Skip to main content

APA 6 Citation Formatting

Chapter 5 of the APA 7 Manual provides guidelines on how to use bias-free language in research papers. The guidelines are based on the concept of intersectionality, which is:

The way in which individuals are shaped by and identify with a vast array of cultural, structural, sociobiological, economic, and social contexts. Addresses the multiple dimensions of identity and social systems as they interact with one another and relate to inequality. Individuals are located within a range of social groups whose structural inequalities can result in marginalized identities. Because people are unique, many identities are possible. (APA 2020, p. 148)

Below is a summary from the manual on how to best practice using bias-free language. 

Topic General Guidelines Appropriate Terms Inappropriate Terms
Age Exact ages or age ranges are more specific than broad categories.

Any age: "person," "individual," etc.

<12 years: "infant," "child," "girl," "boy," "transgender girl," "transgender boy," "gender-fluid child," etc.

13-17 years: "adolescent," "young person," "youth," "young woman," "young man," "female adolescent," "male adolescent," "agender adolescent," etc.

>18 years: "adult," "woman," "man," "transgender man," "trans man," "transgender woman," "trans woman," "genderqueer adult," "cisgender adult," etc.

Older adults: "older persons," "older people," "older adults," "older patients," "older individuals," "persons 65 years and older," and "the older population"; combination terms for older age groups ("young-old," "old-old," "oldest old"); contrast older adults with other age groups specifically, such as with decade-specific descriptors ("octogenarian," "centenarian")

Any age: Avoid using "males" and "females" as nouns; instead use "men" and "women" or other age-appropriate words. ("Males" and "females" are appropriate when groups include individuals with a broad age range.)

Older adults: Avoid using terms such as "seniors," "elderly," "the aged," "aging dependents," and similar "othering" terms. Do not use "senile." Use "dementia" instead of "senility" specify type of dementia when known. Generational descriptors (e.g., "baby boomers," "Gen X," "millennials") should be used only when discussing studies related to the topic of generations.

Disability Names of conditions are more specific than categories of conditions or general references such as "people with disabilities". The language to use for disability is evolving. Overall principle is to maintain the integrity of all individuals as human beings.

Person-first language: emphasize person, not individual's disabling or chronic condition (e.g., "person with paraplegia," "people with substance use disorders," "people with intellectual disabilities")

Identity-first language: disability becomes the focus, which allows individual to claim the disability and choose their identity rather than permitting others to name it or select terms with negative implications (e.g., "blind person," "autistic person," "amputee")

*It is permissible to use either approach or to mix person-first and identity-first language unless or until you know that a group clearly prefers one approach.

Refer to individuals with disabilities as "patients" or "clients" within the context of a health care setting.

Avoid pictorial metaphorics or negativistic terms that imply restriction (e.g., "wheelchair bound"), excessive and negative labels (e.g., "AIDS victim"), and slurs (e.g., "cripple").

Avoid euphemisms that are condescending when describing individuals with disabilities (e.g., "special needs," "physically challenged," "handi-capable"). Avoid reducing people with disabilities to a "bundle of deficiences."

Gender When writing about gender identity, descriptors with modifiers (e.g., cisgender women, transgender women) are more specific than descriptors without modifiers (e.g., women) or general nongendered terms (e.g., people, individuals). Explicitly report information about gender identities of participants rather than assuming cisgender identities. These terms are generally used in an identity-first way.

Gender: refers to attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person's biological sex; use when referring to people as social groups

Sex: refers to biological sex assignment; use when biological distinction of sex assignment is predominant

Gender identity: a component of gender that describes a person's psychological sense of their gender; distinct from sexual orientation

Cisgender: individuals whose sex assigned at birth aligns with their gender identity

Transgender: used as an adjective to refer to persons whose gender identity, expression, and/or role does not conform to what is culturally associated with their sex assigned at birth; other terms include "gender-nonconforming," "genderqueer," "gender-nonbinary," "gender-creative," "agender," or "two-spirit" ("two-spirit" is specific to Indigenous and Native American communities)

Transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) people: generally agreed-upon umbrella term Sex assignment: use terms "assigned sex" or "sex assigned at birth" Use specific nouns to identify people or groups of people (e.g., women, men, transgender men, trans men, transgender women, trans women, cisgender women, cisgender men, gender-fluid people). Use "male" and "famale" as adjectives. To refer to all human beings, use terms like "individuals," "people," or persons." Use the singular "they" to avoid making assumptions about an individual's gender.

