar that a singular noun takes a singular pronoun. Along with increased concern for political correctness, however, comes a growing acceptance of the use of plural pronouns (they, their, them) with singular antecedent nouns.

Although traditionalists discourage the practice, it is now acceptable, in some circles, to write, for example: An e-mail user who receives a flame should give careful consideration to their attacker’s motive. (But a more acceptable way to recast this particular sentence would be: An e-mail user who receives a flame should give careful consideration to the attacker’s motive.)

Make It Gender Neutral

Rewrite the following two sentences, eliminating masculine pronouns and creating gender-neutral constructions.


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