Don’t Take These 3 Types of Unethical Writing Assignments
Carol Tice | 71 Comments

Time-for-cautionWouldn’t it be great if every writing assignment you were offered was a terrific one?

Unfortunately, that’s not how things always work out in the messy world of free enterprise.

There are a lot of shady doings online, and if you want to keep your reputation as a writer, you need to stay away from scammy situations.

Some scams arise out of deliberate greed on the part of the clients. Others come about due to utter ignorance of journalistic and scholarly ethics.

Here are three common writing assignments that are, shall we say, ethically challenged?

I recommend you stay away from these:

1. Essays for college students

Most writers know this is just not cool. But in case you don’t, as the mother of a college student, let me assure you that parents and university professors would really, really like students to write their own papers.

It’s dishonest to buy papers online and then pretend they are your own work. The student could be expelled for cheating if they use that school paper they buy online from that assignment-mill. These places are constantly out promoting and trying to recruit more writers to this shady side of the freelance street…for example, dig this guest-post pitch I got just a few days ago:

Β I’m Alex, I work for <URL of essay mill website>, We can write a blog post “how custom essay writers earn money”. I’ll cover all the processes inside our organization to make your readers familiar with this particular type of work for writers. Please, tell me what you think about such topic for your blog.

As a kicker, this work doesn’t tend to pay very well, so hopefully it won’t be too hard to give it a pass.

2. Paid reviews of things you’ve never used

Has this happened to you? I’m finding this sleazy deal popping up more often lately. Startups and businesses of all stripes are desperate to rack up favorable reviews on popular portals such as Amazon, TripAdvisor, or Yelp.

In case you think nobody would be crazy enough to ask you to make up a review of something you know nothing about, here’s a screen shot of a recent LinkedIn query I got:

Unethical writing request-1

I hope it goes without saying that becoming a writer who posts made-up reviews around the Internet is not going to help you build a lucrative writing career. Just steer clear.

3. Pitching magazines your copywriting client

Many companies are unaware of journalistic ethics, and will ask to hire you to write for them. But what they’d like you to do is pitch a big magazine you’ve been writing for a great idea — that you’ve discovered a great business to profile…your new client’s business.

I got this one twice last week alone. Here’s a taste from one of the emails (names and details removed to protect the guilty):

“I came across an article you wrote for X Magazine. I wondered if the company for which I’m now working could pay your fees to write an article [for that magazine] that mentions them. The company is Y. The company has grown 20% each year. They need/deserve some publicity!”

Saying “yes” to this one is a great way to find yourself never writing for that magazine again, after they realize you failed to mention that the subject of your “great idea” for an article is in fact a paying client of yours.

In the world of journalism, this is called conflict of interest. It is lying by omission.

When a company hires you to write for them, then you are on their PR team. When you approach magazines, you must disclose that fact, or you are a liar.

You can decide to pitch an article as a reporter, about a company you find interesting. Or you can get paid by that business to write things for them — articles, web copy, white papers, you name it.

But you can’t do both at once.

You could pitch a magazine that another reporter should write about your client — that’s a PR activity. Or you could offer a magazine an article by your CEO that you’ve ghostwritten, for which you will be paid by the company. In this scenario, the magazine will usually not pay the company anything — it’s a free piece the CEO wants to get published to promote the company, and everybody’s clear on that.

Even after you’re done getting paid to write for that business client, if you want to mention or quote that former client in an article, you need to disclose it to your editor and get their OK.

It may seem tempting to try to get double-paid — by both a business and a magazine — for the same article. But trust me, it won’t be worth it when you’re found out and banned from the publication.

Got other writing ethics questions? Ask them in the comments below. Or consider attending 4-Week Journalism School — we spend a whole week on how to avoid getting fired or sued over what you write. Class begins Wednesday.

4 Week Journalism School

 

 

 

71 comments on “Don’t Take These 3 Types of Unethical Writing Assignments

  1. Amber Erickson Gabbey on

    Thanks for another relevant post Carol.

