Conscious Language Toolkits for Writers and Editors

Crystal Shelley (2021), 109pp, US$49.95 (PDF)

Reviewed by Alex James

Buy the Conscious Language Toolkit for Editors

Fiction editor and authenticity reader Crystal Shelley created the Conscious Language Toolkits for Writers and Editors. They’re backed up by a number of sources on how we can be more conscious about the language we use and its impact on other groups in society. There is a version for writers, while the version for editors has new sections and includes all the material for the writers’ toolkit. If you're an editor or aspiring editor, I'd definitely recommend going for the editors’ version that includes tips on how editors can handle conscious language issues.

As an editor who has come across a number of instances where I feel a helpful comment could have helped the writer develop greater awareness of which words they choose to describe peoples and how suspect words or ways of phrasing can potentially offend, I felt it was only natural to learn more about conscious language. In this sense, the Conscious Language Toolkit was a handy source to refer to.

Reading the kit was straightforward, learning how we can choose our words with greater care, for various reasons, on a range of topics such as age, appearance, body size, disability, mental health, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion and socioeconomic status. Some of the words you may have already known are offensive or less than gentle, but some you may be surprised at: it's not easy for any one writer to be aware of the sensitivities of all groups at a given time; namely, when writing and revising their story and concentrating on character, plot, etc. or perhaps focusing on the structure of a non-fiction book.

There are useful examples at the back in the toolkit's editor section on how we as editors can frame our case for flagging words that may cause offence in the major topic areas listed above. There are templates on how we can tackle resistance to the idea of conscious language, as editors pointing out biased issues for the benefit of the target audience. In this way, the toolkit is useful to return to or as a reference after the first read.

Although the toolkit was comprehensive, a criticism of it was that I felt there were parts of topics that could be expanded in the future. The author does warn us that some of the issues may be skewed towards the US, as the author is an editor in the US; however, she says most of the information is relevant regardless of geographic location and I found this to be true. I didn't find the PDF easy to read on my Kindle – a .mobi format would have worked wonders for me.

Overall, I'd say the toolkit has opened my mind to the greater importance of conscious language, and it was an ideal next step for me in learning more. People can choose words in general that say or imply often negative things about other groups without realising, or understanding, why those words would be offensive, until we read or think about them. I felt the creation of the toolkit was an excellent idea, extremely helpful, and it was clear much knowledge and research went into its creation.

Reviews of other editorial guides All book reviews