Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world so it's important to write for people from all backgrounds. You also need to consider literacy levels, gender, and those who use assistive technology.
Understand the diversity of your audience. Write content that all users can read and understand.
Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries
- 27% of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas.
- 46% of Australians have at least 1 parent who was born overseas.
- 3% of Australians identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- 19% of Australians speak a language other than English at home.
- 60% of Australia’s population growth in 2013 was from overseas migration.
Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census, 2012–2013, Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, June 2011 and ABS.Stat - Language Spoken at Home by Sex contain statistics that show Australia’s diversity.
Australian Demographic Statistics, Mar 2013 contains statistics about migration to Australia.
Abilities and expectations of Australians vary
- 18.3% of Australians live with disability affecting their daily activities.
- 12.1% of Australians aged 35 to 44 live with disability.
- 50.7% of Australians aged 65 and over live with disability.
- 85.4% of Australians aged 90 and over live with disability.
- 8% of males and 0.4% of females experience colour deficiencies (colour blindness).
Literacy levels for Australians aged 15 to 74 years:
- 44% at literacy level 1 to 2 (a very low level)
- 39% at level 3
- 17% at level 4 to 5 (the highest level)
Numeracy levels for Australians aged 15 to 74 years:
- approximately 55% at numeracy level 1 to 2 (a very low level)
- 32% at level 3
- 13% at level 4 to 5 (the highest level)
Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: First Results, 2015 contains statistics about disability in Australia.
Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Australia, 2011-2012 contains statistics about Australia’s literacy and numeracy levels.
Australia’s population is ageing
- 14% of Australia’s population is over 65. It will rise to 18% by 2061.
- 420,300 Australians are aged 85 years or over. It will rise to 3.5 million people by 2069.
Avoid discriminatory language that treats some people differently from others.
Worker — instead of workman
Business manager or business person — instead of businessman or businesswoman
Chairperson — instead of chairman or chairwoman
People with disability — not people with a disability, disabled or handicapped people
People with intellectual disability — not intellectually disabled
People who are deaf or have a hearing impairment — not unable to hear
People who are blind or have a vision impairment — not unable to see
Older people or seniors — not pensioners, old-age pensioners or the aged
Young people — not youth or juveniles
First Australians or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (note the plural) — not ATSI, Aborigines or Aboriginals
Avoid gendered pronouns
Rewrite the sentence to avoid using gender-specific singular pronouns (he/she, her/his, her/him).
Submit your employment declaration.
Every employee should submit his employment declaration.
Speak to the person, not their difference
Speak to the person in plain English without jargon. Don’t speak to their difference.
This avoids getting caught up in semantics and respects:
- cultural differences
- differences in socioeconomic background
- differences in educational levels and systems
- generational differences
- gender roles
- perceptions of social and support concepts
- political impacts on life events
- pre/post-effects of wars
- religious affiliations
- values or philosophical differences.
- More guidance on inclusive language is available from the Australian Network on Disability.
The terms ‘First Australians’ and ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ (note the plural) include distinct and diverse cultural groups. These terms do not represent a homogenous group.
Aboriginals, Aborigine — these words are associated with colonisation and assimilation and are distressing to many people
ATSI — never use the acronym ATSI as this is considered disrespectful
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
Use the correct language group name if possible
The Ngunnawal woman spoke first.
We wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal people.
The Australian Indigenous Languages Database from AIATSIS may help you identify the appropriate local language.
Use ‘First Australians’ or ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ (note the plural) if you are not sure of the local language group or are talking about multiple groups.
First Australian is not generally used in reference to an individual.
More than 1000 First Australians were employed through the program.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have distinct identities, histories and cultural traditions.
If appropriate you can use the terms ‘Aboriginal peoples’ and ‘Torres Strait Islander peoples’ on their own.
The Aboriginal flag was created as a symbol of unity and national identity for Aboriginal peoples during the land rights movement of the early 1970s.
The Torres Strait Islander flag was created as a symbol of unity and identity for Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Torres Strait Islander child/woman/man.
Be careful using the word ‘Indigenous’
While it is Australian Government practice to refer to Indigenous Australians, this is not preferred by many First Australians.
Indigenous is the common term when referring to a business entity or business function.
Indigenous should always be capitalised.
Indigenous Specialist Officer
Indigenous Services Branch
Writing for First Australian audiences
Remember that English can be a second, third or even fourth language for many First Australians.
Guidance on how to write for First Australian audiences:
- Communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Audiences — Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (2016)
- Media Consumption and Communication Preferences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Audiences — Department of Finance (2014)
Writing cultural terms
Make sure of the context and relevance before using First Australian cultural terms.
Traditional Owners or Traditional Custodians
There’s guidance on using First Australian cultural terms in the Communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Audiences 2016 report.
Make sure your content can be understood by someone who speaks English as a second, third or fourth language.
Content should also be culturally sensitive to people who come from different cultures and may have different expectations of dealing with government.
Resources to help government meet the needs of multicultural users are available from the Department of Home Affairs.
Find out if there is a user need to provide the content in other community languages.
This can be important if there are compliance requirements or health and safety issues.
Identify the right languages
Research with users to find out which languages they need to read the information in.
Don’t just pick the top languages spoken at home, or another simple metric. These can be misleading about real user needs.
Plain English is easier to translate
Write the content in Plain English first. This makes it easier to translate, and to read when translated.
Translate the cultural context
Translating is not just about the literal words. It’s also about capturing the meaning of what you are communicating within the context of a culture.
Use an accredited translator
It is best practice to use an NAATI-accredited translator. Then ask another accredited translator to check it.
Make all formats accessible
Make sure the format of the translated content is accessible.
If there is a user need for a PDF of the translated content you must:
- make the plain English version available in HTML
- make the content in PDFs accessible