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The post Should You Use ‘He’, ‘She’ or ‘They’ in Your Blog Posts? appeared first on ProBlogger.

Should you use 'he', 'she' or 'they' in your blog posts?This is a post by ProBlogger writing expert Ali Luke

You probably already know you should use “I” and “you” in your blog posts. But how do you use “he”, “she” and “they” in your blogging?

It’s an important issue, and one bloggers don’t always think about.

Let’s say you’re working on a blog post and you’ve got a sentences like this:

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that [PRONOUN] can provide you with relevant samples of [POSSESSIVE PRONOUN] writing.

What should go in the ‘pronoun’ spaces? There are several potential options, some of which are more appropriate than others.

Option #1: If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that he can provide you with relevant samples of his writing.

Option #2: If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that she can provide you with relevant samples of her writing.

Option #3: If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that he/she can provide you with relevant samples of his/her writing.

Option #4: If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that they can provide you with relevant samples of their writing.

Option #5: If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that it can provide you with relevant samples of its writing.

We can dismiss option #5 immediately. In most contexts, “it” sounds bizarre and dehumanising when referring to a person. (There are a few exceptions, such as “It’s a girl!” when a baby is born.)

So which of the other four options should you pick. And why does it matter?

Option #1: Use “He” Because It’s How It Was Traditionally Done

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that he can provide you with relevant samples of his writing.

A few generations ago, a sentence like this wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. (Well, other than because “blogging” wasn’t a thing back then.)

Traditionally, “he” could be used in this type of sentence as a neutral pronoun to encompass both male and female. Old style guides might still suggest it be used that way.

But today it’s rare to come across any writer who believes “he” can be used neutrally. Regardless of the intent, “he” inevitably implies the person being referred to is male, not female.

In our example sentence, using “he” might be seen as implying that freelance bloggers are mostly male (or even that they should be male), which is far from ideal.

One case where it might make sense to use “he” for hypothetical people is when you’re writing for a blog aimed solely at males (e.g. a blog about prostate cancer). But it can still be an issue, as we’ll come to when we discuss the use of “they”.

Option #2: Use “She” to Make a Point

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that she can provide you with relevant samples of her writing.

An alternative approach is to use “she”. It’s likely to stand out because it’s not as common as using “he”, which may be what you want. For instance, you might want to challenge the reader’s unconscious assumptions by using “she” to talk about hypothetical CEOs or managers.

The danger with this approach is that, just like using “he”, it can come across as exclusive and ruling men out of the conversation. It could also imply that you feel some roles are or should be female only (e.g. using “she” when talking about an assistant or secretary).

Again, “she” might make sense is if you have a blog aimed solely at females (e.g. a blog about ovarian cancer). But it can also be an issue, as we’ll come to when we discuss the use of “they”.

Option #3: Use “He/She” to Keep Things Equal

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that he/she can provide you with relevant samples of his/her writing.

The advantage of this approach is people won’t object to it on grammatical grounds. But if you do it for more than a sentence or two it becomes very clunky to read, which is a real disadvantage.

You could use “s/he” instead of “he/she”, but that also starts to look clumsy after a while. And there’s no real variation for “his/her”.

Still, if you’re writing something very formal or official then using “he/she” might be your best option.

Another alternative is to alternate between “he” and “she” in successive blog posts, or perhaps in successive examples within a single blog post. So you might write something like this:

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that he can provide you with relevant samples of his writing.

[…]

Make sure you offer your freelance blogger feedback on how she is doing. It’s unfair to blame her for not meeting expectations you haven’t clearly set out.

If you’re determined to avoid using “they” (which we’ll come to in a moment), then alternating between “he” and “she” is probably the best method. But you need to make sure you are alternating (rather than simply throwing in a “she” occasionally), and that you’re not using “he” for higher status roles than “she”.

Option #4: Use “They”, Either as a Singular Pronoun or By Rewriting the Sentence

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that they can provide you with relevant samples of their writing.

This is my favourite option. These days I simply use it as a singular pronoun. I know some people dislike that, but it’s become very common across all sorts of media. (It’s also found in writing going back centuries, as the Oxford Dictionaries site explains here.)

There are several crucial advantages to using “they” in this way:

  • It’s truly neutral
  • It doesn’t look clunky like “he/she” or “s/he”
  • It’s inclusive of non-binary readers

That third point is important, and may need some unpacking.

Some of your readers may not identify as being either male or female. This can be the case even if your blog is aimed at a particular biological sex. (If you’re writing about ovarian cancer or prostate cancer, some of your readers may well be non-binary. You might also have transgender readers.)

