Inclusive language

At Monash, we know that language is enormously powerful and politically charged. We use inclusive language not because we're politically correct, but because it's accurate, fair, respectful and necessary.

Inclusive language simply means language that avoids marginalising people who are already marginalised. It's language that is accessible and meaningful to a wide audience.

Lazy language reflects lazy thinking, so use language that reflects Australia's diversity without stereotyping groups of people on the basis of their race, age, ability, gender, religion, culture, appearance or dress code. Not all students from China work hard, and not all skinheads are thugs.

Language and culture change, so consider this section a guide rather than a rule book. If in doubt refer to the Style manual for authors, editors and printers.

Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders

It is a mark of respect to refer to an Aboriginal person by their language or cultural group, if you know it. In other words, prefer 'a Wurundjeri elder' to 'an Aboriginal woman'. (Do not assume, however, that all elderly Indigenous people are 'elders'.)

To refer to the entire Indigenous community, or if you don't know someone's clan, use terms like 'Aboriginal Australians', 'Indigenous Australians', 'Aboriginal people', or 'First Australians'. Use 'Aboriginal' or 'Indigenous' as adjectives.

Be aware that Aboriginal people who have been displaced may not know their language or cultural group.

Always capitalise 'Indigenous' and 'Aboriginal' when you're referring to Australian Aboriginals, but not when you are referring generally to the original inhabitants of other continents.

The indigenous people of the central United States include the Blackfoot and the Kiowa Apache.

Terms like Koori and Nyoongar are not interchangeable for 'Indigenous'. They refer specifically to a group of Indigenous Australians who identify with a specific area and language. Respect this distinction.

If you're unsure how to refer to a specific group, or you want to know who to acknowledge for an Acknowledgement of Country, ask. Contact the Indigenous Engagement Unit.

Some Aboriginal people refer to themselves as 'blacks' or 'Aborigines', but others consider these terms offensive. If you are not an Indigenous Australian, avoid them.

Always spell 'Torres Strait Islanders' out in full. Never use the terms 'islanders' or 'natives' unless there's a good reason.

Together, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up Australia's indigenous population. Again, always spell it out – do not use the acronym 'ATSI'.


All Australian citizens and permanent residents – no matter what their religion, skin colour or country of birth – are Australians. Don't describe people by their country of origin or religion, as in 'Chinese Australian' or 'Muslim Australian', unless it's relevant.

Think critically about your assumptions. The word 'Asian', for example, incorporates many countries with entirely different cultures. Be specific. Avoid terms like 'NESB' for 'non-English speaking background' – it's bureaucratic shorthand, not meaningful English.


Some nationalities use first names last. If you're unfamiliar with a name, you may also be unsure of a person's gender. In these instances, it's always best to ask respectfully and clarify.

Terms like 'Christian name' should be replaced by 'first name' for the obvious reason that the person in question may not be Christian.


Do not define people by their disabilities any more than you would their hair colour. If someone's disability is relevant in context, always describe him or her as a person with a disability rather than a disabled person.

Many, but not all, deaf Australians use the sign language Auslan and identify this as their first or primary language. They identify as 'Deaf' (with a capital D) as a mark of identity within the community. If in doubt, ask.

Remember that people with disabilities are often grouped together even when they have little in common. Disabilities may be psychological, physical or intellectual. Focus on a person's ability or expertise, rather than their wheelchair or guide dog.

Do not adopt sympathetic or sycophantic language when talking about people with disabilities. They may not want sympathy, and they may not feel particularly heroic.


Unless gender is relevant, always use gender-neutral words rather than gender-specific ones. For example, use 'workforce' instead of 'manpower', 'artificial' instead of 'man made', and 'police officer' instead of 'policeman'.

Most occupational terms are already generic, so there is no need for qualifiers like 'female academic','male nurse' or 'actress'.

Remember also that sexual preference is not a given, so don't make assumptions. Unless you are sure, use 'partner' rather than a gender-specific term such as 'boyfriend' or 'wife'.


Do not default to a generic gendered pronoun like 'he' or 'she' to talk about a generic person. For example, do not say:

A mid-year entry applicant must lodge his forms directly to the University.

Instead, you can:

  • speak in the second person. This should always be the first option, as it aligns with the Monash voice

    If you apply mid-year, lodge your forms directly to the University.

  • recast sentences in the plural

    Mid-year entry applicants must lodge their forms directly to the University.

  • leave out or replace the pronoun

    A mid-year entry applicant must lodge all forms directly to the University.

  • use 'his or her'

    A mid-year entry applicant must lodge his or her forms directly to the University.

  • use 'they', 'their' or 'them'.

    A mid-year entry applicant must lodge their forms directly to the University.

Note that using 'they', 'their' and 'them' to refer to singular subjects is increasingly regarded as grammatically correct. It allows you to speak to a broader audience of men, women, and other identifying genders.

Personal pronouns and gender identity

It is important to respect a person's gender identity and chosen personal pronoun – even if they do not look or sound like we might expect from someone of that gender. While some transgender, intersex or gender diverse people do identify as male or female,other people may identify as both male and female or neither male nor female. Some use the usual pronouns like 'she' or 'he', while others may prefer non-binary pronouns such as 'they' or other gender-neutral pronouns like 'zie'.

Recognise the dignity of each individual by respecting their wishes about personal pronouns. If there's any confusion, politely check someone's preferred pronoun by asking in a direct but sensitive way.

For other terms relevant to gender identity and the LGBTIQ community, see the Monash Ally Network's glossary.