Inclusive language: 3 rules for editorial best practice

Alexandra Holmes photo

While the details of any book are important to get right, books about personal or sensitive topics require an extra level of attention to ensure inclusivity and correctness.

We launched our gender diversity list in January 2017, and since then we’ve published a wide range of books by trans and non-binary authors. While the issues and challenges faced by these communities are not new by any means, these books are a platform for authors to further the discussion around gender identity and expression.

Editing these books requires sensitivity to the experiences of trans and non-binary people, and approaching a project with an open attitude and eagerness to learn provides editors with an opportunity not only to edit a text more effectively but also to expand their knowledge for the future.

We’ve been working with our freelance editorial staff to develop guidelines for the books on this list. When editing material where it is important to be sensitive to other peoples’ experiences, particularly regarding gender, there are three key elements to ensuring success:

1) Educate yourself

Learn the difference between non-binary and gender non-conforming, and seek to understand why many believe ‘trans’ to be a more inclusive term than ‘trans*’. For prescriptivist grammarians, let go of the idea that ‘they/their/them’ should only be used in the plural. It’s 2017.

Take time to read about trans and non-binary experiences outside of what you edit, and be aware of evolving language. There are some great resources online for widening your vocabulary and learning about peoples’ differing experiences, including from Trans Media Watch ( and GLAAD (

2) Ask questions

Listen to those who are gender-diverse, and think twice before making assumptions. It’s always better to ask rather than making a change to a text if you’re unsure. If you don’t know what pronoun someone uses, use the gender-neutral ‘they/them/their’ to refer to that person, unless they tell you otherwise.

There are certain words or phrases that can be potentially problematic, and being aware of what these are and why they may be hurtful toward some people can open you up to engaging with a text in a deeper way and inform the way you query language with an author.

We really value the perspective of our authors, who have a keen understanding of the conversations that are going on in today’s world, and in my experience authors are happy to answer questions that come from a place of genuineness and curiosity.

3) Be open

Recognise the areas in which you have internalised bias, be willing to shift your thinking, and acknowledge when you are incorrect. If you use the wrong pronoun when referring to someone in an author query or email, apologise, correct yourself, and know not to make the mistake again.

Take note of what you learn, write down answers to questions you’ve asked, and share your knowledge with others. Keep the conversation going outside of your work, and embrace opportunities to learn when you are corrected for being wrong!

Alexandra Holmes is a Production Editor at Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Beginning her role in 2015, she is passionate about working on a variety of books that make a difference, particularly on the topic of gender expression and gender identity.

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