APA 7th Edition Changes: Inclusive Language

Posted July 2, 2020

After nearly a decade, the American Psychological Association (APA) has updated their style guide, publishing the 7th edition of the manual in late 2019. There are numerous important changes to the guide that will impact doctoral students and candidates as schools begin transition from the 6th to the 7th edition. I hope to highlight some of the changes to using inclusive language in this post.

In an effort to make writing more inclusive, APA has provided new and updated guidelines for writers and researchers in the 7th edition. APA guidelines favor precision in writing, which impacts the way you write about people and populations. This is done to avoid biased language and more accurately describe what you are writing about. When you are trying to describe your participants, think about which demographic characteristics are relevant and which are not. If those characteristics are not relevant in the context of your study, you do not need to include them in describing your sample and participants.

For those characteristics that are relevant, you want to be appropriately specific in your language. For example, when providing an age range, think about using a narrower bracket for those ages, like 60-70 years old, instead of 60+ years old. Another example is using language to make the gender of your participants explicit, if appropriate and relevant. This will help you avoid the assumption that everyone in your sample is cisgender, which means that their gender identity matches the sex they were assigned when they were born.

Intersectionality of identity is another aspect covered in the guidelines for writing inclusively. Intersectionality is the various ways that people identify themselves as possessing different characteristics and as members of different groups – and those characteristics and group memberships may have historically been privileged or marginalized. A woman may identify as Christian, African American, and have a disability. To be inclusive in your dissertation, you want to account for this intersectionality in her identity and describe how these different layers of her identity are relevant to your study.

Writing precisely is always important in scholarly writing. The newest update to the APA style guide provides new guidelines for how to write with even greater precision, especially when identifying those salient aspects of research participants’ identities. Using these tips will help you do this in your own writing.

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