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Using words correctly
  Words which are not   acceptable in academic work

Non-discriminatory language

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Non-discriminatory language - Gender

If you refer to a specific person, use words appropriate for their gender.

Jane liked the book. She found it interesting.

Mahmoud disliked the film. He found it boring.

If you refer to a person who is not specific or named, use words which show the person could be male or female.

You do this even where most people in a group are female or male (e.g. nurses; bricklayers). You must be inclusive (e.g. there are male nurses and female bricklayers).

It is not acceptable to use words which suggest the norm is to be either female or male.

You can use the following:
  • she/he or s/he
  • his/her
  • they
  • their.

A civil engineer should always be aware of her/his safety.
Civil engineers should always be aware of their safety.

Not acceptable.
*A civil engineer should always be aware of his safety.

This is the one area where you can use a plural pronoun (they or their) to refer to a single noun.


A civil engineer should always be aware of their safety.

Their is plural and a civil engineer is singular. Although grammatically incorrect, it is acceptable - to be inclusive.

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004