    I would like to add one more unethical writing behavior: taking a percentage of the award in grant writing. As more people take grant writing work, this is a biggie. Clients all the time will ask – they don’t have money now or extra administrative budget so they want to pay a percentage of the grant. The grants professionals association (and others) are very vocal about this being unethical because the funder is funding a project, not a grant writer. It’s like cheating the funder and that’s a good way to not get funding from them anymore.

    Just my two cents.
    Amber Erickson Gabbey recently posted…Because Standing is Not Always Easy: How to do Tadasana (Mountain Pose)My Profile

    • Joanie on

      Amber it’s not just unethical, but it will get a nonprofit black-balled from foundations. I did grant writing for a number of years and every foundation who talked about this said if they found the grant writer was getting a percentage of the award that they would never give money to that organization again, and would ask for any previous awards to be returned. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) will not allow anyone in their worldwide membership to do this, and will throw out any member they learn does this. While people asking a grant writer to do this will say this allows the grant writer to “share the risk”, it also promotes the risk of padding the grant request, and foundations are always on the lookout for it when they review money requests.

      Your point is well taken, Amber.

      Joanie
      Joanie recently posted…Spring Means New Growth β€” So Let Your Writing Business Grow, TooMy Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      Yeah — thanks for adding this one, Amber! I have heard a lot about this from professional grantwriters, that if they get that offer, they run.

  2. Mishael Austin Witty on

    Way back when I first started (in 2005, I think), I took some jobs writing essays for college students and made some pretty decent money at it. It wasn’t full-time income, but I wasn’t looking for that. I had a full-time job.

    The problem was, I really didn’t understand how unethical it was. The companies I worked for said that the students weren’t to use your words exactly. They were to use those papers as guidelines to write their own. Yeah…I quickly found out that that just wasn’t the case. But I kept going with it for a few years just because I didn’t mind the money, and I really enjoyed the work. I love researching and writing papers! Wish I could be a permanent college student. πŸ™‚

    Would I go back to it? Probably not. I understand now what it truly is. Still, on those dark days when jobs are scarce, a little voice in the back of my head prods…”You know, you could always go back to writing those essays”. πŸ˜‰

    It’s funny, also, that you mention #2. I just got an email from someone yesterday proposing something like that, but it sounded fishy, so I took a pass…especially after they dodged all my questions and gave me the oh-so-reassuring response, “You can absolutely trust us” when I called them on it!

    No experience with #3 yet, but now I know what to look out for. Thanks!
    Mishael Austin Witty recently posted…Five Tools to Organize Your Research (Guest Post)My Profile

  3. Daryl on

    Great post from Carol.

    Unfortunately, some people are so desperate that they pay little attention to the whole issue of ethics within their work.

    It really isn’t worth it to sell your integrity for a few dollars.

    I’d rather go broke.

    By NOT doing these things, you’re not only doing yourself a favour, but you’re also doing the
    1. The student a favour by making them put in their own work and learn a hell of a lot more than if they had their paper written for them
    2. The general public a favour because they know to stay away from crappy restaurants/products/businesses because all the reviews are truthful
    Daryl recently posted…Marketing Psychology 101: 5 Ways to Reduce Risk to your CustomersMy Profile

  4. Uzma on

    Yesterday, I came across a job post at LinkedIn that sought academic writers. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the person’s profile (because only recently I learned LinkedIn too is attracting swindlers) and found that he runs an academic consultancy where they help prospective students get admission in UK universities. I was startled! What kind of an educational consultancy was it?

    I have some friends who are into academic writing. I’ve been trying to tell them it’s unethical. They say it’s fair because they are putting in “their” efforts. They don’t understand academic writing is not an assurance that you’re knowledgeable but its “cheating”. You’re doing someone else’s assignment and the teacher is grading the student assuming it’s his efforts. Academic writers say they are only helping fellow students. Then why do you charge? If someone genuinely wants to help they’d mentor and guide the other person, not handicap him. I have stopped arguing with them now however I stand firm on my resolve that I’m never pursuing academic writing.

