Academic writing

Inclusive language

Charles Darwin University (CDU) is an education provider as well as an employer. As a public institution, CDU is legally obliged to ensure that all staff and students can work in an environment that is free from harassment and discrimination. It is important for all members of the university community to recognise and value cultural diversity and understand the importance of using inclusive language as a way of creating an harmonious environment.

What is inclusive language?

Inclusive language is language that does not belittle, exclude, stereotype or trivialise people on the basis of their race, gender or disability.

At university there are a number of people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds as well as people with disabilities, different sexual preferences and holding varied religious or spiritual belief systems. We all have a responsibility to respect these differences and ensure that our speech and language is appropriate and non-discriminatory. This means avoiding terms which are offensive or using language that portrays certain people in negative ways.

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An Indigenous Australian is someone of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in the community in which he/she lives or has lived.

The term aboriginal, written with a small ‘a’ is used to describe indigenous people around the world and fails to recognise the uniqueness of Indigenous Australians.

The term Aboriginal, with a capital ‘A’, on the other hand denotes Indigenous Australians and is therefore a more appropriate word to use.

Indigenous Australians are not, however, a homogeneous group and prefer to be called by the language or cultural groups to which they belong. For example, in the Northern Territory there are many different groups such as the Larrakia (Darwin), Tiwi people who live on Bathurst and Melville Islands, the Yolngu from Arnhem Land and the Warlpiri from areas north and west of Alice Springs.

Appropriate Inappropriate

Indigenous Australian people

Aboriginal people


Black or blackfellas

Half caste, quarter caste, full blood

It is important too to avoid ethnic or racist labels which create negative stereotypes. Any person, who was born in Australia or has acquired Australian citizenship regardless of their cultural background or origins, should be referred to as Australian.

Terms such as ‘wog’ or ‘dago’ or ‘chink’ should be avoided as they demean and belittle people and are seen as a form of racial harassment.

Language that humiliates or intends harm to people on the basis of their assumed or actual sexual preference is not acceptable and can be offensive.

Derogatory comments about gays, lesbian, bisexual members of the public are heard all too often. Unless members of these groups have used specific terms to reclaim their identity and as a means of empowerment, it is not generally acceptable to use terms such as 'dyke' or 'queer', 'poofter', and so on.

Appropriate Inappropriate

lesbian, bisexual woman/man

transgender person, transsexual person

dyke, faggot, homo, tranny, lemon


Historically language usage has privileged men and often rendered women invisible or inferior.

Here are some examples of appropriate and inappropriate language usage.

Appropriate Inappropriate

Humans, humankind, spokesperson, chairperson.

Man, mankind, spokesman, chairman

Office staff, doctor, cleaner, professor

The girls in the office, woman doctor, male nurse, cleaning lady, female professor

Actor, author, manager Authoress, actress, manageress

It is important that people with a disability feel that they are part of university life and are not excluded through the inappropriate use of language. Language that constructs people with disabilities as victims and focuses on the disability and not the person is inappropriate. It is therefore important to put the person, not the disability first.

Appropriate Inappropriate
Person with a disability Handicapped or disabled
Person with a hearing impairment Deaf
Person with a visual impairment Blind
Person with a psychiatric disorder Mad/insane

In summary, it is important to remember that inclusive language is required at university and students are encouraged to use appropriate terms and language in all their written and oral communications.


For further information contact ALLSP on (08) 89467459
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