I received a project proposal the other day from a young man who wanted a writer for a research paper. That by itself isn’t an issue. I often help my clients with solid, well-researched writing. The issue was this: the young many was a student and he wanted me to write one of his college papers. He even let me know all assignments submitted are checked for plagiarism, so I know he had been educated about academic dishonesty. His reasoning for wanting to hire someone to write the paper for him was, “I just don’t have time.”
I had the same reaction I always do when I receive a request like this, and they happen pretty frequently. I always have to fight the urge to educate the individual I’m talking to about why their request is wrong and why getting the most out of the expensive education you are paying for is important. Most of these requests come from doctoral-level students, so these are well-educated (we hope) adults. What I do instead is send a politely worded response letting them know that academic dishonesty is against the ethics my company embraces and that I hope they will take the opportunity instead to fulfill the terms of their assignment and learn and grow in the process.
I know, I could just turn the project down and claim my calendar is already full or I don’t have time for new clients, but that feels as dishonest as his cheating on an assignment.
Ethics and honesty matter to me, and I want them to matter to the people I choose to work with. My clients share confidential information and their deepest thoughts with me and they have to be able to trust me for our relationship to work. I, in turn, put my heart and soul into the work I am doing for them, so I need to know I can trust them as well.
I’ve heard arguments that ghostwriting in any form is unethical, but I disagree with that. Ghostwriting is a service for hire. The people I work with are the experts in their field. They have knowledge, experience, and stories they want to share with other people. As with any other partnership, our skills complement one another. They bring the knowledge and stories, I bring the writing ability and structure. As long as the project is not ethically questionable, then the ghostwriter/client relationship is like any other business transaction.
When I do ghostwrite, I willingly give my client all of the credit for the finished project because the ideas and concepts are their own. I ask for joint credit, a byline, or an increased fee for any work I contribute to through my own knowledge or research. In both cases, I am paid for my contributions and expertise and I have a contract that protects both party’s interests.
So why are ethics important in writing?
Writers, like those any other profession, must maintain a positive, ethical reputation. In ghostwriting, this applies to both parties in the equation. When a professional loses that ethical reputation, everyone who works in that field suffers. Reputation is one of the most important assets for any person, company, or profession, and it is one of the most difficult to regain once it is lost.
If your reader doesn’t trust what you’ve written, then any chance of building a relationship with that reader is lost. This is true in advertising, novels, business, writing, and non-fiction books. The same is true in the case of the student who wanted his paper written for him. If his professor discovers his dishonesty, it is unlikely he will ever regain his professor’s trust.
Ethics is comprised of all of the qualities that define an individual. Character is what a person does with those qualities. You may know someone who is brilliant, kind, generous, and compassionate. Those are all great qualities. I would go so far as to say that every person I have ever met has had some pretty good qualities. But if their bad qualities override the good (dishonesty, lack of loyalty, immorality, bigotry, racism) then their character is viewed as bad instead of inherently good. If I disagree with academic dishonesty but accept projects that participate in the process, then my character becomes questionable. I don’t want that to happen. Character counts, it shows the world who we are and where we stand. I stand for serving my clients ethically!