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Hunter Library
Research Guides
Western Carolina University

Inclusive Research Guides Guidelines

Provides guidance around how to create LibGuides that are inclusive of our community of users. Addresses language choices as well as image choices for guides.

Inclusive Language Guidelines

  • Use plain language that is direct and easy to understand.

  • Don't use idioms. Avoiding idioms makes language more accessible to everyone.

  • Be mindful of different backgrounds like socioeconomic status and other diverse characteristics such as ability, age, body size, neurological difference, physical difference, religion, etc. Inclusivity is not limited to gender, race, and sexual orientation.

  • Don't reference identity-related characteristics such as age, gender, race, religion, etc. unless it is relevant and necessary.

  • Use the language people use to describe their identities in their own words, but do so in ways that do not propagate stigma when repeated outside of the relevant demographic group. If term preferences are not known or unclear, default to person-first language.

  • When speaking of someone's circumstances, identity, or orientation, avoid objectifying them by using adjectives to describe them instead of identifying them as a noun. For example, say "LGBTQ+ people," not "the gays."

  • When listing demographic groups, do not default to ordering them according to social hierarchies. Consider options like alphabetical or sample size order instead. For example, instead of listing "White students, Black students, and Latinx students...", use "Black students, Latinx students, and White students."

  • Avoid using language that reinforces ethnic, racial, or other stereotypes. Avoid terms like "non-White" that treat Whiteness as a default, and avoid terms like "minority" which connote inferiority.

  • When deciding whether to capitalize the names of groups, refer to the style guide of the discipline relevant to the research guide you are creating. Some style guides, such as APA, recommend you capitalize all specific ethnic and racial groups, i.e., Black, Indigenous, or White. Other guides may have different recommendations. Regardless, be as specific as possible about the group you are referring to when appropriate.

  • If a subject's gender identity is not known, use gender-neutral language and avoid using binary terms. If there is a need to use a pronoun, use "they/them." Use gender neutral collective nouns, such as "students" instead of “girls/boys" or "server" instead of "waiter/waitress."

  • Do not conflate biological sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

  • Avoid heteronormative language. For example, in two-parent families, refer to "parents" rather than "father and mother" unless speaking about specific individuals with known gender identities and relationships. When referencing couples, use "partner" or "spouse" instead of "girlfriend," "boyfriend," "wife," or "husband," unless specific relationships and identities are known.

  • If it's necessary to describe someone’s disability, avoid euphemisms such as "special needs” or "physically/visually challenged" that may be patronizing or inappropriate. If possible, always use terms or language that the community or individual uses for themselves. 

  • Do not use words that connote intrinsic qualities to describe people from low-income backgrounds, such as "poor," "impoverished," or "homeless.” Consider terms that reflect situational context or circumstance, such as "under-resourced," "homelessness," and "food security.”

Inclusive Image Guidelines

  • Examine how people are shown in images and evaluate whether the images reinforce stereotypes, positive and negative. Avoid images that tokenize the affected demographic or that offer superficial displays of diversity.

  • Ensure images are accurate in terms of their content and placement in relation to other images and text. Avoid conveying an unintended, biased, or harmful meaning with contextual placement of images and text. Think carefully about what the image should accomplish, the topic covered, and the intended audience.

  • Always add a caption and alt text to images. Be mindful of how you describe an image and make sure to include everyone pictured. Focus on general and relevant characteristics when there is a need to describe someone, and do not add unnecessary details. For example, instead of writing, "Young men eating lunch in the quad," use "Students eating lunch in the quad."

  • Try to source diverse images from collections that are created by or authentically represent the relevant social group. (See Diverse Image Source List for suggestions)

  • When choosing images, be mindful of diverse characteristics such as ability, age, body size/shape, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, hair texture, physical difference, race, and skin tone.

  • When choosing images, use a multiracial lens and consider all racial and ethnic communities.

  • When captioning images, do not assume someone's sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Similarly, avoid guessing someone's religion, ethnicity, race, or nationality.


These guidelines were submitted by the Inclusive LibGuides Task Group in June 2022. Members of the task group included

  • Jessica Berkana, Coordinator of Acquisitions Services, University of Delaware
  • Ann Hallyburton, Research and Instruction Librarian and Health Sciences Liaison, Western Carolina University
  • Rebecca Saunders, Cataloging and Metadata Librarian, Western Carolina University