If you’ve been working for a while now as a content writer, you know the basic challenges associated with the job: deadlines, research, and learning a new client’s style, among others. But what about the more abstract challenges, like figuring out your personal ethical boundaries when taking on a new assignment? To ignore the ethical challenges of blog ghostwriting is to not only risk making some soul sacrifices, but also to miss out on a chance to actually build more business for yourself. Identifying and sticking to a set of ethical values in your content writing can actually help you net more assignments by aligning your content “brand” with the type of work you want to pursue.
Write This, Not That
Say, for example, you’re interested in writing about real estate. You complete a few dozen articles, then get assigned a piece that seems slightly dubious, one involving a loan company that seems predatory to low-income homeowners, which simply rubs you the wrong way. You do the assignment anyway, figuring that at least you’re writing on the general topic of homes and home buying. Sound familiar? The problem here can arise if you actually do a great job on the assignment! It can be much harder to turn down steady, regular work, no matter what the potential conflicts you feel in your gut. By avoiding even one assignment that makes you feel squeamish, you’ll free up your time to pursue the assignments you actually love and feel good about.
In thinking about how to set your boundaries, you may try out a couple of different litmus tests to figure out what crosses your personal line for creating content. It’s important to remember that everyone has their own set of values, and there’s certainly no one write way to go about navigating these issues. One approach is to consider if you’d be willing to write this same article or blog post if you had a byline attached to it. This is a good way to get a read on your gut level comfort (or discomfort) with a blog subject. If the answer is a firm no, consider passing on the assignment and others like it. Another way to identify your boundaries is to think about how you’d feel if a friend or family member read and took the advice you’re writing about to heart. This can be particularly effective for certain medical writing assignments. Again, different strokes for different folks, but getting clear on where you stand can be easier if you make this work concrete: what happens if my words are actually read? What will their effect be in the world? 9 times out of 10, we imagine that our content will entertain readers for a few minutes, earn the client a few clicks, then go off to its little patch of Internet in the sky, but thinking carefully about our digital impact can help us to set and maintain ethical boundaries.
Caitlin C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.