A magnifying glass looking at letters in the alphabet

A style guide is a newsroom’s bible. Most journalists pick up The Canadian Press Stylebook early on, but the further they venture, the clearer it becomes that style guides are more than just variations on spelling and usage—they’re informed by the communities journalists cover.

As a journalism student at Ryerson University, an instructor advised Eternity Martis to change her use of the word “community” to “communities” to more closely reflect the nuances of identities within a larger group. “You would write ‘Black communities’ instead of ‘Black community’ because there isn’t only one Black community,” says the Xtra associate editor.

Even with in-house stylebooks, journalists can use other resources to ensure their language fits recommended guidelines. Here’s a list of common words that might mean more than what you think:

Indigenous: An umbrella term for the first people to live on the land now known as Canada, says the Journalists for Human Rights’ “Style Guide for Reporting on Indigenous People.” It advises journalists to be specific when identifying people, and to ask their preference.

Refugee: Someone who lives outside of their home country “because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion,” says the “Ethnic Media & Diversity Style Guide” compiled by New Canadian Media, an outlet which produces content from an immigrant perspective.

Hispanic: Anyone from a Spanish-speaking country in Latin America or anyone who identifies with the ethnicity. Some prefer “Latino/Latina”, so the “Ethnic Media & Diversity Style Guide” recommends asking for a person’s preference.

Trans/transgender: Describes people who don’t identify with normative ideas of what it means to be a girl/woman or boy/man, according to a “Media Reference Guide” by The 519, a Toronto agency which promotes LGBTQ+ interests.

Ebonics: A colloquial form of speech used by some people in Black communities, according to a style guide published by the National Association of Black Journalists (a U.S. organization). The style guide discourages using this form of slang. 

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About the author

This is a joint byline for the Ryerson Review of Journalism. All content is produced by students in their final year of the graduate or undergraduate program at the Ryerson School of Journalism.

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