A small commitment

A post from the archive about gender-neutral technical writing.

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I have to write fairly regular blog posts for Podiant, and it can be helpful to give examples of what I’m talking about. The latest article I’m writing is about productivity tools, and I’m using a made-up scenario featuring an imaginary character. In the interests of honesty, I want to walk you through the process I came up with when naming the character.

Out of habit I typed “Geoff”, because I like Eddie Izzard and Geoff Geofftygeoff is something that always sticks in my head. Then I thought “no, really I should make the effort”, and changed it to “Corin”, which is a female name I like.

Why did I do that? Because I’m a man and I didn’t want to just write for men. Because the examples we use reflect the types of people we assume are going to use our products (or whatever the reason you’re writing an example scenario).

But I know people that don’t identify as either, and that use Podiant. So is it really that hard to go for a gender-neutral name and refer to the person as “they”Again, in the interests of candour, I’m one of these dinosaurs who still feels that hearing or reading “they” in place of “he” or “she” is a bit… distracting. I fully know that this is unfair and unhelpful, but I also know that this feeling will go away over time, the more I’m exposed to it. And it strikes me that a good way to normalise usage of a term like this is to start using it more in your own writing.

The other, more simplistic way to look at it is “who does it hurt?” And the answer is basically 0, vs the potential alienation that can occur when you don’t see yourself reflected in society. (This is small beans, but they can add up over time, so if you need a non-SJW-snowflake reason to do it, it’s because there’s no downside to doing it.)

So this isn’t a pledge or a call to arms or anything grand. It just feels like a good thing to do, so when writing example scenarios to help explain something, I’m going to start using gender-neutral names and pronouns. For those that don’t notice, it doesn’t matter, and for those that care, it’s one microscopic way in which they might be a little less alienated.

If it’s helpful, here’s a non-exhaustive list of names I pulled off the Internet (from which I’ve removed the silly ones) that are, as far as I know, neutral.

Ainsley, Alex, Ashley, Aubrey, Avery, Bailey, Cameron, Charlie, Chris/Kris, Eden, Emery, Francis/Frances, Jamie, Jodi(e)/Jody, Jordan, Kerry, Kim, Mickie/Micky, Morgan, Nico, Pat, Tracy

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