We talk about the language of inclusivity for a living. Time to walk the walk. This year, we audited The Writer's website to see how it measured up to our own stringent standards for DEI – and here’s what we found.
It all started with a very famous book
Actually, the bestselling book franchise of all time. We used to use a certain wizard-centred novel as a point of reference in our Readability checker. But in recent years, the book's author has become firmly entrenched in anti-trans rhetoric.
We don't want The Writer's website to alienate anyone. So we switched Harry Potter to the Hunger Games - and had a look at other parts of the website for similar oversights.
In the acronyms section of our style guide, we swapped JK Rowling for the queer author EM Forster. Where we talk about our training, we cut references to 'university' (where we assumed our readers had been) in favour of 'school'.
Get ready to Google a lot of words
Many of the phrases we use in everyday conversation have questionable origins.
Some are in plain sight, and yet we say them so often – they trip off the tongue so easily – that we don't really question them. But part of what was remarkable about our audit was how jarring many of the phrases team members used 10 years ago seem today.
For example, in our older blog posts, we found phrases we'd never use now. Things like 'don't become a slave to' and 'tone-deaf'. It was striking how, in a relatively short period of time, we now recognise these turns of phrase as exclusionary.
Interrogating word origin is important, too
What about the words that aren't obviously inappropriate? Well, it makes sense to find out the etymology of any word you're not sure about. For example, we recently had the choice between using 'gibberish' or 'gobbledegook' in some client work. To the untrained ear, both words sound like they could have questionable origins. So we looked them up.
Turns out 'gibberish' is an etymological hot potato. It might come from the name of the 8th Century Muslim alchemist Jābir ibn Hayyān (or Geber). Samuel Johnson theorised it was created to describe how complex his writing was. And we know that in the seventeenth century, English communities used it as a slur to describe the Romani language.
'Gobbledegook', on the other hand, has a fascinating back story involving a US Navy captain and (perhaps) fellatio. The more you know.
And less is more for good SEO
The way we create content has changed dramatically since the early aughts. When we started our blog, it was a catchall – weekly updates, casual musings, links out to articles we read and liked. But we’ve evolved since then, and the blog’s moved on, too.
Just as well, because the volume of low value content on your site can seriously impact SEO and user experience. Known as ‘index bloat’, it means Google has to work harder to find relevant information. So we had a cull.
How long’s a piece of string?
Once you decide to start auditing your site – whether for DEI, or something else – it’s likely to become a big job. Keep a spreadsheet of all the changes you need to make and pages you need to delete. And look for patterns in the problems you find. Does your team need training to iron some of the issues out? Would your company benefit from a new tone of voice or messaging framework, to keep writers on the same track?
Whatever your writing woes, you know where to go.