The preferred pronoun for most of these readers is likely to be “they” (though there are other options such as “ze”), so using it as your all-purpose neutral pronoun makes great sense. That way you’re including all your readers: male, female and non-binary.

But if you’re strongly opposed to using “they” as a singular pronoun, there’s a simple solution: rewrite your sentence to make the subject plural.

If you want to hire bloggers to write for you, it’s important that they can provide you with relevant samples of their writing.

While it won’t work for every sentence of this type, in most cases it will solve the he/she/they issue. No-one will fault you on your grammar, and it’s inclusive of readers of any gender.

Why This Matters (Even Though It’s Your Blog)

A few weeks ago the he/she/they issue generated a huge discussion in the ProBlogger Community group on Facebook.

One of the views there was along the lines of:

It’s my blog. I’ll do what I like, and if readers don’t like it then I don’t want them as readers anyway.

Another view was along these lines:

People get offended too easily these days.

While I can understand those perspectives, I disagree with them.

Of course we should be free to run our blogs however we like, and that includes the language we use. For instance, bloggers who swear frequently might feel it’s a crucial part of their brand. And they’re happy to pay the price of losing some readers who don’t like that kind of language.

But I don’t think we should see he/she/they as a minor, insignificant issue that people are just waiting to be ‘offended’ over.

Instead, it’s an opportunity to bring about a more equal world where people of all genders feel equally valued and welcomed, which is hopefully something we all want. As bloggers and writers, we have an important role to play here.

Of course, in the end it’s your blog and your choice about the pronouns you use. All I ask is that you give it a bit of thought, and consider that your assumptions (e.g. “Everyone knows ‘he’ can be used as a neutral pronoun”, “Everyone is either a ‘he’ or a ‘she’”) might not be correct.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that language changes and evolves over time. And that’s a good thing. It means the words we use reflect the changing society in which we live. Just because a particular grammatical rule or guideline was in use fifty years ago doesn’t mean it should still be used today.

How do you handle the “he/she/they” issue on your blog? Is it something you’ve already considered? Is there something you might change going forward? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Image credit: Tim Mossholder

The post Should You Use ‘He’, ‘She’ or ‘They’ in Your Blog Posts? appeared first on ProBlogger.

      

The post Should You Use ‘He', ‘She' or ‘They' in Your Blog Posts? appeared first on ProBlogger.

Should you use 'he', 'she' or 'they' in your blog posts?This is a post by ProBlogger writing expert Ali Luke

You probably already know you should use “I” and “you” in your blog posts. But how do you use “he”, “she” and “they” in your blogging?

It’s an important issue, and one bloggers don’t always think about.

Let’s say you’re working on a blog post and you’ve got a sentences like this:

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that [PRONOUN] can provide you with relevant samples of [POSSESSIVE PRONOUN] writing.

What should go in the ‘pronoun’ spaces? There are several potential options, some of which are more appropriate than others.

Option #1: If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that he can provide you with relevant samples of his writing.

Option #2: If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that she can provide you with relevant samples of her writing.

Option #3: If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that he/she can provide you with relevant samples of his/her writing.

Option #4: If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that they can provide you with relevant samples of their writing.

Option #5: If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that it can provide you with relevant samples of its writing.

We can dismiss option #5 immediately. In most contexts, “it” sounds bizarre and dehumanising when referring to a person. (There are a few exceptions, such as “It’s a girl!” when a baby is born.)

So which of the other four options should you pick. And why does it matter?

Option #1: Use “He” Because It's How It Was Traditionally Done

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that he can provide you with relevant samples of his writing.

A few generations ago, a sentence like this wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. (Well, other than because “blogging” wasn’t a thing back then.)

Traditionally, “he” could be used in this type of sentence as a neutral pronoun to encompass both male and female. Old style guides might still suggest it be used that way.

But today it’s rare to come across any writer who believes “he” can be used neutrally. Regardless of the intent, “he” inevitably implies the person being referred to is male, not female.

In our example sentence, using “he” might be seen as implying that freelance bloggers are mostly male (or even that they should be male), which is far from ideal.

One case where it might make sense to use “he” for hypothetical people is when you’re writing for a blog aimed solely at males (e.g. a blog about prostate cancer). But it can still be an issue, as we’ll come to when we discuss the use of “they”.

Option #2: Use “She” to Make a Point

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that she can provide you with relevant samples of her writing.

An alternative approach is to use “she”. It’s likely to stand out because it’s not as common as using “he”, which may be what you want. For instance, you might want to challenge the reader’s unconscious assumptions by using “she” to talk about hypothetical CEOs or managers.

