Since language helps define the way that we perceive the world around us, the effective use of words is a critical element of sociological writing. In fact, sociology takes a strong and decisive position about using words “to promote inclusivity and diversity in all areas”:

[The] ASA Style Guide strongly urges the avoidance of language reflecting bias or stereotyping on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, disabilities, sexual orientation, family status, religion, or other personal characteristics.1

Writers must not only be sensitive to using words effectively, they also need to use them correctly. To assist you in producing writing that is correct and sets an effective tone, this chapter contains three main sections that review word usage from the following perspectives:

The first section, Unbiased and Gender-Neutral Language, assists you in updating your vocabulary to terms that are inclusive and that promote diversity. The discussion includes terminology for discussing race and ethnicity as well as disability and aging.

The second section, Similar Words and Tricky Combos, covers common words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings, such as its and it’s or affect and effect. You may find that you are regularly using some of these similar words incorrectly.

The final section, Spelling Tips, covers various ways to build your vocabulary as well as providing some Greek and Latin roots.