    I’m glad you mentioned reviewing products without using them because I see this a lot. My conscience asked me, “Can you give an opinion about something you have never tried?” And would I try out something (especially skincare products that can damage my skin) for the sake of little money? My heart tells me no.

    Seriously, we are forgetting ethics and principles and blindly chasing money.
    Uzma recently posted…5 Life Lessons Learned from GardeningMy Profile

  5. Efoghor Joseph Ezie on

    Carol, thanks for this wonderful article. it is true that a lot of writers make these mistakes you just talked about. This is usually as a result of being desperate to make money as early as possible. Some of the writers start with the resolve not to get caught in this trap; but after several months of writing and no money comes in, they begin to make their reputation secondary.

    However, most of those mistakes are usually made in the early stage of writing/blogging, but as the individual matures, he would rather value his reputation above money and wouldn’t want anything to destroy the integrity he has built over the years.
    Efoghor Joseph Ezie recently posted…Business Success Guide Launches Free Classified Ads WebsiteMy Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Joseph —

      You know, on that third one, I’ve had pretty experienced people tell me they were considering doing this and wondered if it posed any problem. Yike!

      I think anyone who hasn’t had journalism training could run afoul of this one without realizing they’re doing something wrong…one of the reasons we spend so much time on these sort of ethical issues in 4-Week Journalism School.

      Often, it’s a business writer who’s now deciding to move into magazine article writing, and doesn’t understand how the rules work in that side of the writing world.

  6. jordan clary on

    I’m a college instructor and a freelancer, and I nearly fell for one of these essay sites. I didn’t but I’m trying to decide if good came from it or not. I teach online and I strongly suspect I’m getting essays, at least one in every class, from an essay mill. When I run it through Turnitin to check for plagiarism it comes back clean.

    • Anabelle on

      Of course it would; they are unique and written only for the student, so there is no obvious plagiarism. That’s a problem with online courses. In face-to-face teaching, you can actually have them write on the spot, which helps you spot the cheaters later. But yeah, these things are a bane on the online instructor’s existence.
      Anabelle recently posted…The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison AllenMy Profile

  7. Susan Johnston on

    Carol, these are great examples! I can think of several more, one of which is a variation on the fake reviews. I’ve had prospects who wanted to hire me to write fake testimonials for their website or write fake posts on online forums. These weren’t reviews per se but they wanted to artificially spark conversation around their brand. In fact, one prospect originally wanted to hire me to blog for the brand, which would have been fine, but when Quora started to gain traction, they decided that they wanted me to set up my own Quora account and post questions and answers that related to their brand–without disclosing that I was hired by the brand. I advised them against that because it could damage both my credibility and theirs, but they remained convinced that it was the right strategy for them, so I walked away.
    Susan Johnston recently posted…10 Highlights from #BUNarrativeMy Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      Oh, that Quora one is icky.

      You know, loads of people have now read Ryan Holiday’s fascinating book “Trust Me I’m Lying” and it’s an era of a lot of media manipulation, for sure.

      But let the marketers on that brand’s communications staff do that and take the heat for it if they’re busted — as a freelance writer, you don’t want to get mixed up in this sort of stuff.

  8. Erica on

    Ethic Icky #1: If I’d bought a paper when I was in college, my momma would’ve tanned my hide. Then she would’ve let me heal and tanned my hide again. I’ll edit someone’s paper, but I keep it strictly to punctuation and grammar. Anything above that, I’ll flag it for them but they get to write it themselves. I absolutely will not do it. I want to be able to look my mom in the eye and not feel horrible about what I’m doing.

    Ethic Icky #2: I unfortunately know for a fact that a lot of companies have in-house people write “anonymous” reviews for their product. Not sure why they’d pay someone else to do it but I’m still not surprised.

