JCSD Supplemental Style Guide for Bias-Free Writing

The leadership team of the Journal of College Student Development has approved style changes that reflect our values as scholars and editors. We recognize that words not only communicate ideas, but also reflect power, status, and privilege. Language can reflect and maintain one’s social capital, while entrenching oppression of others. For those reasons, we wish to lead our scholarly colleagues in a movement to support the conscious and purposeful use of language to promote equity, justice, and inclusion.  The style guide was constructed through a collaboration of Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, our Senior Associate Editor, and Natasha Croom, Alex Lange, and Chris Linder.  The full supplemental style guide will be available on the JCSD website and can be found alongside Submission Guidelines, but we present the guiding principles here.

  1. Honor the identities and group connections as individuals have described them. Whether constructing surveys or writing about others, use the language that the individual uses, and recognize that many people view their gender and sexual orientation as fluid, and not fixed.  Giving room for people to name themselves advances our scholarship, expands our language, shares power, and is more accurate.

  2. Use nouns, objects, and adjectives properly. People should not be referred to in ways that objectify or otherwise dehumanize them.  For instance, people who are undocumented immigrants are not “illegals,” just as Black people should not be referred to as “the Blacks.”

  3. Specificity will be preferred over generalization. Using specific language will clarify descriptions, appropriately identify the intended group, deconstruct the systemic nature of biased assumptions and advance our knowledge. A common example of this is the use of the general term “minority” when describing a fairly specific group, such as “racially minoritized students.”
  4. Capitalization matters and denotes power and legitimacy.    The decision to capitalize terms is not a neutral one, especially when clarifying the racial identity of people.  This has been addressed by APA (2010) when describing the terms Black and White as racial categories, but is considered offensive when using other racial terms associated with skin color.  Capitalization can also denote solidarity and representation of collective identities. The term “Women of Color” highlights the power and solidarity of Black, Latina, Indigenous, and Asian women working together (Western States Center, 2011).  Given this, authors may choose to capitalize collective nouns that reference specific groups seeking sociopolitical unity and power.

  5. Reflect the diversity within groups.  When discussing particular groups, acknowledge that not all members of the group may have the same experience or use the same identity labels.

  6. Use parallel construction when discussing multiple groups.  This could mean avoiding the need to capitalize one racial group (e.g., White) but not capitalizing others (e.g., students of color).  Instead, an acronym such as ALANA (referring to African, Latinx, Asian, and Native Americans) may be used instead of “People of Color.” For example, “ALANA and White students” avoids privileging White in capitalization.  

  7. Alphabetizing lists will help avoid privileging the dominant group.  A listing of gender categories, for example, might be given as agender, cisgender, genderqueer, and transgender.  

  8. Language changes so be dutiful, purposeful, and accountable in your choices. Language is constantly evolving, especially language around identities. Consider the use of the pronouns “they, them, theirs,” for instance.  Although preferred by many nonbinary people, it was shunned as being grammatically incorrect when used to describe an individual person.  And yet, the American Dialect Society chose the singular “they” as their 2015 Word of the Year and the Associated Press has revised their style norms to accommodate “they” as a singular pronoun.  If an author is unclear as to why some language is used over others, alternative language should be used.  While there is no ultimate or exclusive list of accurate word choices, language is still powerful and should be used purposefully.  

We encourage you to consider adopting these principles as you advance your scholarship, with the understanding that the Journal of College Student Development will institutionalize their use in future issues.  

American Dialect Society. (n.d.). Word of the Year is singular “they.” Retrieved June 20, 2017, from http://www.americandialect.org/2015-word-of-the-year-is-singular-they

AP Stylebook Embraces ‘They’ (2017). Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/ap-stylebook-embraces-they-singular-gender-neutral-pronoun-n739076

Western States Center. (2011). The origins of the phrase “Women of Color” [video log]. Retrieved June 20, 2017 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82vl34mi4Iw&feature=youtu.be&list=PL3C8BE942BE420538

Approved by the JCSD Leadership Team, March 2017