06 September 2014

On the ethicacy of ghostwriting

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As a freelance writer, I do a lot of ghostwriting. I enjoy it--I don't feel the need to have a byline on the freelance work I do, and I like helping individuals and businesses give voice to their ideas and messages.

Overall, the clients I work with hire me as a ghostwriter because work is being done for them as companies, not as individuals. I see no problem with ghostwriting in that context. Much of what is seen online, after all, doesn't have a byline indicating who wrote what. That's how online writing usually works, and it is accepted as ethical in ghostwriting.

However, I know there are also sites that offer writing that is purchased by students to pass off as their own work. I know that these services have gone beyond writers creating generic "sample papers" that can be purchased and tweaked to fit assignment requirements (though those still exist, as well). There are services from which a student can order a customized, plagiarism-free essay or paper that perfectly fits the assignment requirements.

And they do.

And writers write them.

From the student side of this situation, it is totally unethical. These students are cheating when they buy these papers. They are knowingly turning in work they did not complete themselves.

However, I think from the writers' perspective, it can get a little murkier. Yes, it probably is unethical for writers to contribute to this academic cheating. That being said, I know writers who do this kind of writing because it pays their bills and there is a (high) demand for it. They do it because they're writers, and this is the kind of work they can do. And besides, no one is forcing these students to buy their assignments.

I know this is a contentious issue.

There are those who say that if the services didn't exist, the students wouldn't buy the papers. Perhaps they wouldn't buy their papers from services, but I can't tell you how many of my fellow students offered me money to write their papers for them while I was in college. If they don't want to do the work, they will find a way out of it.

And while teachers and professors use services like Turnitin to check for plagiarism, customized papers like these pass easily. But they can still be detected by professors who pay attention. For example, if you have a student in class who rarely (if ever) participates and doesn't seem to really know what's going on and then turns in a highly-researched and cohesive paper on a complex topic with vocabulary beyond the student, it's a red flag. But in schools where participation is minimal anyway, class sizes are large, and professors do not do all of their grading.... You get the idea.

So what are your thoughts? Where does the fault lie in these kinds of situations? Yes, the students are at fault for purchasing the work, but are the writers at fault, too? And should it be taken further? For example, as an atheist, should it be considered unethical for me to do ghostwriting that centers around Christian themes or topics? Is this a black and white issue?

*And much better than group work.

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