    Ethic Icky #3: Having never written for a magazine before, am REALLY glad you mentioned this. Otherwise, I’d be fresh meat. I like transparency but if I didn’t know to mention something, I might not. So thank you for that one. You probably just spared me some future angst. πŸ™‚
    Erica recently posted…How this Little Ducky Went Freelance: Part 3My Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      Yeah, you gotta snort sometimes. But there are a lot of random people out there, and you have to have your own ethical compass to get through this, because people WILL make sleazy offers.

  9. Jennifer Gregory on

    I think that #3 is going to keep coming up even more. Content marketing is starting to blur the lines between PR and traditional journalism much more than previously. This topic came up a lot at ASJA last weekend and the consensus among both writers and editors was that full disclosure is the way to go.

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Jennifer — not surprised to hear this was a hot topic.

      The Internet has brought an explosion of startup businesses…run by people who do not necessarily know anything about journalistic ethics. It’s up to us to be the educators there and to keep it honest. Our reputations are all we’ve got, so do not lie, people.

  10. Deevra Norling on

    Thanks Carol – this article comes at a good time for me. I have just landed a client who wants me to write some articles but also get it published. I did think about this – the fact that I could end up selling the piece to the publication as well, which then means getting paid by the client and the publication, and while I wasn’t sure about the ethics of this, it didn’t sit well with me. Thanks for clearing it up in mind!
    Deevra Norling recently posted…My first blog award: The Liebster Award!My Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      Hopefully now you know how to present it to the publications…and I’ll hope your pay isn’t tied to successfully placing those pieces, because it’s hard to get those wins.

  11. Kim S. on

    And some folks just come right out and tell you that you’ll have to abandon your principles! This is an excerpt from a job posting I ran across on Write Jobs not too long ago.

    “Do you want to punch boring content right in its whore mouth, and are you okay with the fact that we just dropped the word “whore” in a job posting? If so, maybe you should be writing for a company that’s as cool as ours … If you have scruples about writing on behalf of a client to serve their needs, this isn’t for you.”

    The actual job listing post – http://www.writejobs.info/2013/04/freelance-writing-online-pr-firm-pay-30.html

    • Carol Tice on

      You just can’t make this stuff up, eh Kim?

      I’m not even sure what they mean by that sentence — is it if writing for a business would make you feel dirty don’t call us? Or it is “This client is going to ask you to lie for them, so don’t call us if you won’t.”

      They’re all up in their snarky writing style…to the point of lacking clarity, if you ask me.

  12. Nancy A on

    I wonder how many writers out there are unaware of these things. To me, the points you make concern common decency.
    Nancy A., Health & Lifestyle Writer

    • Linda H on

      Actually Nancy there are tons of writers out there that look at it like Katherine describes in a way. Many writers look at it as a ghostwriting job generating income for their business and learning along the way. They gain insight on a lot of information that can be used down the road for their business while the student/administrator/educator learns zilch. It’s easy to reason away why it might be unethical as a writer to do this.

      And plagiarism is rampant out there. Intuit is a system used by National University and University of Phoenix to gauge how much of a paper is plagiarized with the student being penalized if it’s too highly plagiarized. Yet students willingly cut and paste from other sources acting as though it’s their original work without a second thought. It’s actually amazing at the number of people who do it, even at the upper levels.

      Bottomline — as was mentioned, the purpose of the student doing the writing is to 1) learn the process of writing, 2) learn the process of quoting other sources, and 3) learn the process of researching, reviewing the literature, and writing a summary of all the literature and how it applies to the topic. For freelancers it’s a piece of cake, for students just learning it’s a struggle. Those who do it learn wonders and it shows up later. Those that hire it done pay the prize in the long term.
      Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks β€” Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

      • Katherine Swarts on

        I repeat, it is NOT my own view that this is “just another ghostwriting job.” I intended that as an opener to my own explanation of the clear differences. Evidently my explanation wasn’t itself very clear.
        Katherine Swarts recently posted…Confused and MisusedMy Profile

