Plurals: your best friend for gender-neutral financial writing
Do you routinely refer to members of your target audience as “he” when you write? If so, you’re probably offending some of your readers. Your use of plural nouns can help you broaden your appeal.
Singular nouns are tough
Let’s assume you’re writing a white paper about teachers who are planning for retirement. You open your draft with “A teacher faces three main challenges in preparing for retirement.” However, eventually you’ll need to substitute a pronoun for “teacher” or your readers will suffer from “teacher” overload.
To write in a gender-neutral way using traditional singular pronouns, you must write “she or he” or “he and she.” When this substitution occurs frequently, it can feel clunky and disrupt the flow of your text.
Some authors address this by alternating their use of “he” and “she.” However, this can confuse readers, making them think you’re discussing different people when you shift from pronoun to the other.
Another option is to use “they” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. I’ve done this sometimes. I’m not alone in this. Here’s what Ammon Shea says in Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation.
The third-person neuter single (They or their when used to refer to a single person of either sex) was in common and accepted use until the beginning of the nineteenth century, and is showing signs of making a resurgence. It is, in my view, a fine option for those who do not wish to always refer to unnamed people as he. I have opted to use the gender-neutral they in the singular, except where to do so would provide a lack of clarity or euphony.
The problem with using “they” this way is that it offends the purists. As a result, it may distract some readers from your message. Distraction is bad, no matter what the cause. I sometimes rewrite sentences that are 100% correct because they may seem incorrect to readers who don’t know all the rules. Still, according to “Can We Take ‘They’ as a Singular Pronoun?” more copyeditors are accepting “they” as singular.
Write about multiple people
You can get around the awkwardness of calling everyone “he” or using a singular “they.” Instead, write about multiple people.
This means you’ll write “Teachers face three main challenges in preparing for retirement” instead of “A teacher faces three main challenges in preparing for retirement.”
How do you write in a gender-neutral manner?
Do you think it’s important to write without favoring one gender over another? If you have tips on this topic, please share.
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