Yukon.ca gets over 47,000 visits a month. There is no guarantee that only your intended audience will find your content, or that everyone will understand what you mean.
But we can make sure we get as close to accessible for everyone as we possibly can, simply by being very, very clear.
It’s important to stick to the Government of Yukon Style Guide and the guidelines in this document.
Plain language is mandatory for all of Yukon.ca.
To help you write in plain language and keep content clear, understandable, concise and relevant, your content should be:
- brisk but not terse
- incisive (friendliness can lead to a lack of precision and unnecessary words) – but remain human (not a faceless machine)
- serious but not pompous
- emotionless – adjectives can be subjective and make the text sound more emotive and like spin
- focused on the facts (this makes it easier for you to remove irrelevant information and help your user complete their task).
- use contractions like you’ll (but avoid negative contractions such as can’t)
- not let caveats dictate unwieldy grammar – for example, say "You can" rather than "You may be able to"
- use the language people are using – use Google Trends to check for terms people search for
- not use long sentences – check any sentences with more than 25 words to see if you can split them to make them clearer
- write conversationally – picture your audience and write as if you were talking to them one-to-one but with the authority of someone who can actively help.
(Note: words ending in "–ion" and "–ment" tend to make sentences longer and more complicated than they need to be.)
Name the action(s) you want your user to take. For example – apply for funding, find an office, register for a workshop, get your Yukon health care card, etc.
Use the active rather than passive voice.
The active voice makes it clear who is responsible. In active voice the subject performs the action expressed by the verb.
Active voice: Register your personal property lien through a professional.
In passive voice the subject receives the action expressed by the verb.
Passive voice: Personal property liens can be registered through a professional.
Use "to" instead of a dash on Yukon.ca in date ranges. "To" is quicker to read than a dash, and it’s easier for screen readers.
Always explain what your date range represents, for example, "tax year 2013 to 2014" or "September 2013 to July 2014". Date ranges can be the academic year, calendar year or tax year. This is why date ranges must be very, very clear.
If you’re comparing statistics from 2 different tax or financial years, use "Comparing the financial year ending 2011 with that ending 2012, there was a 9% decrease".
Some date ranges will automatically show a dash due to technical limitations. An example of this is the "events" content type.
Address the user as 'you'
Address the user as "you" where possible. Content on the site often makes a direct appeal to citizens and businesses to get involved or take action. For example, "You can contact us by phone and email" or "Pay your vehicle registration".
When to use ‘we’
Using "we" is fine, as long as you’re making it clear as much as possible who the "we" is. Do not assume the audience will know.
However, it’s not obvious who "we" is in all content. For example, users might enter the content in the middle of a page or section. They could arrive at an H2 heading from the navigation bar on the side, or skim read from the top until they find the section they want. Use the full name of the department or program area if there is ambiguity who ‘we’ refers to.
There are no set rules for writing inclusively. It’s more a matter of being aware that using a word can sometimes have unintended consequences and reduce the perceived value of individuals and groups or of people’s experiences. The consequences of using certain words or phrases can have very real impacts on thoughts, behaviour, culture and organizational priorities.
However, when it comes to gender and other identities, we must also make sure we distinguish between “inclusive” and “neutral” language. For example, when we’re gathering information from Yukoners, it’s important that we include all gender and other identities. We mustn’t avoid collecting information about diverse identities and we mustn’t avoid complex discussions in favour of a more neutral approach. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for guidance on this.
Part of writing inclusively is making sure text is gender neutral wherever possible.
He and she
Not: he/she, his or her
But: they, their
Not: Christian name
But: first name
But: last name
LGBTQ2S (based on the Government of Canada’s style)
- Trans Pride Canada guide
- GLAAD media guide, bear in mind it’s American rather than Canadian.
- (And here’s why we’re not writing the acronym in full.)
Use “it” rather than “she” or “her” to describe ships, nature, nations, cars, engines, gas tanks and so on.
Avoid highlighting gender and ethnicity if it’s not relevant.
Have you avoided unnecessary descriptions?
Not: Aboriginal woman Minister of Justice Jane Doe tabled a bill.
But: Minister of Justice Jane Doe tabled a bill.
Use gender neutral words.
Not: actress, fireman, businessman, spokesman, chairman
But: actor, firefighter, businessperson, spokesperson, chair
Not: man a booth
But: staff a booth
The word “ombudsman” is an exception and is accepted by many people as being gender neutral.