  13. LindaH on

    I can relate to the writing essays thing as I’ve done it. It was a long-term client for whom I’d written a resume, but she kept taking on more than she could do and hired me to write for her when she went to school. She said her professor encouraged her to get a writing coach because she couldn’t understand the writing concepts and such. I believed her, but after a while realized what she was doing and it really bothered me. Finally, I fired her as a client because she refused to write professional reflections about a topic she was supposedly an expert in. I began to wonder if I was the expert instead of her and she couldn’t write the essay requested.

    Since then I’ve always made sure I review school essays for administrators, principals and other educators. I write essays about school-related topics that aren’t related to school work or for students and will no longer write the actual homework assignment. I made big money at it, as people paid well, but the ethics was wrong. And yes, schools are huge on these ethical issues and students think nothing of hiring it done or buying it to get by. Bothers me that they do this since they are the educators teaching our children in today’s schools. Plagiarism is huge and when I wasn’t helping this school administrator that’s what she did–cut and pasted from another resource. She got caught by a professor once and was upset about getting a lower grade. I couldn’t believe it.

    I’ve not done the other things mentioned, but have heard and read about them. It’s just wrong to do this and I no longer will allow it to be done. Now, what I write is ethical and if I’m the least bit uncertain I’ll check with others and turn it down if I remain uncertain. No good in unethical writing habits.
    LindaH recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks β€” Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  14. Theda on

    I don’t know about the essay thing. I wouldn’t work for an essay mill because of the pay, but if a college student wants me to write their essay directly and will pay me my $50 per hour rate at least, I’m happy to do it! College is a business anyway. So if they decide to risk losing their investment by paying for a paper, that’s up to them. If they decide it’s worth the risk to get a better grade (they’re paying for the class, and paying for a D may not appeal to them, so why not outsource so they get an A or B), then again, that’s up to them. I don’t find it to be unethical on my part as long as I work hard to get them a good grade.

    • Anabelle on

      I’m a college writing teacher. It’s unethical because you are actively participating in plagiarism. Sure, it’s their decision, but the fact that you are enabling them makes you complicit.

      Now, people writing papers for other people is as old as universities themselves. It’s not like the Internet invented the thing. But now students can do it so easily and shamelessly that they don’t even consider it unethical anymore. The wide availability of such services only adds to their feeling of entitlement, that they MUST get As because they’re paying for the course.

      And it can go on for a very long time… I’ve seen PhD students request ghostwriters for their dissertation. It shows so little respect for the intellectual work of academic research, and then these people become professors. Would you like to be taught by someone who cheated to get their PhD? Not me.
      Anabelle recently posted…The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison AllenMy Profile

      • E on

        Just yesterday, a “friend” of mine asked me to write his dissertation for me. I said, “No way, that’s dishonest.” He persisted. The thing that shut him up about it? Me telling him that my clients pay $1/ a word.

        The whole point of writing papers, dissertations, etc., whether they’re for English or other classes, is to get practice thinking and writing. Having someone else do it is *not* “outsourcing.” It’s cheating, and I can’t imagine there’s a single educational institution in the country that doesn’t punish it with at least suspension if not expulsion.

      • Carol Tice on

        Thanks for weighing in with a teacher’s POV, Anabelle! So agree with you. This is the road to college degrees becoming totally meaningless.

      • Rebecca Klempner on

        It’s not just that they are cheating people who believe that such students are proving their competency through writing or that they are cheating the other students who actually wrote their own theses and dissertations.

        They are cheating themselves.

        For foreign students (from non-English speaking countries), lab rats, and the like, writing the thesis or dissertation (or any other paper) is a chance to learn a new skill: written communication. Such students need coaching (often available for free through the university’s writing center, but also available through coaches–I’ve done this work before). They’ll learn how to use graphic organizers, organize their notes, pace themselves through calendaring, prepare outlines and bibliographies as well as actually write. Those skills will last them beyond their student years.

