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Our principles for language & writing

To reflect and underpin our commitment to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion, and embedding it into everything we do, we have put in place a set of principles for how we will write and speak about issues relating to ethnicity and forms of social inequality.

Our work is focused on conducting research and publishing reports and resources, in order to make our evidence accessible, relevant and useful to a wide audience. So the language we use and the approach we take in conducting and reporting our work play a fundamental, active and crucial role in shaping our findings, conclusions and recommendations.

We believe that these principles will support our efforts to embed a greater understanding of social inequalities, and a sharper, more consistent focus on their impact, in all our work.

As noted in the EIF strategy on equality, diversity and inclusion, we have elected to prioritise further focus and work on the impact of ethnicity and experiences of race and racism – over other protected characteristics and forms of inequality, for example based on gender or sexual orientation – in recognition of the prevalence and seriousness of these impacts on children’s lives, and in light of the intense public interest in addressing these issues. Data consistently shows that racial inequalities persist, including where other protected characteristics and other factors, such as education, are controlled for. This highlights the fundamental role that ethnicity continues to play in people’s lives.

You can read more about the reflective process that led to these principles in a blog post by Dr Virginia Ghiara on behalf of the EIF team.

In how we write and communicate about ethnicity and early intervention, we will:

  • Be accessible: We are committed to ensuring that our work is accessible to all our audiences. This means that the way that we write or speak about ethnicity and issues relating to social disparities and inequality, or present data or information about these issues, should be as clear and easily understood as possible.
    • Wherever possible, we will use language and terminology that reflects contemporary perspectives on ethnic identity, and avoid creating or perpetuating categories that are not recognised by the wider public or by members of those categories.
  • Be transparent: We will be open and transparent about sources of data and evidence relating to ethnicity, disparities and inequality, and about any important considerations relating to how data has been used in those other studies – for example, where broad conclusions about minority ethnic groups as a general category have been drawn from data relating to smaller sub-groups. We will also be as transparent as possible about the limitations of our own findings and conclusions, particularly where these limitations centre on a lack of evidence or data relating to minority ethnic groups or other groups.
  • Be specific: As much as possible, we will use language that recognises the diversity within broad minority ethnic groups, and which reflects the nature of the data sample or research population being reported on.
    • Where appropriate, we will report at the most specific level that the data allows, including at a national (‘Pakistani’) or regional (‘south Asian’) level, in preference to broader categories, such as ‘Black Caribbean’, ‘Black’, ‘BAME’ or ‘minority ethnic’.
    • We will avoid drawing conclusions about minority ethnic groups as a broad category from studies or data relating to only one ethnic group and location.
    • We will have an active bias against using the term ‘BAME’ or ‘Black, Asian and minority ethnic’. Where the term directly reflects how data has been collected and published or analysed, and where this data cannot be broken down into more specific categories, we will reference the data relates to ‘minority ethnic people, in the original source described as Black, Asian and minority ethnic people’. This is to recognise the immense diversity within the BAME category, and the fact that it is not a widely recognised term of identity among people in that group.
  • Be accurate: We will use language that recognises the basis for concepts of ethnicity in science, history, personal identity, and social movements.
    • We will use the term ‘minority ethnic’ as our preferred descriptor for individuals, families, groups and communities. Research by British Future has found that this term is more popular among minority ethnic respondents than either ‘BAME’ or ‘people of colour’.
    • Where useful and appropriate, we will use the longer phrase ‘UK minority ethnic’, to recognise that most of the groups described this way are in the minority in the UK but not in other parts of the world, and thus are not intrinsically or universally in the minority.
    • We will avoid the inverted phrase ‘ethnic minority’, which may be taken to assert that only minorities are ethnic or have an ethnicity.
    • We will not use the word ‘race’ to refer to the discredited notion of objective, biological or genetically distinct categories of people.
    • We will use the word ‘race’ (or ‘racial’) to refer to the social construct of difference according to ethnicity or ethnic identity, and to related personal or community-level experiences of that social construct, in order to reflect and contribute to contemporary debates about racism, disparity and inequality that have historically been described in terms of race.
  • Be respectful: Wherever possible, we will use the terms and language that people have chosen to refer to themselves as individuals and groups, and actively avoid terms that have been rejected by these groups.
    • Where we are working with individuals, families or other small social units, we will seek to use the names, spelling, pronouns and community terms that people have chosen to identify themselves.
    • Where we are working with data or information relating to large social groups or communities, we will endeavour, over time, to improve our understanding of preferred terms of self-identification to apply to these groups.
    • We will capitalise key terms of identity, including Black and White, to recognise these ethnic groups as being equivalent to other groups that are commonly defined by reference to a common national, religious or other cultural background.
    • We will capitalise all terms and categories based on the ONS framework.
    • We will prefer the use of ethnic identity descriptors as adjectives – Black people, Asian communities, a Traveller family – and not as nouns: people are not Blacks, Asians or Travellers.
    • We will not use the term ‘non-White’, as this asserts whiteness and related characteristics as the norm from which other ethnic groups or characteristics are variations.

In how we design, analyse and report on our research we will:

  • Acknowledge complexity: There is considerable diversity both between and within ethnic groups. We will avoid oversimplifying the idea of a ‘minority ethnic community’, as this may not be straightforwardly understood or universally accepted. Similarly, outcomes and experiences are determined by a multitude of factors overlapping in complex and interrelated ways. Where possible, we will avoid addressing issues relating to ethnicity in isolation from other dimensions of social disparity or sources of inequality, such as gender, sexual orientation, religion or socioeconomic group.
  • Identify disparities and inequalities: We will not shy away from identifying and drawing attention to disparities and inequalities between ethnic or other social groups, where this is what the data or evidence suggests.
  • Highlight evidence gaps: When using existing data or analysis, we will explicitly acknowledge cases where minority ethnic groups overall have not been sufficiently well sampled to allow for conclusions to be drawn, or where specific groups are underrepresented in the study. We will also identify gaps where insufficient evidence or data has been gathered to understand the experiences or outcomes of a minority group, and call for further research to fill these gaps.
  • Actively reflect on past work: We will actively reflect on the language and categories used in previous research and reports, both by EIF and others working in our field. Where appropriate, we will elect not to reuse the language of the original research, and be transparent about when and why we have made these changes.

In how we apply these principles, we will:

  • Champion these principles with courage and humility: Through our own work and wider communications, we will encourage others across the social research and policy community to be transparent in their reporting and specific in their terminology.
  • Continuously seek feedback and opportunities to learn: While we believe these principles provide a solid grounding, we know that the complexity of these issues and the ongoing debate surrounding them mean that, in practice, we won’t always get it right. We will periodically review these principles, actively continue learning, and seek to evaluate our practices, to ensure our communications are appropriate and effective, and that we are able to build strong relationships right across the early intervention community. We welcome feedback from others on these principles.