Avoid cisgenderism/cissexism (the belief that being cisgender is normative) and genderism (the belief that there are only two genders and that gender is automatically linked to an individual's sex assigned at birth.

Avoid the terms "birth sex," "natal sex," "tranny," "transvestite," and "transsexual."

When referring to all human beings, avoid terms like "man" or "mankind."

Avoid gendered endings such as "man" in occupational titles (e.g., use "police officer" instead of "policeman").

Do not refer to pronouns as "preferred pronouns" because this implies a choice about one's gender. Use the terms "identified pronouns," "self-identified pronouns," or "pronouns" instead.

Avoid "he" or "she" as alternatives to the singular "they" because such contractions imply an exclusively binary nature of gender.

Avoid referring to one sex or gender as the "opposite sex" or "opposite gender"; appropriate wording may be "another sex" or "another gender."

Participation in research Terms the indicate the context of the research (e.g., patients, participants, clients) are more specific than general terms (e.g., people, children, women). Structure your sentences in a way that acknowledges participants' contributions and agency. Use the active voice voice to describe your actions and the actions of participants.

Descriptive terms such as "college students," "children," "respondents," "participants," "subjects," and "sample" Use the term "patient" to describe an individual diagnosed with a mental health, behavioral health, and/or medical disease, disorder, or problem who is receiving services from a health care provider. In academic, business, school, or other settings, the term "client" might be preferred instead.

Case: an occurrence of a disorder or illness

Person: affected by disorder or illness and receiving care from a health care professional

Avoid broad clinical terms such as "borderline" and "at risk."

Avoid passive voice (e.g., "the trial was completed by the subjects" and "the participants were run") and use active voice instead (e.g., "the subjects completed the trial" and "we collected data from the participants").

Avoid the term "failed" (e.g., "eight participants failed to complete the Rorschach test") and instead use "did not complete."

Racial or ethnic groups The nation or region of origin (e.g., Chinese Americans, Mexican Americans) is more specific than a generalized origin (e.g., Asian Americans, Latin Americans).

Race: physical differences that groups and cultures consider socially significant

Ethnicity: shared cultural characteristics such as language, ancestry, practices, and beliefs

Racial and ethnic groups are designated by proper nouns and are capitalized. Use "Black" and "White" instead of "black" and "white."

When writing about people of Asian ancestry from Asia, the term "Asian" is appropriate. For people of Asian descent from the United States, the appropriate term is "Asian American" or "Asian Canadian," respectively. To provide more specificity, "Asian origin" may be divided regionally, for example into South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. The corresponding terms (e.g., East Asian) can be used; however, refer to the specific nation or region of origin when possible.

When writing about people of European ancestry, the terms "White" and "European American" are acceptable.

When writing about Indigenous Peoples, use the names that they call themselves. In general, refer to an Indigenous group as a "people" or "nation" rather than as a "tribe." Appropriate terms listed by region, but specify nation or people if possible:

  • North America: "Native American" and "Native North American" (avoid the term "Indian")
  • Hawaiian Natives: "Native American,"" "Hawaiian Native," "Indigenous Peoples of the Hawaiian Islands," and/or "Pacific Islander"
  • Canada: "Indigenous Peoples" or "Aboriginal Peoples" -Alaska: "Alaska Natives"; avoid the term "Eskimo"
  • Latin America and Caribbean: "Indigenous Peoples" -Australia: "Aboriginal People" or "Aboriginal Australians" and "Torres Strait Islander People" or "Torres Strait Island Australians"
  • New Zealand: "Māori" or the "Māori people"

When writing about people of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) descent, state the nation of origin when possible. In some cases, people of MENA descent who claim Arab ancestry and reside in the United States may be referred to as "Arab Americans."

