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  • Jesse

How to write inclusive proposals

In my brief time working for an Australian company (I’m American) I’ve learned a couple of things. First, Australian people really use the word “bloke.” I only knew the term from Outback Steakhouse bathroom signs and wasn’t sure if it was really part of the local lexicon. 

Along that same line, I’ve also learned that Australian folks use a decent bit of slang. Most of the time I’m able to get the meaning from context. When it’s clear I’m lost, one of my co-workers always gladly fills me in. They make sure I’m included. 

The last few years the idea of inclusive language has become a more common topic of discussion. Inclusive language is communication that avoids slang, colloquialisms, or statements that discriminate against, or alienate, people based on their race, gender, socioeconomic status, and any defining characteristic. 

Most of the time when someone uses non-inclusive language, it’s not malicious in intent, it’s simply something that wasn’t considered. However, that can be an issue because more and more you’re not interacting with just one person in an organization. You’re interacting with entire teams.   

When you use language inclusive of all individuals, you reach more varied readers. Simply,  people want to speak with people that show respect, kindness, and interest.

Write shorter sentences

The longer the sentence, the more difficult it is for a screen reader to parse. Beyond that, only 400 million people in the world speak English as their primary language. Writing long and complex sentences can be more challenging for non-native speakers to read.

When trying to shorten down your sentences, start by writing a first draft of what you mean. Then, go through each sentence to see if all of the words are necessary. For example, if you wrote “purchasing your very own house,” you could shorten it to “buying your house,” and it would mean the same thing.

As you shorten your phrasing, be mindful of niche language used by your company or industry. Acronyms and slang can be too confusing outside of context. When introducing a new concept or idea, always refer to it as its full title before using acronyms.

Outside of your language, be mindful of requirements for screen readers within your proposals. Here are a few things you can do to make your proposals easier to read for assistive technology:

  • Be descriptive in hyperlinks so people understand what they’re clicking on
  • Add alt text on any images that explain what is depicted
  • Use lists, rather than paragraphs, as frequently as possible
  • Create descriptive headings

Remove gendered references

Most of the time when selling, your pitch won’t be geared toward one specific gender. Given that, gendered pronouns and references are something you should stay aware of. 

For example, assume you’re a lipstick brand. You may have, in the past, written: “women love our lipsticks.” Instead, try writing, “people love our lipsticks,” which also allows men, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary individuals to feel ownership of the statement.

It might seem like a lot of work, but it’s relatively straightforward to restructure your sentences so that plural nouns (like “they” or “them”) replace singular pronouns (like “she” or “her”). 

This adjustment keeps you from making incorrect assumptions about a person’s gender and makes your proposal more applicable to wider audiences. 

Lastly, historically many titles have had “man” in them—congressman, salesman, businessman—you don’t need those. Replace “man” with “person” in those phrases to make them representative of all people.

Again, it’s relatively straightforward could be what allows someone to connect more to your proposal. So, it may take some time, but it will be well worth it. 

Avoid loaded language

If I asked you to define yourself using just one word, it would be pretty difficult to do, right? That’s because we’re all complex beings with many facets to what us us. One common mistake of non-inclusive language is that it puts too much emphasis on one part of someone’s identity. 

For instance, if you’re talking about epilepsy, you would refer to “people with epilepsy” rather than “epileptic people.” You should never imply that a single quality is what defines someone. 

Similarly, avoid victimizing people for their disabilities or illnesses. People often use language like “suffering from” or “a victim of,” when who they’re talking about may not self-identify as such. 

Instead of saying that someone “suffers from” depression, for instance, refer to them as “a person with depression.” Try to take any quality assumptions out of your proposal.

That said, don’t trivialize the pain that people with disabilities go through. There are so many metaphors that companies use that liken mental illness with everyday behaviors. 

Take, for instance, the phrase “feeling depressed about your MRR?” Instead, write something like “feeling frustrated by your MRR?” to avoid minimizing individuals’ experience with depression. 

Some other words that you can quickly and easily replace in your proposals to make them more inclusive are:

  • Dumb
  • Insane
  • Crazy
  • Tone-deaf
  • Psycho
  • Guys
  • Invalid
  • Impaired
  • Normal
  • Healthy

I understand these instances may not come up often when writing a proposal, but it’s always good to be informed just in case. 

Amplify your message

Writing inclusively doesn’t just feel good; it opens up your message and makes it accessible to far more people than usual. That means your proposal (or anything else that you write) is more welcoming, approachable, and enjoyable to all audiences.

It’s like when you watch someone selling a house they always say, “look at your living room.” They’re trying to get the potential buyer to envision themselves in the house. By using inclusive language in your proposals you’re doing the same.  

The last thing you want to do when trying to sell something is alienate your buyer or make them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. 

When you’re first getting started making your proposals more inclusive, it can feel like an uphill battle. There’s a lot to learn and many new considerations that you wouldn’t have had in mind before being more intentional. 

That said, in the long run, you’ll end up reaching more people, having more engaged customers, and building lasting relationships with your prospects and clients far into the future.

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