Purdue quietly revises ‘biased language’ writing guide
- Purdue University has made changes to its popular online writing guide after being widely criticized for stating that words with “man” in them “should be avoided.”
- The school is not planning to issue an official statement explaining the revisions, saying only that changes were “made in some of the introductory language to make it less judgmental and prescriptive.”
Purdue University has made changes to its popular online writing guide after being widely criticized for stating that words with “man” in them “should be avoided.”
As Campus Reform previously reported, the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) suggested that college students should find alternatives to “the generic use of MAN and other words with masculine markers”—such as “mailman” and “man-made”—because such terms are “sexist.”
While the guide still suggests finding alternatives to these words, some substantial changes have been made following Campus Reform’s reporting.
Instead of declaring that “writing in a non-sexist, non-biased way is both ethically sound and effective,” for instance, the guide now simply states that “writing without gender bias is sound and effective,” changing the section title to “gender-biased language” rather than “non-sexist language.”
Additionally, the popular resource now includes a note that encourages readers to “always consult your professional or disciplinary community standards or imagine what is appropriate to your rhetorical audience or genre,” though it still claims that “writing without gender-biased language is necessary for most audiences.”
“We merely share what our professional associations advocate, among them the National Council of Teachers of English and its Conference on College Composition and Communication,” the guide adds. “We invite you to explore or ask your own professional or disciplinary organizations for guidance.”
Another section that previously stated that “historically, some jobs have been dominated by one gender or the other” has also been removed from the guide.
Similarly, the first line in the resource now states that “biased language frequently occurs with gender, but can also offend groups of people based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, political interest, or race,” whereas it used to say simply that students should “avoid using language that is stereotypical or biased in any way.”
Brian Zink, the senior director of news and information, told Campus Reform that while there will be no official university statement on the matter, the changes were “made in some of the introductory language to make it less judgmental and prescriptive.”
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