The danger with this approach is that, just like using “he”, it can come across as exclusive and ruling men out of the conversation. It could also imply that you feel some roles are or should be female only (e.g. using “she” when talking about an assistant or secretary).

Again, “she” might make sense is if you have a blog aimed solely at females (e.g. a blog about ovarian cancer). But it can also be an issue, as we’ll come to when we discuss the use of “they”.

Option #3: Use “He/She” to Keep Things Equal

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that he/she can provide you with relevant samples of his/her writing.

The advantage of this approach is people won’t object to it on grammatical grounds. But if you do it for more than a sentence or two it becomes very clunky to read, which is a real disadvantage.

You could use “s/he” instead of “he/she”, but that also starts to look clumsy after a while. And there’s no real variation for “his/her”.

Still, if you’re writing something very formal or official then using “he/she” might be your best option.

Another alternative is to alternate between “he” and “she” in successive blog posts, or perhaps in successive examples within a single blog post. So you might write something like this:

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that he can provide you with relevant samples of his writing.

[…]

Make sure you offer your freelance blogger feedback on how she is doing. It’s unfair to blame her for not meeting expectations you haven’t clearly set out.

If you’re determined to avoid using “they” (which we’ll come to in a moment), then alternating between “he” and “she” is probably the best method. But you need to make sure you are alternating (rather than simply throwing in a “she” occasionally), and that you’re not using “he” for higher status roles than “she”.

Option #4: Use “They”, Either as a Singular Pronoun or By Rewriting the Sentence

If you want to hire a blogger to write for you, it’s important that they can provide you with relevant samples of their writing.

This is my favourite option. These days I simply use it as a singular pronoun. I know some people dislike that, but it’s become very common across all sorts of media. (It’s also found in writing going back centuries, as the Oxford Dictionaries site explains here.)

There are several crucial advantages to using “they” in this way:

  • It’s truly neutral
  • It doesn’t look clunky like “he/she” or “s/he”
  • It’s inclusive of non-binary readers

That third point is important, and may need some unpacking.

Some of your readers may not identify as being either male or female. This can be the case even if your blog is aimed at a particular biological sex. (If you’re writing about ovarian cancer or prostate cancer, some of your readers may well be non-binary. You might also have transgender readers.)

The preferred pronoun for most of these readers is likely to be “they” (though there are other options such as “ze”), so using it as your all-purpose neutral pronoun makes great sense. That way you’re including all your readers: male, female and non-binary.

But if you’re strongly opposed to using “they” as a singular pronoun, there’s a simple solution: rewrite your sentence to make the subject plural.

If you want to hire bloggers to write for you, it’s important that they can provide you with relevant samples of their writing.

While it won’t work for every sentence of this type, in most cases it will solve the he/she/they issue. No-one will fault you on your grammar, and it’s inclusive of readers of any gender.

Why This Matters (Even Though It’s Your Blog)

A few weeks ago the he/she/they issue generated a huge discussion in the ProBlogger Community group on Facebook.

One of the views there was along the lines of:

It’s my blog. I’ll do what I like, and if readers don’t like it then I don’t want them as readers anyway.

Another view was along these lines:

People get offended too easily these days.

While I can understand those perspectives, I disagree with them.

Of course we should be free to run our blogs however we like, and that includes the language we use. For instance, bloggers who swear frequently might feel it’s a crucial part of their brand. And they’re happy to pay the price of losing some readers who don’t like that kind of language.

But I don’t think we should see he/she/they as a minor, insignificant issue that people are just waiting to be ‘offended’ over.

Instead, it’s an opportunity to bring about a more equal world where people of all genders feel equally valued and welcomed, which is hopefully something we all want. As bloggers and writers, we have an important role to play here.

Of course, in the end it’s your blog and your choice about the pronouns you use. All I ask is that you give it a bit of thought, and consider that your assumptions (e.g. “Everyone knows ‘he’ can be used as a neutral pronoun”, “Everyone is either a ‘he’ or a ‘she’”) might not be correct.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that language changes and evolves over time. And that’s a good thing. It means the words we use reflect the changing society in which we live. Just because a particular grammatical rule or guideline was in use fifty years ago doesn’t mean it should still be used today.

How do you handle the “he/she/they” issue on your blog? Is it something you’ve already considered? Is there something you might change going forward? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Image credit: Tim Mossholder

The post Should You Use ‘He', ‘She' or ‘They' in Your Blog Posts? appeared first on ProBlogger.

      

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