Industry Insights

How to Write a Survey with Inclusive Language


Writing a market research survey prioritizing inclusive language is important to ensure that all individuals feel comfortable when participating in a study. Inclusive survey language is a crucial aspect of creating studies that are accessible and respectful to all individuals. Surveys that use inclusive language are designed to reduce the possibility of marginalizing, alienating, or biasing participants based on their gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or ability, even before the survey begins. It is essential that survey questions and response options are crafted in a way that is sensitive and informed while still gathering the necessary data. Using inclusive survey language can help increase the validity and reliability of survey data by ensuring that all individuals are able to participate fully and comfortably. Here are some tips on how to write a survey with inclusive language. 

Use gender-neutral language 

When writing survey questions, it is important to use gender-neutral language. This means avoiding the use of gendered pronouns such as “he” or “she” and instead using gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” or “them”. For example, instead of saying “What is his or her age?”, you can say “What is their age?” This way, you are not making assumptions about the gender of the participant, and you are being more inclusive of non-binary and gender-queer individuals. 

Be mindful of race and ethnicity 

Being mindful of race and ethnicity is not only ethical, it’s essential when writing questions using inclusive survey language. It is important to consider the diversity of the survey population and be sensitive to the ways in which questions and response options may impact individuals of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. For example, using language that implies a specific race or ethnicity is more prone to certain behaviors or experiences can reinforce harmful stereotypes and create a hostile survey environment for respondents. That is why it is crucial to incorporate an option in surveys that allows participants to select more than one race, ensuring inclusivity. Similarly, using outdated or offensive terms to describe different racial or ethnic groups can lead to feelings of exclusion and disrespect. When crafting survey questions, it is essential to use appropriate terminology and avoid language that could be seen as offensive or biased. 

Avoid using ableist language 

Ableist language is a language that is harmful to individuals with disabilities. Using inclusive survey language means being mindful of the language used to describe individuals with disabilities. It is essential to avoid language that may perpetuate harmful stereotypes or exclude individuals with disabilities from the survey process. Here are some examples of using ableist language:

  • Using words like “able-bodied” to describe individuals who do not have a disability can reinforce the idea that disability is a negative characteristic. 
  • When crafting survey questions, it is important to use language that is respectful and person-first, such as “person with a disability” or “person who uses a wheelchair.” 
  • Use respectful terminology: Instead of using outdated terms like “handicapped,” ask “Do you require any accommodations due to mobility or health conditions?”
  • Allow for open responses: Use an open-ended question like “Please share any additional information that can help us better understand your perspective and needs” to give participants an opportunity to provide relevant details.

It is also important to ensure that survey questions are accessible to individuals with disabilities, including options for participants to indicate if they need accommodations to fully participate in the survey process. These may include implementing different reading modes such as adjustable font sizes and line spacing, using high contrast and readable color schemes, employing clear and concise language, ensuring compatibility with screen readers, offering alternative formats such as text-to-speech, and conducting user testing and feedback. By considering these features and addressing the diverse needs of participants with disabilities, researchers can create surveys that are more inclusive and allow for equal participation.

Consider using inclusive survey language in response options 

Inclusive survey language is not limited to the phrasing of survey questions but also extends to the response options provided. Response options should be carefully crafted to ensure that all individuals can comfortably and accurately respond to the questions posed. For example, response options should avoid using gendered pronouns or binary gender categories and instead include non-binary gender options for participants to self-identify their gender. Similarly, response options should be inclusive of diverse racial and ethnic identities and should avoid language that reinforces harmful stereotypes or excludes specific groups of individuals. When appropriate, survey response options should provide the opportunity for participants to provide open-ended responses to fully capture their experiences and perspectives. Using inclusive survey language in response options helps to create a more welcoming and inclusive survey environment to ensure that all participants can fully engage in the survey process.

For example, instead of using binary options like “male” and “female” for a gender-related question, researchers can provide more inclusive response options such as “male,” “female,” “non-binary,” or “other” at a minimum. This allows individuals who identify outside the traditional gender categories to select a response that better represents their gender identity. By using inclusive language, researchers demonstrate their commitment to recognizing and respecting the diversity of survey participants.

Use plain language 

Using plain straightforward language is important to ensure that all individuals can understand and respond to survey questions. Avoid using complex or technical terms that could be misunderstood, and instead, use simple language that is easily understood by all individuals. When aiming to be inclusive, it is generally recommended to target an 8th to 9th-grade reading level. This ensures that the survey is more accessible to a wide range of individuals, including those with varying levels of education and literacy. 

Consider using visuals 

Visual aids such as images, charts, and graphs can help make survey questions more accessible and inclusive. For example, instead of asking a question about income using only text, consider using a graph that allows participants to select their income level depending on your target audience. This way, you are making the question more visual and easier to understand. 


Here’s an example of a survey question that has been revised to use more inclusive survey language: 

Original question: What is your marital status? 

Revised question: What is your current relationship status? (Select all that apply)

Original question: What is your race? 

Revised question: Please select all races that apply to you:

  • African American/Black 
  • Asian 
  • Hispanic/Latinx 
  • Native American/Indigenous 
  • White 
  • Multiple races (please specify)
  • Prefer not to say

These revised questions use more inclusive language by expanding beyond the traditional categories of marital status (i.e. single, married, divorced, widowed) or race and instead asking about current relationship status and offering the participant to select multiple races. This way, individuals who are in non-marital relationships or who do not identify with just one race are still included and accounted for.


Writing a survey with inclusive language is important to ensure that all individuals feel comfortable and included in the survey process. Using gender-neutral language, being mindful of race and ethnicity, avoiding ableist language, using plain language, and considering the use of visuals can all help make survey questions more inclusive and accessible. By taking these steps, you can create a survey that is respectful of diversity and promotes inclusivity.

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