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Inclusive writing

by Cam's Writing

Everyone’s talking about inclusive writing

For the past few years, inclusive writing has been a hot topic linguists keep talking about. But is it just a short-lived trend or the sign of society evolving?

This article is a translation of an original blog post – in French – that you can find here.
Our goal is to analyse this phenomenon and study how a gender-neutral language can impact your French content marketing.

What’s inclusive writing?

Using inclusive writing means applying several techniques when writing content in order to make it gender neutral. The goal’s to promote equality between men and women, and to fight sexism and gender discrimination.

Because French is a very gendered language, writing in an inclusive way isn’t easy and requires creativity. Here are some of the techniques you can use:

  • Some job titles traditionally only exist in a masculine form, so a feminine version of the name needs to be created. For example, an author could now be “un auteur” or “une autrice”.
  • Expressions such as “les droits de l’Homme” are rephrased to be gender-neutral, becoming “les droits humains” – literally “human rights”.
  • Dashes, brackets, forward slashes or midpoints can be used to include masculine and feminine in the same word. For example, “les employée·s”, “les associé-e-s” or “les débutant/e/s”.
  • Gender neutral pronouns don’t exist in French, so new ones had to be invented. For example, “iel” – contraction of “il” and “elle” – or “toustes” – contraction of “tous” and “toutes”.

A global phenomenon

Inclusive writing isn’t only trending in France. Around the world, more and more people show an interest in this new approach.

In English, writing gender-neutral content is pretty easy since most words simply don’t have a gender. The only exceptions are for some job titles such as “actor/actress” or “salesman/saleswoman” that can be replaced by “salesperson”. Moreover, the pronoun “they” is very handy when you need to talk about someone without having to specify their gender.

In latin languages, gendered words are everywhere. It’s the case in French but also in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish where words ending in -a are generally feminine, and words ending in -o are generally masculine. To make things more inclusive, people can now use the combined form “a/o”, the letter “e” is used to express neutrality, as well as the asterisk (*), the letter “X” or the @ symbol – a sort of “a” in an “o”.

Heated debates in France

In France, the idea of making French a gender-neutral language is controversial and has sparked some heated debates in the last few years. While some governmental institutions see inclusive writing as a good thing that should be encouraged, others, including the very conservative Académie française, called the concept an “aberration”, a “mortal danger” for the French language, which could “lead to a divided and disparate language”.

However, the question of a gender-neutral French language is far from being over. The trend’s still growing and even some public administrations are still promoting the use of inclusive writing. Since the language has to evolve as the society does, what does all of this mean for content marketing and communications?

The impact on French content marketing

Marketing content must adapt to a changing social environment. Therefore, it’s important to consider these new practices, to see them as opportunities and to learn how to use them.

Using inclusive writing in your communications and marketing content can have several benefits:

  • It can improve your brand’s image by showing that you’re a modern company which opens the door to new ways of thinking.
  • It can boost your communication strategy.
  • It can help you reach a wider audience, especially within the younger generations.
  • It shows that you share some positive values and want to be more inclusive.

However, before changing completely the way you write content, here are some downsides you need to take into consideration:

  • Using middots or dashes can make the copy confusing and harder to read for you “lecteurs·trices”.
  • It’s not compatible with speech synthesis softwares, therefore it’s excluding some disabled people.
  • It could be detrimental to your digital marketing strategy.

Inclusive writing and SEO

The biggest risk when using inclusive writing is the fact that it can make your SEO strategy totally ineffective. Indeed, to this day, search engines don’t recognise requests using middots or other punctuation signs to include both the masculine and feminine forms of a word. Such requests will only trigger results that are also written using this inclusive format.

On the other hand, the user won’t get inclusive results when doing a “classic” search on Google. That’s because the inclusive formats aren’t considered by its algorithms yet. Choosing to commit to a gender-neutral language could therefore ruin your SEO strategy.

Optimise your gender-neutral content

If you still want to avoid using any sexist language in your marketing communications, here are some solutions you can consider – and that won’t damage your SEO.

  • Avoid any dashes, brackets or middots in your title tags.
  • In the body copy, choose middots for inclusive forms, rather than any other sign, because Google sees it as a space. Beware that for equal content, you might still be penalised by the search engine, compared to the pages that don’t use inclusive writing at all.
  • Use the imperative and choose turns of phrases that avoid genders. This is especially true when localising content from English to French, where everything seems gendered.
  • Mention both the feminine and the masculine form of a word. For example, “les acteurs et les actrices de ce film”.
  • Use words that keep the same form for both genders such as “psychiatre” or “journaliste”.
  • When possible, use generic terms to talk about a group of people. For example, “l’équipe de rédaction” instead of “nos auteurs”.
  • Use non-gendered pronouns like “on”.

While its legitimacy is still being debated, inclusive writing is a trend that won’t be disappearing any time soon. It’s also the reflection of deep changes happening in our society… And it might offer some great opportunities for your brand and marketing communication in French and in many other languages.

At Cam’s Writing, we are proud to be an inclusive company, but we understand that new writing trends aren’t always what our clients are looking for.
Whether you’re ready to embrace gender-neutral language or you prefer to stick to a more conservative approach of marketing content, we’d love to hear from you.