Ethics and the Ghostwriter

Ghostwriting is a common practice in the publishing industry. If you have seen a bestselling book by a politician, actor or athlete recently, there’s a good chance an uncredited author actually penned the written words of that celebrity.

The practice of ghostwriting has permeated the business world too. Many freelance writers will do blog ghostwriting or churn out press releases for corporate clients. It is a fact of life in freelance writing.

Ghostwriting raises ethical issues for many people who are uncomfortable with the idea of one person writing content and another person or organization receiving credit for it. Navigating this ground can be a thorny issue for writers. Most will do it anyway, because ghostwriting helps pay the bills.

You can be on solid ethical ground with your own ghostwriting efforts by following these guidelines:

Create original content. It can be tempting to save time by simply lifting words and ideas from other sources when your name is not attached to it. Don’t do it. Plagiarism does not go undetected. Clients do not appreciate ghostwriters who steal from other writers and leave them to deal with the legal fallout.

Do research and interviews. Even if you are writing a blog that requires no quotes, interviewing a subject matter expert and doing extra research on the topic can prove fruitful. You can take unused material and do other articles and blogs for other clients — provided you have not signed a non-disclosure or non-compete agreement. Taking this bigger picture approach will also help you infuse more accurate information into the writing project with your current client.

Consult with clients. It is important to remain on the same page as your client during the writing and editing process. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm with them and get a better feel for their expectations. It will help you get an idea of what they want in a typical blog post and spark your creativity. Encouraging active input from a client will also remove some of the misgivings you might feel about writing under their name.

Use plagiarism detecting software. Even with all their efforts to craft fresh and original content, writers may occasionally use similar wording to previously published material on a certain topic. Using plagiarism detecting programs such as Copyscape can help writers catch phrases and sentences that match what other authors have written, so they can remove that material from their content.

John C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.


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