When writing about people who identify as Hispanic, Latino/x, Chicano, or another related designation, authors should consult with their participants to determine the appropriate choice. The term "Latino" might be preferred by those originating from Latin America, including Brazil. Some use the word "Hispanic" to refer to those who speak Spanish; however, not every group in Latin America speaks Spanish. The word "Latino" is gendered, the use of the word "Latin@" to mean both Latino and Latina is now widely accepted. "Latinx" can also be used as a gender-neutral or nonbinary term inclusive of all genders. There are compelling reasons to use any of the terms "Latino," "Latina," "Latino/a," "Latin@," and/or "Latinx."

To refer to non-White racial and ethnic groups collectively, use terms such as "people of color" or "underrepresented groups" rather than "minorities."

Do not use hyphens in multiword names (e.g., write "Asian American participants," not "Asian-American participants").

"African American" should not be used as an umbrella term for people of African ancestry worldwide because it obscures other ethnicities or national origins; in these cases use "Black." The terms "Negro" and "Afro-American" are outdated.

It is problematic to group "Asian" and "Asian American" as if they are synonymous. The older term "Oriental" is primarily used to refer to cultural objects and is pejorative when used to refer to people.

The use of the term "Caucasian" as an alternative to "White" or "European" is discouraged because it originated as a way of classifying White people as a race to be favorably compared with other races.

"Hispanic" is not necessarily an all-encompassing term, and the labels "Hispanic" and "Latino" have different connotations.

Nonparallel designations (e.g., "African Americans and Whites") should be avoided because one group is described by color, whereas the other group is not. Instead, use "Blacks and Whites" or "African Americans and European Americans." Do not use the phrase "White Americans and racial minorities."

Avoid essentialism. For example, phrases such as "the Black race" and "the White race" are essentialist in nature and considered inappropriate.

Avoid the term "minority." Rather, Rather, a "minority group" is a population subgroup within ethnic, racial, social, religious, or other characteristics different from the majority of the population. If a distinction is needed, use a modifier when using the word "minority" (e.g., ethnic minority, racial minority, racial-ethnic minority."

Do not assume members of minority groups are underprivileged. Terms such as "economically marginalized" and "economically exploited" may be used rather than "underprivileged."

Sexual orientation When writing about sexual orientation, the names of people's orientations (e.g., lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, straight people) are more specific than broad group labels.

Sexual orientation: part of individual identity that includes a person's sexual and emotional attraction to another person and the behavior and/or social affiliation that may result from this attraction. Conceptualized first by the degree to which a person feels sexual and emotional attraction and second as having a direction.

Sexual orientation terms: lesbian, gay, heterosexual, straight, asexual, bisexual, queer, polysexual, and pansexual (also called multisexual and omnisexual). Sexual orientation label is predicated on a perceived or known gender identity of the other person (e.g., lesbian women or gay men), when possible.

Use umbrella term "sexual and gender minorities" to refer to multiple sexual and/or gender minority groups, or write about "sexual orientation and gender diversity." Abbreviations such as LGBTQ, LGBTQ+, LGBTQIA, AND LGBTQIA+ may also be used to refer to multiple groups (if used, define term and ensure it is representative of the groups you are writing about).

The terms "straight" and "heterosexual" are both acceptable to use when referring to people who are attracted to individuals of another gender.

Do not use the terms "sexual preference," "sexual identity," or "sexual orientation identity." Instead, use the term "sexual orientation."

The form "LGBT" is considered outdated, but there is not consensus about which abbreviation including or beyond LGBTQ to use.

Avoid the terms "homosexual" and "homosexuality." Instead, use specific, identity-first terms to describe people's sexual orientation (e.g., bisexual people, queer people).

Socioeconomic status When writing about SES, income ranges or specific designations (e.g., below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four) are more specific than general labels (e.g., low income). SES encompasses not only income but also educational attainment, occupational prestige, and subjective perceptions of social status and social class. Use specific, person-first language such as "mothers who receive TANF [Temporary Assitance for Needy Families U.S. welfare program] benefits" (rather than "welfare mothers"). Include racial and/or ethnic descriptors within SES categories.

Avoid using broad, pejorative, and generalizing terms, such as "the homeless," "inner-city," "ghetto," "the projects," "poverty stricken," and "welfare reliant."

Avoid deficit-based language. Do not label people as "high school dropouts," "being poorly educated," or "having little education." Provide more sensitive and specific descriptors such as "people who do not have a grade school education."

Instead of writing about an "achievement gap," write about an "opportunity gap."