How to use inclusive and bias-free language in scientific writing?

Using inclusive and bias-free language in scientific writing is important because it promotes a more equitable and respectful communication environment. Moreover, it ensures that diverse perspectives are acknowledged and minimises the potential for perpetuating stereotypes or biases. In addition, it fosters a welcoming atmosphere that encourages collaboration and engagement from individuals of various backgrounds and identities. This inclusivity is crucial for the integrity of scientific research and the advancement of knowledge within a diverse global community.

As we and our language evolve,  scientific authors need to make informed and sensitive choices when writing about such terms as age, disability, disease, ethnicity, gender, race and sex, among others. Inclusive and bias-free language in a scientific setting is a must to report the findings and describe people involved respectfully. It is essential to be specific and respectful when writing about these aspects. Otherwise, reporting findings may be imprecise, offensive or dehumanising. Scientific authors should only refer to these categories carefully and when scientifically relevant.

What are the golden rules of inclusive and bias-free language in scientific writing?

Scientific writing may appear dry and is more fact-oriented than other types of literature. Still, it must remain bias-free, inclusive and respectful. When writing about age, disability and diseases, race and ethnicity and sex and gender, my general advice comes down to this principle: be precise and be respectful.

Furthermore, apply the following guidelines to your academic writing:

  • Do not use adjectives as nouns to avoid sounding demeaning or simply incorrect. For instance, use ‘female participants’ not ‘females,’ ‘the patients in the diabetes group,’ not ‘the diabetics.’
  • Be as specific as possible and avoid umbrella terms. For instance, choose ‘Venezuelans’ rather than ‘Hispanics.’
  • Use terms that focus on people rather than those categorising them. For instance, you write about ‘people who use wheelchairs’ instead of ‘disabled people.’
  • Avoid negatively charged language, derogatory terms or those implying inferiority/superiority. For instance, replace ‘low class’ with ‘low socio-economic status’ and use ‘diagnosed with bipolar disorder’ rather than ‘suffers from bipolar disorder.’
  • Apply gender-neutral language by replacing gender-specific terms with gender-neutral alternatives. For example, use ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she.’ Likewise, instead of ‘man’ or ‘mankind,’ use ‘human’ or ‘humankind. Use ‘chair’ instead of ‘chairman’ and ‘headteacher’ instead of ‘headmaster’ or ‘headmistress.’
  • When discussing research contributions, acknowledge the collaborative nature of scientific work and avoid attributing success solely to one individual.

In the following sections, I expand on how scientific authors can make their manuscripts bias-free and inclusive when reporting findings relevant to age, disability, disease, ethnicity, gender, race and sex.

Use inclusive and bias-free language to write about age

The terms ‘elderly’ (as a noun) and ‘old’ became associated with weakness and signify an ageist language. ‘Older persons,’ ‘retired persons’ or ‘adults over the age of 65’ are not offensive and could be used instead.

Use inclusive and bias-free language to write about disability and disease

Language describing people with disabilities or people with health conditions should be respectful and not demeaning. For instance, victimising terms, such as ‘suffers from’ or ‘afflicted with,’ should be replaced with ‘diagnosed with’ or ‘affected by.’ Another example I have noticed is a tendency to dehumanise patients by referring to them as medical ‘cases.’ ‘Schizophrenic cases’ are inappropriate; replace them with ‘patients with schizophrenia.’ This way, you refer back to people-centred language rather than focus on the condition or diagnosis.

Although rare in scientific writing, metaphors referring to disabilities, such as ‘blind luck’ or ‘decision paralysis,’ stigmatise people and have no place in inclusive and unbiased reporting. Moreover, do not use insensitive or simply offensive adjectives like ‘crazy,’ ‘crippled,’ ‘handicapped,’ or ‘normal,’ ‘healthy’ and ‘able-bodied’ when referring to people not living with disabilities or diseases.

Finally, only use ‘patients’ in clinical or healthcare-related settings; outside these contexts, they are ‘people’ or ‘individuals.’

Use inclusive and bias-free language to write about race and identity

While race is conceptualised by physical traits, it is not possible to establish or define it through genetic tests. Thus, ‘race’ becomes increasingly replaced with ‘ethnicity’ in scientific writing because it may appear to be a narrow or outdated ‘category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits.’ ‘Ethnicity’ or ‘ancestry,’ as concepts based on broader cultural and geographical identity and expression, are more appropriate.

Similarly, ‘minority’ phases out since it may imply the inferiority of the group it aims to describe. Furthermore, it often does not refer to a quantitative minority. ‘Historically marginalised populations’ could work as a more sensitive alternative.

Use inclusive and bias-free language to write about sex and gender

‘Gender’ and ‘sex’ are not synonyms and should not be used interchangeably. According to WHO, ‘sex’ refers to the biological and physiological characteristics of an individual, such as reproductive organs, chromosomes or hormones. The socially constructed term ‘gender’ refers to one’s personal identity.

Furthermore, when describing the participants, use gender-neutral pronouns (or gender-inclusive pronouns). This involves replacing ‘she’ or ‘he’ with the increasingly more popular singular ‘they.’ In addition, there are also many other gender-inclusive pronouns in use. Using gender-neutral language will cut out any risk of bias or mistakes and ensure including participants who identify as non-binary.

Work with an editor

Copyediting is the process of reviewing a written text to check for errors and inconsistencies in grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting. The aim is to improve the clarity and readability of the text while maintaining the author’s intended meaning. A copyeditor may also suggest changes to sentence structure, word choice and overall tone and flag any potential legal or ethical issues. 

Professional copyeditors are skilled at diagnosing discriminatory language and imprecise phrasing. Therefore, they can play a crucial role in making an academic text more inclusive and bias-free. Such an editor can carefully review the language used in the text to identify any instances of bias, discrimination, or prejudice that may be present and suggest alternative phrasing or more inclusive language to replace it. They can also help ensure that the text accurately represents diverse perspectives and experiences and that the language is respectful and appropriate. 

Authors can help ensure that their work is accessible, inclusive, and welcoming to all readers by working with a copyeditor trained in identifying and addressing issues of bias and discrimination.


Inclusive and bias-free language in scientific writing is a must because it increases the precision of the scientific findings and removes the opportunities for perpetuating prejudicial beliefs or demeaning attitudes. In my post written in celebration of International Plain Language Day, I concluded with a call for a language clear for all. Building on that, this week, I wish for language that is respectful to all.

You can contact me for a free sample edit to ensure your text is written in accurate and bias-free language (and remember to use my early bird discount!). If you want to hear more from me, including self-editing and writing tips, follow me on MastodonTwitter and LinkedIn or join my newsletter.

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I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).