Inclusive Language (from the SLJ Style Guide)

Part of an editor’s job is to examine text and make sure that terms and phrases used not only conform to our publication’s style guide (things like whether we use an Oxford comma or not–we do!), but whether the language and terms used are in line with our mission to serve a diverse readership. With that in mind, the editors recently created this handy guide on inclusive language–i.e., what terms or phrases are insensitive and which ones are preferred. Reviewers may also find it useful when crafting reviews.


Whenever possible, use person-first language.

For instance, don’t say “an autistic teen” but “a teen with autism.”

Don’t say “she is wheelchair-bound” but “she uses a wheelchair.”


Avoid language that connotes pity. Ensure that language remains as neutral as possible.

Don’t say “They suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.” Say “They have post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Don’t say “She suffered a concussion.” Say “She sustained a concussion.”


Try to be empowering when it comes to rape or sexual assault.

“Survivors” rather than “victims” of rape/assault.

Don’t call it “sex” if we’re referring to rape or assault. Use terms such as rape or assault.


Race & Ethnicity

Avoid othering language: don’t refer to characters or settings as “exotic.”

Avoid using food language when referring to nonwhite characters or people (“almond-shaped eyes,” “caramel skin”).

Don’t use slurs. If a slur is used in a novel we’re reviewing, using quotes around the term is an option.


Gender and Sexuality

When recommending books to readers, don’t make gender assumptions, i.e., “Male reluctant readers will love this book.” Describe the book’s audience (“reluctant readers,” “fans of sports,” “those who love animal books”), but don’t assume that boys are more likely to love, say, sports or that girls will necessarily be the target audience for books on relationships/romance.



Don’t dead-name (use the name that someone went by before they transitioned, e.g., don’t refer to Caitlyn Jenner as Bruce Jenner).

Problematic terms to avoid: “biologically male/female,” “genetically male/female,” “born a man/woman.”

Preferred: “assigned/designated male/female at birth”

Defamatory: “deceptive, “fooling,” “pretending,” “posing,” “trap,” or “masquerading, “tranny,” “she-male,” “he/she,” “it,” “shim”

Note: “trans woman” and “trans man” are preferred, but “transwoman” and “transman” are offensive.


Note: the presence of an LGBTQ character should not be seen as a reason to move a grade level up. If the characters engage in explicit sexual behavior, that should be noted, whether it’s straight or LGBTQ characters. But if a reviewer says that the mere presence of an LGBTQ character makes the book more mature (e.g., “The character is bisexual, making this more appropriate for older high school students”), that should be queried and/or edited.


Use the language that the individual prefers., i.e., if an author asks to be referred to as “they” in a review/interview/feature, do so.