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EMU Research

UHSRC Guidance: Use of Gender Inclusive Language

The UHSRC requires gender inclusive language and consciousness in all study materials, including surveys. This requirement is consistent with the Belmont Report principles of Respect for Persons, Beneficence, and Justice, which are the pillars of human subject protection regulation. This guidance explains the rationale behind this requirement, how to comply, and examples of acceptable questions.


Gender inclusivity, in this context, refers to considering all possible options regarding sex, gender, and sexual orientation when collecting research data.





Gender/Gender Identity describes how a person refers internally to the self, regardless of biology.


Gender Inclusivity will be used as a catch-all term to include representational equity with respect to sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.


Sex refers to the anatomy of chromosomes, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics.


Sexual Orientation refers to an individual’s emotional, physical, and sexual attraction to other people.






The EMU Human Subjects Review Committee supports a culture of inclusivity. Using gendered language and not being gender conscious goes against our mission of protecting human subjects in research.


The Belmont Report, issued in 1979 by an act of Congress, outlines three principles guiding the protection of human subjects: Respect for Persons, Beneficence, and Justice.


Respect for Persons

Respect for Persons dictates that “individuals should be treated as autonomous agents.” As such, the UHSRC acknowledges that individuals maintain the right to exert control over their own personal information. Commonly, Respect for Persons manifests in voluntary consent, however, the UHSRC extends Respect for Persons to include the understanding that investigators must be respectful of individual autonomy in all areas, including individuals own identities and how individuals self-identify.



Beneficence is generally regarded as respecting individuals’ decisions, doing no harm, and protecting individuals’ well-being. It is conceivable that a person would suffer emotional harm from feeling excluded or misgendered by a consent form or when completing a survey that does not include options corresponding to their identity.



Justice is often equated with fairness or the distribution of risk in research. Justice applies in different ways regarding gender inclusivity. By being gender inclusive, investigators can ensure that the risks and burdens of research, and similarly the benefits, are equitably distributed.









Sex, Gender/Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation are specific terms and should not be used interchangeably. In that regard, investigators must be specific in their language, in the questions they ask, and in the information they collect.


When conducting research, investigators who wish to collect information about sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation must consider the following:

  1. Necessity of the question:  Investigators must ask how the information will be used: if the information is used for tabulation purposes only or for ensuring diversity of a sample, or if the information is germane to data analysis. If the information is not needed for analysis purposes, there may be better ways to ensure sample diversity than asking personal or potentially invasive questions.

  2. Appropriateness of the question: Investigators must determine what specific information they need for their analyses. Is the research primarily concerned with the effect of hormonal differences, in which case sex would be more relevant than gender identity? Or, is the research about people’s adjustment to college life, in which case, the investigator might want to ask about sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation? Investigators should ask questions and use language appropriate to their immediate concerns.

  3. Not requiring a response for participation: Human subject regulation stipulates voluntary participation. This voluntariness extends to individual survey or interview or demographic items. Investigators must allow individuals not to respond to questions about sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation (or other sensitive or personal characteristics), or provide an option indicating that the subject chooses not to reply.

  4. Privacy and confidentiality concerns: Sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation are both sensitive and personal characteristics. Similarly, they are not always externally apparent. As such, it is especially important to protect this information, especially when recorded as identifiable. Investigators must ensure that research subjects provide this information in a location where they are comfortable and that ensures their privacy. In addition, all data must be securely stored, whether in a password-protected computer file on a password-protected cloud server or in a locked cabinet in a locked office. Note that double protection (two passwords or separate locks) is required as a protection of confidentiality. Whenever possible, the UHSRC strongly recommends maintaining anonymous or de-identified data as further protection.

  5. Gender inclusive language: All study documents should use gender-neutral language, avoiding gendered terms (e.g., mailman, chairman) and gendered pronouns (he, she, he/she). Gendered terms should be replaced with non-gendered versions (e.g., mail carrier instead of mailman or chairperson instead of chairman). Sentences using gendered pronouns should either use gender-neutral pronouns (e.g., singular they as in “Each subject will receive their gift card upon completing the study.”) or be reworded entirely to avoid such pronoun use (e.g., “Subjects will receive their gift card upon completing the study.”). Please consult the 18F content guide for gender inclusivity:

  6. Pronouns: When interviewing individuals or in situations where the researcher might use quotes or refer directly to individual subjects, it is considered respectful practice to ask subjects which pronouns they use.

The UHSRC will require both precision and inclusivity in language in consent documents, survey questions, interview questions, and other application documents. Applications that are not gender inclusive will be returned for revision unless there is a documented and scientific/methodological reason why inclusivity impedes the research project.






Acceptable Questions and Response Options




When asking about sex, investigators should not use binary male/female language. An example of an acceptably worded question follows. Note that “Not Listed” is used instead of “Other” so as not to marginalize individuals who are not represented by the options listed.






_____Not Listed: ____________________________________________

_____ Prefer not to reply


Gender/Gender Identity

Again, investigators should not use binary man/woman language. An example of an acceptably worded question follows.


How do you identify?



_____Transgender/Trans woman

_____Transgender/Trans man


_____Not Listed: ____________________________________________

_____Prefer not to reply



Sexual Orientation

Investigators should include all relevant categories for the research project. Some individuals interpret the word “homosexual” as pejorative, so its use is not advised. An example of an acceptably worded question follows.


Sexual Orientation:





_____Not Listed: ____________________________________________

_____Prefer not to reply





When appropriate, investigators should ask subjects which pronouns they use. An example question that can be used in a survey (or reworded into an interview question) follows:


Pronoun Use:




_____Not Listed:______________________________________________

_____Prefer not to reply

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