online proofreading course

Sensitivity Proofreading – Identifying Loaded Language

When I was a child, I happened to glance down at the open notebook on my class teacher’s table and read the following next to my friend’s name:

Name: Howard xxxx
Background: From a broken home

I was confused. Howard’s home seemed to be intact to me. There were no broken windows, the walls had no cracks, and the roof did not leak. Nothing that I could see was broken inside or outside the home! This was my first encounter with loaded language and it’s continued to be a topic close to my heart.

Here’s a more recent example: I was involved in proofreading an academic book on health care. The author used the term “poor area”, rather than terms like “low-income community”, or “under-resourced area”. I suggested that these alternatives carried a more socio-economic description than a label that reinforced a stereotype. He eventually accepted.

What has Loaded Language got to do with Proofreading?

While a document or manuscript should have been reviewed by the publisher or copy editor before it gets to the proofreading stage, it is within the scope of a proofreader to pick up language that might cause offence. It is your role to communicate your concerns to the client or author.

A skilled proofreader goes the extra mile to work with a text mindfully, being constantly aware and alert to words, language, or a tone or voice that could trigger sensitivity, judgement, or be offensive. It is about identifying language that may be outdated or nuanced with controversial undertones that could be biased, unfair, and harmful. This is also known as sensitivity proofreading.

Sometimes, it is relatively easy to identify biased, outdated, or offensive words and terms. However, this is not always the case. Bias and prejudice may be a lot more nuanced and subtle in a text and may find expression in any, or all, of the following identities, and these may sometimes intersect: age, disability, gender, racial identity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.

It’s important to be aware of your own biases and prejudices, and to ensure that these do not interfere with your role as a professional proofreader.

What are the Guidelines Proofreaders Should Follow?

The American Psychological Association (APA) provides general principles and guidelines for academic writers to bear in mind when writing about people and their personal characteristics in an unbiased way. These are also valuable guidelines for the proofreader.

proofreading course online
(Adapted from APA Style, 2020. General Principles for Reducing Bias)

But always remember that when proofreading, you will need to consider the context in which a word or phrase is used and the writer’s or client’s intent. Then decide on the best alternative or course of action.

What’s the Next Step if you Identify Loaded Language?

Once you have identified any loaded language, then what do you do as a proofreader? My suggestion is to generate an author query. For example:

[query to author: The term, “broken home” may be misconstrued. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to describe the child’s background in a more unbiased way. I suggest either being specific about what you are trying to convey, or finding a more sensitive and neutral term, such as “parents are divorced”.]

[query to author: Perhaps it is more appropriate to use “low-income community” or “under-resourced neighbourhood” to avoid stereotyping or labelling groups of people. Please advise.]

What Else Should you Check for Bias or Stereotypes?

A proofreader should also check visual images used in the copy to ensure that they are free of implicit bias or stereotypes, and that they are inclusive and respectful. An average proofreader might have limited awareness and skip over these trigger words or the loaded language. A professional and skilled proofreader comes to the text with a sensitive, mindful, critical, analytical, and ethical attitude and mindset. A GREAT proofreader keeps up to date with current language debates and conventions.

Identify the issue. Consult the client. Make a decision.

WordWise – Online Proofreading Course

If you are looking for a self-paced online proofreading course, you have come to the right place. The Skilled Proofreader online course is designed to help you get comfortable with identifying loaded language and proofreading with sensitivity.

Follow by Email