Loaded language or loaded term is wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes (reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loaded_language).

When writing academically and publishing findings, authors should assume that their reader does not know their nationality, unless it is essential to the content of the paper.  The use of loaded terms because authors do not show they are thinking from the reader’s’ perspective would seem somewhat biased, or targeting a very specific group of reader inclusively. The use of loaded language to present country-specific information needs to be carefully considered as it may dilute the objectivity of the paper.

Some typical “loaded” terms often used by authors, include: foreign, international, transnational, overseas, and regional.

Example 1

Scenario: assuming a Japanese author wrote a paper on the subject of chemicals in the mining industry.

Sentence: A foreign study on fractional distillation of crude oil found that…

Reader: assuming an American audience reads the paper and this particular sentence.

Implication: Engineering and hard sciences relate little to nationality: a distillation method that works in Australia should work equally well in the USA; or microchips fabricated in Taiwan work in computers around the world. So, it’s not so important to signify something as foreign (not from the author’s country), but better to signify the study is from a specific country. An American reader reading this message would think: “Where is this study from? I’m American, so it must not be America, but that doesn’t tell me much.”

To the Japanese author, the American study is “foreign” to him/her, but if the reader was American, this case would not stand.

Suggestion: One study from the USA on fractional distillation of crude oil found that…

Example 2

Scenario: an author of unknown nationality writing on the subject of Social sciences and humanities

Sentence: Foreign investment in Chinese markets is at an all-time high.

Implication: Social sciences and humanities are strongly tied to nationality, as different countries have different forms of government, public policies, and welfare systems. It is clear where the investment comes from in this sentence – “countries other than China”. Therefore the ‘foreign’ in this sentence is not considered a loaded term.

Example 3

Scenario: a Japanese author writing on the subject of healthcare and medicines.

Sentence: This paper studies new interventions for elderly with dementia…. However, because this intervention was tested in a Japanese population, our findings may not apply to foreign populations.

Implications: This sentence seems fine at first glance as “foreign” clearly means “not Japanese”. What is problematic is the way of thinking: is there a particular reason to believe this intervention would work differently in Japan than overseas, given that dementia is a problem in most developed countries with aging populations? There are valid reasons for discrepancies: maybe a medication is not licensed in a different country; or maybe a disease’s pathology manifests differently in different cultures (e.g. hallucinatory voices in schizophrenia are seen more positively in collectivist cultures). The author is careful not to engage in over generalization of results and applications; however, the ‘foreign” in this particular example can lead to the exclusion of many non-Japanese readers; it is a better strategy to present the findings in a way that is universally applicable to all readers so long as taboo, controversy, and over generalization is avoided because more inclusive readership means more citations/applications, and potentially more career opportunities and credits for authors.

Suggestion: This paper studies new interventions for elderly with dementia…. The intervention was tested in a Japanese population, but our findings should also be applicable to other ethnic populations so longs as the same intervention methods are adopted.

Example 4

Scenario: a Taiwanese author is writing on the subject of The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)

Sentence:  Regulations and initiatives are being revised and promulgated as part of Taiwan Government’s APEC strategy, as the regional agreements have significant impact on domestic economic development.

The author uses ‘region’ to refer to the Asia-Pacific region defined by the association APEC; however, “region” can also mean part of a country so it is not very clear what it is indicating in this sentence and is therefore loaded.

Suggestion: Regulations and initiatives are being revised and promulgated as part of Taiwan Government’s APEC strategy, as agreements amongst APEC member countries have significant impact on Taiwan’s domestic economic development.

In an era of globalization, no serious researcher in global fields should wish to be seen as restricted to their country in terms of their expertise. The typical loaded terms can be appropriate and inappropriate depending on whether the author frames the sentence positively or negatively, and whether it is coupled with country-specific information/findings. The general rule of thumb is for authors think from their readers’ perspective, not just their personal perspective as a citizen of country X or the perspective of their peers in country X.

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