Building an Inclusive Style Guide the Tech Industry Needs

by Thursday Bram on September 22nd, 2016

Writing about other people’s identities can be difficult, especially when you don’t share a lot of lived experiences. Whether you’re writing documentation on use cases, working on marketing content for different demographics, or covering tech as a journalist, you face the same questions: how do we write inclusively about the people building and using technology today?

Even with ten years of experience, I still sometimes struggle to write about identity both consistently and well. I’m not alone: I’ve worked with many tech writers and other content creators who routinely look for ways to improve their ability to write accurately about identity. Without a standard reference, these writers make mistakes: I can’t even count the number of marketing posts I’ve seen pulled off of startups’ blogs because of harmful, exclusionary or oppressive language. This happens in part because of the lack of training materials to help writers get things right. Offering a fast way to check whether terminology is inappropriate means that the writers putting together job postings, documentation, and other content will be able to make their writing more inclusive — creating ripple effects through our industry.

Series of cards illustrating the Responsible Communication Style Guide:  the cards read 'Write better about gender,' 'Write better about sexuality', as well as cards for religion, health and well-being and race.

That’s why I’m running a Kickstarter with Recompiler Media (the publisher of The Recompiler) to create a new style guide specifically about how to write about identity and technology in a way that is both clear and sensitive. If we can reach our goal, we’ll be able to publish both digital and print versions, broken into five sections:

  • Gender
  • Sexuality
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Health and Well-Being

I’m working with an editor for each section: each editor has writing experience, as well as lived experience with their topic, and are taking point on how to best approach their section. We’ve announced three of our five section editors so far: Stephanie Morillo (also a Model View Culture contributor!) will edit the Race section, Heidi Waterhouse will edit the Sexuality section, and Melissa Chavez will edit the Health and Well-Being section (…though we’ve already asked Melissa to come up with a better title!)

The Kickstarter runs through September 29th. The funds raised are primarily going towards two key costs: the cost of paying editors and writers to produce the style guide and the cost of producing the book. As an added incentive, The Recompiler is using the Kickstarter as an opportunity to celebrate its first year of publishing: perk levels include reprints of the past year’s issues, including those that are currently out of print. We won’t reach our goal without your help. Even $15 (which gets you a digital copy of the style guide to use in your work as soon as possible) makes a difference. Help us make The Responsible Communication Style Guide a reality.