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Symmetry style guide: Writing about people with dignity

by Kathryn Jepsen, last updated 07/25/21


This style guide is meant to help writers write about people.

The words we use to describe ourselves change over time. That's because over time, words themselves change. Words accumulate new context each time they are used, and we adjust our relationships with them, aware of how their connotations shape how we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves.

This style guide is meant to give writers tools to write in ways that:

  1. avoid replicating patterns that have caused harm to the people we write about and to the people who read our writing,
  2. are accurate and avoid inviting readers to make assumptions about individuals and groups, and
  3. uplift in particular individuals and groups who are most affected by the words used to describe them, and who have not always had agency over how they are described.

Note that the guide is based on input mostly from communities in the United States. Also note that the primary intended audience for this style guide is reporters writing nonfiction articles for publications such as Symmetry (though it could be useful for others as well). Lastly, note that language will continue to evolve, so this guide will need to be updated to reflect that.

The guide is divided into five sections.

The first two are introductory:

After that, the guide gets into specific topics:

It also includes a list of references and an index.