        It is an important part of the university experience, and it helped me become the person I am today.
        Rebecca Klempner recently posted…I stepped up to the challenge…but did I succeed?My Profile

    • Katherine Swarts on

      The key question here, I think, is: “Is there really an ethical difference between accepting money to ghostwrite someone else’s resume or memoirs, and doing the same with a school essay?”

      Well, if a private golf coach chooses the equipment for his client, physically positions the client’s hands on the club, tells the client all the secrets the coach has learned about playing specific courses, and/or keeps it a secret that the client is receiving coaching at all–is there an ethical difference between that and playing in a professional tournament under the client’s name? Would it make a difference how much better a golfer the coach was, how much the client could use the prize money and status boost, or how “businesslike” was the arrangement between coach and client?

      The point is not the format of the project, nor the investment made or benefits gained by the client. The point is that, while with many written projects multiple input is necessary and even standard for achieving the work’s primary purpose, with an essay the primary purpose is to enable the reader to judge the writer’s *individual* ability. And while one may argue that the emphasis on essays gives unfair advantage to those with better-developed writing talent, the fact remains that having someone else write the essay will result in a product that presents about as effective a judgment standard as store-bought bread would for the server’s own baking ability.
      Katherine Swarts recently posted…Confused and MisusedMy Profile

      • Carol Tice on

        I would argue there most certainly is a difference, Katherine.

        It’s well understood that people hire help to style up their resume, and that many people get help from pro writers to make their memoirs as compelling as they can be.

        College papers are supposed to be written by the student, so a teacher can assess their writing ability. Neither of the other two is essentially a writing test for that author, so I’d argue it’s a different scenario.

        Sort of fascinating how much discussion the college-essay point has inspired!

        • Katherine Swarts on

          I sure hope no one got the idea I had any doubts. You said exactly what I was trying to say–in the concise manner I couldn’t seem to achieve on this round.

          Incidentally, most published works, in their final-text version, are the result of more than one person’s efforts–usually for better (it’s hard for the original writer to catch EVERY error singlehanded or think of ALL the best ideas), occasionally for worse (I have seen a few of my articles get into print with glaring errors that weren’t mine).
          Katherine Swarts recently posted…Confused and MisusedMy Profile

        • Lucy Smith on

          Also, the act of researching and writing an essay is supposed to help them actually learn the material, not just assess their writing ability. I don’t care how golfers get to the top. And I’m not bothered about X celebrity getting their memoirs ghostwritten (you don’t usually expect them to be excellent writers on top of whatever they’re famous for).

          But so help me, if I get on the wrong side of the law and need a lawyer, I want them to have personally done every single piece of their law degree coursework, from 101 up. I want them to have thought of their own answers to the posed questions, and done their own damn research to support that.

    • Carol Tice on

      Well, it IS unethical for a student to claim another’s writing as their own, and they can be expelled, no matter how clear you feel your conscience is about it, Theda.

      Hiring a writer offline to write a paper just means they’re less likely to be caught, since it isn’t a frequently reused piece sitting on a website somewhere. But it’s just as wrong, and isn’t doing that student any real favors, since they’re not learning anything if they outsource their course work.

      • Theda on

        If the purpose of writing an essay for college is to learn, then I agree that it’s not doing the student a favor as far as their learning is concerned. But that assumes that that’s the purpose, and that that’s the favor I’m concerned about. It can do the student a favor if it means they pass as opposed to fail a course that they paid for. I guess another question is the question of ethics. Is “ethical” a given, like 2 plus 2 equals 4? Or is it up to the people involved to decide what THEY consider to be ethical? Is it ethical for a university to charge so much money for a class? Is it ethical to judge students on their writing ability if the course isn’t a writing course? Lots of interesting questions. Everyone has to decide, for herself, I believe, what they consider to be ethical and then act accordingly.
        Theda recently posted…Homeschooling 101My Profile

        • Anita on

          Wow.
          I think history shows us where we’re headed if the guiding principle is “do what is right in your own eyes.”