The word “grandfathering” is also not a word that can be simply switched for a gender neutral term (“grandparenting”). It has a complicated story with roots in the history of voting rights for people in the US who were formerly slaves.
Tips to help you avoid describing people differently because of their gender or ethnicity.
- When you don’t know who you’re addressing or don’t know someone’s preferred pronoun or self-identification, use “they” or their job title or role, such as manager, councillor, director, committee member, home owner, parent, reader, teacher, delegate, participant.
- If you’re using a title (honorific), use Ms. when referring to a woman unless she has indicated a preference for Mrs. or Miss.
- To check for descriptions that may be sexist, try substituting a man for a woman in the situation or role.
- Avoid hidden sexism or words that have been traditionally used only to describe specific genders, such as the word “shrill” to describe a woman’s voice rather a man’s, or the phrase “working mom” rather than “working parent.”
- Beware of stereotypes, such as assuming child care is only delivered by women. This applies to choosing images as well as words.
Capitalize Deaf when you’re referring to people who are part of Deaf Culture. For example:
The American Sign Language Interpreting Program will benefit the Deaf community in Yukon.
Also capitalize “Sign language” and “Sign languages”.
Canadian Association of the Deaf website
Writing about disability
People with disabilities
Also see Deaf.
Always put the person first, not someone’s condition or whether they use a particular aid or tool. Stress people’s abilities rather than their disabilities and only refer to someone’s disability if it’s relevant.
Avoid phrases such as “the disabled” and “the blind” because they lump people into a type. Also avoid “handicapped” as it is considered offensive by many people.
Use language that respects people with disabilities as active individuals who have control over their lives.
Not: handicapped, afflicted with a disability, confined to a wheelchair, wheel-chair bound
But: an individual living with a disability, people with disabilities, disabled people, people with visual impairments, people with hearing impairments, people who are differently abled, people who are cognitively impaired
If you need specific information, for example if you are organizing an event, you can ask questions such as: “Do you need wheelchair access?” or “Do you have any audio or visual requirements?”
Not: handicapped parking
But: accessible parking
Using accurate language about violence
How we communicate about violence matters. When we describe violence in vague, misleading and inaccurate language, this obscures and conceals its criminal nature and severity and the responsibility of perpetrators. It also has a negative impact on the level of support a victim receives from service providers and the community, and influences what happens as someone goes through the justice system.
The Government of Yukon has committed to using clear, accurate and respectful language that reflects the true nature of violence and its impact on people.
Violence has many forms – here are some:
- domestic and intimate partner
A guide to help you communicate about violence
Have you used clear, accurate and respectful vocabulary?
- Vague terms that conceal the specific nature and severity of violence. Words such as “incident” tell us nothing about the violence.
- Vocabulary that mutualizes violence. “Mutualizing” occurs when we use words or descriptions that shift responsibility or blame from the perpetrator to the victim. Violence is unilateral – done against another person – and should be described this way. For example, avoid saying “they fought” when one person hit or beat another person.
- Use clear language that accurately describes violence and assigns responsibility to the perpetrator.
- Respect gender identity and expression and write clearly, consistently and respectfully about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans issues. Use terminology that is unambiguous, broadly accepted and neutral in tone, as recommended in the Trans Pride Canada’s Style Guide.
Have you avoided unnecessary descriptions?
- Inflammatory statements and descriptions with irrelevant information – such as lifestyle choices, clothing, sexual history, citizenship or profession – that perpetuate victim blaming and undermine the responsibility of the perpetrator.
- Statements that suggest a positive bias towards a perpetrator’s innocence based on details such as their community standing, race, ethnicity, religion or profession.
- Ensure the victim’s voice is present but leave out unnecessary information about both the victim and the perpetrator. Use the appropriate level of detail to show the victim’s resistance to violence. Be balanced: too much detail can be gratuitous; too little can weaken the victim’s position.
Have you concealed the violence?
- Passive voice and vocabulary that shift the responsibility for the violence from the perpetrator to the victim. For example, statements in passive voice such as “the victim alleged she was raped” fail to reflect that the perpetrator was responsible for the rape. A statement such as “the victim reported the man raped her” is more powerful and clear. Violence is committed against the victim; therefore a victim does not, for example, “engage in” or “perform” sexualized acts. “Sex” and “sexual” are terms that should only be used to describe truly sexual acts; that is, acts that are consensual (mutually agreed upon).
