Gender neutral pronouns: on grammar and inclusivity

Crayons showing a spectrum of colours

When I started my current job I was given the responsibility of updating the University’s editorial style guide. One of the first things I did was to add a point about pronouns. Our guide now recommends the use of the gender-neutral pronouns them, they and theirs.


Gender is more complex than the existing options we have to define ourselves: male or female.

I wrote a blog post recently on my experiences as someone who considers their gender to be non-binary. It surprised me how many people who read it hadn’t considered that people like me exist. Or how it affects us to live in a world that is set up to support gender binaries.

The binary pronouns, he and she, don€™t allow for people who identify as being non-binary.

I spend too much of my time having people make assumptions about my gender. It is always a challenging and uncomfortable experience. I don’t want to feel that way when I’m reading a website, newspaper or book either.

Writing style

What pronouns do you use when you don’t know the gender of the subject of your sentence? He/she. S/he. His/her.

Let€™s see these in some example sentences:

If you take any medication, tell your dentist before he/she starts your treatment.

Your gift card recipient can choose which department s/he spends it in.

The successful candidate can choose his/her start date.

Urgh. These sentences are a mouthful. Try reading them aloud and you’ll see.

What about this for comparison?

If you take any medication, tell your dentist before they start your treatment.

Your gift card recipient can choose which department they spend it in.

The successful candidate can choose their start date.

Better? Of course it is.

Some people think using a plural pronoun, like they, to refer to an individual is bad grammar. I’d counter these arguments with evidence of a long literary tradition of using they after a singular noun. Read this blog post from the OED if you need convincing.

The use of the singular they is also being adopted by publishers and newspapers. At the end of 2015 the Washington Post added singular they to their style guide. And the American Dialect Society voted singular they as their word of the year in 2015.

Do you write? Try using gender neutral pronouns and see how it improves your work.

Popular Posts of 2015

Reading on a tablet

It’s always interesting to look back at a year on the blog to see what you find interesting. The easiest way to do this is to look at the most popular posts from the year. I’m splitting things out into two lists, one showing the most viewed posts overall and one showing the most viewed posts written in 2015. Let’s see how they compare.

Most popular posts in 2015

Three out of the top five most viewed posts on this blog in the past year are more than two years old. This tells me a few things. Firstly, I’m writing about topics that have staying power. Secondly, that I still have an audience of librarians (which I never doubted). Although the focus of the blog has shifted, along with my work, I’m still connected with my former colleagues and wider network. And it looks like you’re still interested in what I had to say previously on my work in libraries.

Most popular posts written in 2015

I’m encouraged to see here the range of topics covered in these top five posts. There’s a nod to my daily work as a web editor, with posts on training and usability testing. I’m pleased to see my advice to first time bloggers up there too. And there’s also an indication that you’re looking for ways to work smarter and keep on top of things through my productivity tips.

Writing plans

Looking back at what has been popular over the past year is a great way to make an editorial plan for the blog for the year ahead. From these lists I’ve got a good idea of the things you’re interested in and that will direct (in part) what I write about in the future.

If you’ve got other ideas for what you’d like to see my write about, why not get in touch in the comments.

Staying afloat in a sea of information

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sea of information we have access to. There are moments when I’m sure we’ve all felt the waves crashing down on top of us. This post will introduce you to the process I use to help me stay afloat and manage the flow of information.


My main source of information is Twitter. I also subscribe to lots of blogs and newsletters via RSS and email.

Every day I see so many interesting things I want to read but cannot follow up on in the moment. So I have to have a process to collect these to read later.


When I find something interesting that I want to read (or watch) later, bookmark or act on I do one of two things.

If it€™s something work related I email it to a Trello board. Everything I send here gets added as a card to a list called Articles. The card title is the name of the article and the description contains the link. For more information about how boards, lists and cards work, check out the Trello getting started guide.

My reading radar board in Trello

My reading radar board in Trello

Every few days I triage the Articles list and move unread articles to an appropriate category: content strategy, writing, social media, analytics.

For non-work related reading, I send articles to Pocket. I also group these by themes using tags: creativity, LGBT, sport etc.


Once I€™ve read or watched an item (that€™s the process part) it€™s time to act.

Some things just get deleted. Some get shared, via Twitter or Facebook. You can share items to these social networks directly from Pocket. It also links to Buffer if you want to schedule social media posts for later.

Others items get bookmarked for future reference. These tend to be resources or tools that I may want to use again, guides or examples of how something has been done. For this I use Bundlr. It€™s easy to clip links and images straight from a browser using a bookmark or add-on. You can also add things by copying and pasting a link €“ I use this method when I€™m on a tablet or phone.

You can group similar items into Bundles. I€™ve got bundles for different topics, eg blogging, and different types of content, eg style guides. In the past I€™ve also used Bundlr to collate tweets, slides and other resources from events I€™ve attended.

If something really resonates with me then I will blog about it. I€™ve just started using an editorial calendar to work blog post ideas generated in this way with other posts I€™ve got scheduled. This is set up in Trello so it€™s easy to move items from my reading board straight into the editorial calendar.

You can find out more about Trello in my previous post on using Trello for collaborative task management.Learning workflow: discover, collect, process, act

Habit forming

In part I’ve written this post to kick-start something. I’m good at stages one and two in this process, but I need to get better at stages three and four. I need to form a habit.

It’s getting to the time of year when we’re thinking of New Year’s resolutions. One of mine is going to be about making space for the things that are important to me. This includes reading widely and acting on the things I’m learning.

From the new year I’ll set aside a chunk of time every week to triage my reading lists, process the information and decide what to do with what I’ve learned. I’m hoping that this will in turn help with another of my resolutions – to write more. Like all good content strategists, I’ll be using my editorial calendar to map out how all this new content fits together. Perhaps I€™ll write more on this later.

Share your tips

So, that€™s how I manage to stay afloat in the sea of information. I€™m interested to hear how you keep up to date and acting on what you€™re learning. Go ahead and share your tips in the comments.