Avoiding gender bias
An important part of writing at university and research level is avoiding bias and prejudice, and the use of he as a general reference to both sexes is now dated:
A surgeon must be aware of his limitations.
A graduate student should choose his research topic carefully.
A child learns to speak before he can do simple sums.
Even if you as writer feel he to be neutral or have been taught to use he in this way, this is very likely not the case for all your readers, and many will be offended by the apparent gender-based exclusion.
Similarly, of course, beware of discrimination with she
Ask your secretary if she can type the letter.
A nurse usually trains for several years before she is fully qualified.
Non-biased alternatives include:
Paraphrasing without he or she
A nurse usually trains for several years before qualifying.
Replacing his or her by a or the
A graduate student should read widely before choosing a research topic.
Using the plural and they
Children learn to speak before they can do simple sums.
Surgeons must be aware of their limitations.
Using he or she or she or he
A child learns to speak before he or she can do simple sums.
A surgeon must be aware of her or his limitations.
A child learns to speak before s/he can do simple sums.
A surgeon must be aware of his/her limitations.
Alternating between he and she as a generic pronoun
Some authors alternate between he and she as a generic pronoun in their text:
A surgeon must be aware of her limitations.
Beware also of using terms such as men for general reference:
We long for a world where all men are free.
Better: We long for a world where everyone is free.
The committee will appoint a new chairman next year.
Better: The committee will appoint a new chair or chairperson next year.
Heads of department and their wives are invited to the ceremony.
Better: Heads of department and their spouses or partners are invited to the ceremony.
Gender-neutral terms are now the norm. Although some are artificial coinages, they are preferable to biased labels. A number of examples are given below:
|chair or chairperson
When writing a letter or email to someone you do not know by name (for example the editor of a journal), do not use the male-only Dear Sir or Dear Sirs. Use
In British English
Dear Sir/Madam or Dear Madam/Sir
In US English
Dear Sir or Madam or Dear Madam or Sir