Using the right language

Whether you are speaking or writing, whether one-to-one or to a group, you should always:

  • think who you’re addressing; your audience should be able to understand what you are saying and feel included rather than excluded
  • avoid slang or jargon or pretentious words unless you’re talking to a person or a group that you know understands it
  • avoid swearing or blaspheming (using words such as “God” or “Jesus Christ” as exclamations); they offend lots of people (even if they may be too polite to say so)
  • avoid racist, sexist, or homophobic language, or language which makes fun of different cultures or people with illnesses or disabilities. As well as being offensive (and, in some circumstances, illegal), this sort of language also makes you look ignorant and unpleasant – and can get you into trouble

Because language changes, there may possibly be occasions when you might not know whether a particular word is acceptable or not, but if you are in any doubt at all do not use it.

Different language for different situations

Keep your language as clear as possible whenever you are communicating. In more formal communications (e-mails and letters to people who are not your friends or family), you should avoid slang and abbreviations.


  • Use the names and titles that people like to be called.
  • In written communications, make sure you always spell other people’s names correctly. It shows a lack of effort if you don’t, and is a major cause of annoyance
  • It’s better to be quite formal when you meet people older than you for the first time; call them Mr or Ms X rather than by their first name. If you find this too much, just avoid direct use of their name.

You might be interested in our other pages on communicating effectively:

Effective communicating