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Avoiding Bias

Authors should avoid bias concerning ethnicity and race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability in their writing. Editing Canadian English includes general advice on avoiding bias in a Canadian context. A lengthy “Glossary of Problematic Words and Phrases” and a section on “Bias-Free Language” can be found in chapter 5 of the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS).

Elements of Indigenous Style (EIS) explains how inappropriate language and style reinforce or perpetuate colonial assumptions and includes a chapter that outlines appropriate terminology that respects Indigenous People and Indigenous ways. The Conscious Style Guide provides a collection of resources for avoiding bias across a wide variety of contexts (e.g., ability and disability; ethnicity, race, and nationality; gender, sex, and sexuality; and socioeconomic status).


Use accurate, neutral language to describe people’s disabilities and/or abilities.

Comedian Maysoon Zayid, who has cerebral palsy (not cerebral-palsy victim Maysoon Zayid)

Content about Indigenous Peoples in Canada

(a) Use the spelling/name an Indigenous People use for themselves, rather than an anglicized or colonial term. If it is not possible to consult with the Indigenous People named in the work, follow the spelling from an authoritative compilation made in consultation with Indigenous Peoples, such as the following:

(b) Capitalize “terms for Indigenous identities; Indigenous governmental, social, spiritual, and religious institutions; and Indigenous collective rights” (EIS, p. 81).


Traditional Knowledge

Treaty Rights

(c) Use precise, specific descriptions that recognize diversity and distinct identities (see EIS, 90).

Eden Robinson, a celebrated Haisla and Heiltsuk novelist and short story writer (not Aboriginal author Eden Robinson)

(d) Use active-voice constructions that recognize the agency of Indigenous People rather than passive-voice constructions that suggest Indigenous Peoples are acted on – passive recipients of actions (see EIS, 76).

“Indigenous Peoples engaged in the new economy of the fur trade,” (not “The fur trade swept up Indigenous Peoples in a new economy”) (EIS, 76)

(e) Use location markers to describe Indigenous Peoples in Canada, who may not identify as Canadian (see EIS, 91), and avoid inappropriate and offensive possessive terms.

The Haida Nation in what is now British Columbia (not British Columbia’s Haida Nation)

(f) In content that quotes historical sources, consider explaining references to terminology that may now be recognized as culturally inappropriate (e.g., in a note).


(a) Ensure that generic references to people are gender neutral, e.g., by using plural antecedents, by omitting or replacing pronouns, or by using the relative pronoun who (see CMOS 5.255).

Everyone who participated agreed that the survey had addressed their needs.

A researcher who needs access outside of regular operating hours will need to contact the director.

(b) Where sentences cannot logically be recast as plural or otherwise made gender neutral, and in reference to a person who does not identify with a gender-specific pronoun, use they and themself as singular, gender-neutral pronouns (see CMOS 5.48).

Taylor studied at the University of Toronto, where they completed the master of museum studies program.