- Use active voice and language that focus attention on the person committing the crime. Make the perpetrator the subject of the sentence and assign verbs to them. For example, “the man kicked her in the head” is clearer than “the victim was kicked.”
Have you implied racial or cultural reasons for violence?
- Statements implying that members of particular groups all behave the same way. It is important to use similar terms for similar actions regardless of a perpetrator’s “race” or ethnicity. For example, avoid describing perpetrators from the visible majority as “shooters” or “mentally ill” while calling people from visible minorities “killers,” “terrorists,” or “thugs.”
- Ensure that your writing does not perpetuate racism or stereotypical perspectives or imply that violence is normal in certain communities.
Have you diminished, exaggerated or rationalized violence?
- Inferences or statements that diminish or exaggerate the occurrence of violence. Violence can occur in all circumstances. For example, violence can occur day and night, with or without alcohol and in public or in the privacy of one’s home. Don’t describe circumstances as either “usual” or “uncommon” or suggest some forms of violence are more serious than others.
- Clearly and accurately describe violence. Use statistics and facts to support statements.
Some vocabulary to avoid
Alternatives: sexualized assault, sexualized violence, violence using sexualized actions, violent sexualized acts, rape.
Why? “Sexual” is consensual and mutualizing. It places responsibility with both the perpetrator and victim. While the term “sexual assault” is often used, “sexualized assault” more accurately describes unilateral (one-sided), non-consensual actions by a perpetrator and should be used instead. It isn’t possible to consent to sexualized assault or violence.
Why? The terms “intercourse” and “sex” describe consensual sexual activity. They imply mutual consent, which suggests the victim was a participant in the activity – that something was done “with” them rather than “against” them. Using these terms normalizes and reconstructs criminal behaviours and equates rape to everyday activity.
Alternatives: forced oral contact, forced mouth on the victim’s mouth (or other body part)
Why? Kissing is a consensual act between two people; it is an act of intimacy or affection. The word “kiss” mutualizes the action and conceals the assault.
alleged, admitted, confessed
Alternatives: reports, reported
Why? Avoid “alleged” because it reinforces the belief that a crime may not have actually occurred. Terms “admitted” and “confessed” imply the victim assumes some responsibility for the violence. “Reports” is more neutral and appropriate.
Be specific and indicate who said what: “Jane Doe reports that…” or “Police say…”
Do not declare a perpetrator’s guilt or innocence until it is proven in the Canadian criminal justice system. Use statements such as “John Doe is reported to be facing charges for…” or “Jane Doe has been charged with…”
Alternatives: witnessed, traumatized, harmed
Why? Those who experience violence are never “unharmed.” Physical injuries may not be present; however, violence causes varying levels of traumatic harm. Descriptions should accurately convey physical, mental, emotional and spiritual harm.
Avoid statements such as “children were upstairs and unharmed” because all children are harmed when they hear or see violence.
Alternatives: intimate partner violence, domestic violence
Why? A “dispute” is a disagreement or argument between two equal parties. “Domestic dispute” minimizes the seriousness of the violence and implies mutual responsibility. It also suggests an isolated incident and may hide patterns of abuse.
Alternatives: attack, sexualized assault, rape
Why? “Incident” is a vague term and does not allow for appropriate social responses. Use clear and accurate language to describe the criminal act.
sex with a minor, child sex tourism, child sex trade, child pornography, child prostitution
Alternatives: rape of a child, international child rape, sexualized violation of a child, rape for profit
Why? Children cannot consent to “sex.” Using the term “rape” is therefore critically important. Children lack the legal capacity to provide consent and therefore no blame or responsibility should be placed with the child.
Alternatives: grabbing body parts, forced touching, forcibly touched
Why? “Sexual” makes the acts seem sensual or pleasurable rather than criminal, harmful and forced upon the victim. Name the body parts to make statement more clear.
Alternatives: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, online sexualized exploitation, harassment
Why? Be careful using the term “bullying” because it is vague and imprecise. The term can minimize the severity and criminality of abuse, force, threat, intimidation or aggression. Be specific about the nature of the violent behaviour if you can.