Writing inclusive documentation

We write our developer documentation with inclusivity and diversity in mind. This page is not an exhaustive reference, but describes some general guidelines and examples that illustrate some best practices to follow.

Avoid ableist language

When trying to achieve a friendly and conversational tone, problematic ableist language may slip in. This can come in the form of figures of speech and other turns of phrase. Be sensitive to your word choice, especially when aiming for an informal tone. Ableist language includes words or phrases such as crazy, insane, blind to or blind eye to, cripple, dumb, and others. Choose alternative words depending on the context. For example:

Not recommended: Before launch, give everything a final sanity-check.

Recommended: Before launch, give everything a final check for completeness and clarity.

Not recommended: There are some crazy outliers in the data.

Recommended: There are some baffling outliers in the data.

Not recommended: It cripples the service, causing a poor user experience until the queue clears.

Recommended: It slows down the service, causing a poor user experience until the queue clears.

Not recommended: Replace the dummy variable in this example with the appropriate variable.

Recommended: Replace the placeholder variable in this example with the appropriate variable.

Avoid unnecessarily gendered language

In addition to being mindful of the pronouns used in narrative examples, be sensitive to other possible sources of gendered language.

Not recommended: Equipment installation and setup takes around 16 man-hours to complete.

Recommended: Equipment installation takes around 16 person-hours to complete.

Not recommended: This API might be just what your globally conscious company needs to help all of mankind.

Recommended: This API might be just what your globally conscious company needs to help all of humanity.

Avoid unnecessarily violent language

Avoid graphically violent or harmful terms. For example, avoid using the term STONITH; instead, describe the process used to stop an errant node in context using more specific terms.

If it's unavoidable and you must mention a violent or harmful term such as STONITH, mention it once when you first explain the relevant feature, but phrase it in a way that de-emphasizes the term. For example:

Recommended: This might require you to fence failed nodes.

Sometimes okay: This might require you to fence failed nodes (sometimes referred to as STONITH).

Avoid the use of figurative language that relates to the slaughter of animals. For example, avoid using the metaphor of pets versus cattle when comparing on-premises or stateful systems with stateless cloud systems.

Write diverse and inclusive examples

Use diverse names, genders, ages, and locations in examples. Keep the following advice in mind:

  • Follow our gender-neutral pronoun guidance.
  • Avoid being too culturally specific to the US. Be mindful when referring to specific holidays, cultural practices, sports, figures of speech, etc. Being sensitive here also supports writing for a global audience.
  • Take care to choose a diverse set of names to help examples reflect the real world diversity of our audience.
  • When writing about older adults, avoid terms and figures of speech such as the elderly, the aged, seniors, senior citizens, 80 years young. Instead, use terms such as older adults, aging population, or mention the person's relative age or relationship to the other people in your example when those details are relevant.

Write about features and users in inclusive ways

Avoid referring to people in divisive ways. For example, instead of referring to people as "native speakers" or "non-native speakers" of English, consider whether or not your document needs to discuss this at all, and revise in order to discuss the feature in terms that are relevant to anyone regardless of what languages they know.

Avoid using socially-charged terms for technical concepts where possible. For example, avoid terms such as blacklist, native feature, and first-class citizen, even though these terms may still be widely used. Instead of first-class, consider other terms such as: core feature, built-in, top-level. Choose the best term for your context.

Avoid bias and harm when discussing disability and accessibility

Many developers create products with accessibility and disability in mind. When documenting these features, and when writing about people with disabilities or about accessibility, work to eliminate unintentional bias and harm. Take the time to educate yourself about the ways the communities you're writing about prefer to be identified and described before writing about them in your documentation.

Some general guidelines in this area include:

  • Don't describe people without disabilities as "normal" or "healthy". This contributes to othering and alienation of people with disabilities by implying they are abnormal or sick. Instead, use terms such as: nondisabled person, sighted person, hearing person, person without disabilities, neurotypical person.
  • Research the ways the people in the communities you're writing about prefer to be identified and use the terms they prefer. In many cases, avoid terms that remove personhood, or that define people by their disability. For example, avoid terms such as: the disabled, a quadriplegic. Instead, use terms such as: people with disabilities; a quadriplegic person. However, many members of some communities prefer "identity-first language"; for example, that preference is common in autistic, blind, and Deaf communities. Capitalization of identities also may vary. (For example, visit Identity First Autistic and Self-Identification in the Deaf Community for some perspectives.) Whenever possible, research and choose terms that respect the ways people in the communities identify.
  • Avoid terms that reflect or project feelings and judgements about a person's disability, such as: victim of, suffering from, wheelchair-bound. Instead, use neutral terms such as: experiencing, living with, uses a wheelchair.
  • Avoid euphemisms or patronizing terms such as: physically challenged, special, differently abled, handi-capable.