          • Carol Tice on

            I had no idea this post would inspire a discussion of moral relativism!

            But I’ll just say this: You can justify immoral things you do in your own head and find ways to feel OK with yourself about what you’re doing if you like…but the universe continues to have rules.

            If you break them, it will hurt your writing career. Your explanations of how you justified behaving badly in your own head will not help you preserve your reputation. Only being honest and not taking these types of writing assignments will do that.

        • Anabelle on

          My problem with the whole “they paid for the course, they should at least pass” is that it debases the entire system to an exchange of money for credentials. Paying for a course DOES NOT entitle you to pass it. You pay for the teacher’s time in preparing courses and grading your stuff, you pay for the environment and the structure where learning can be achieved. You do not pay for a grade. This is a problem with the current view of higher education: that it works like a store, where you choose something, pay for it and expect immediate enjoyment of the benefits of the product. Education is not a product. It is a process.

          Saying that it’s okay for a student to buy a paper because otherwise they’d get a bad grade is basically saying that it’s okay for someone to pay for a diploma without ensuring that they actually know what they’re supposed to know. It’s like saying that it’s okay for a medical student to pay someone else to pass their exams, because otherwise they might not get an MD. It’s like saying it’s okay for an engineering student to pay an actual engineer to make the plans and calculations for them so they can get their degree.
          Anabelle recently posted…The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison AllenMy Profile

          • Carol Tice on

            If it did entitle you to that, then my slacker teen who decided not to go to class all third quarter would still be sailing along at his university instead of having to retake classes and pay all over again. I’m with you.

            And let’s all sure hope MD’s aren’t paying someone else to help them pretend they know what they need to to save our lives! That’s a great example of why this just will never be OK. Might be in someone’s head, but not out in the real world.

          • Anabelle on

            Indeed. This attitude of “college marketplace” is a symptom of a bigger, systemic problem that academics of all fields have been denouncing for years. I dropped out of an excellent PhD program because the job prospects are so very slim.

            And why is that? Well, because universities are now being run like businesses, and businesses like to cut costs, so they contract the teaching work to underpaid sessionals (some get paid a measly 3000$ per course per semester, sometimes even less) and they keep closing tenured positions as older teachers retire.

            You wonder why the university system doesn’t provide the level of education it used to? It’s because your children are being taught by overworked and underpaid adjuncts and sessional teachers who need to work at 3 different universities teaching 4-5 courses (1 course is about 30 hours of work a week of preparing, teaching and marking) per semester.

            Okay, rant over. I need to go back to grading students.
            Anabelle recently posted…The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison AllenMy Profile

          • Katherine Swarts on

            Even less so if my mileage is ruined because *I* failed to check the map and got lost; turned into a clearly marked blind alley and spent five minutes maneuvering to turn around; or took the wrong highway exit and wound up in a ten-mile detour.
            Katherine Swarts recently posted…Confused and MisusedMy Profile

  15. Holly Bowne on

    Thank you so much for this post and particularly for sharing number one!! I nearly fell for one of these job postings once. When I visited the “company’s” website and realized what it actually was, I was appalled! I notified the job board where I found the position, but was told as unethical as it may be, it wasn’t their job to judge. It was a paying position so it got posted.

    • Carol Tice on

      All I can say is eeewwwww. It’s funny how the Internet gives people that “wild West” feeling where they suddenly think they don’t need a moral compass.

      Trust me, continuing to use one will serve you well in the end, and keep you from getting involved in a lot of gray- and black-hat stuff that’s out there online.

  16. Darnell Jackson on

    Good point Carol.

    Eventually I think most freelance writers will realize that they should also write something for themselves sometimes.

    Why should you keep writing for clients who only want you to make up positive reviews about products that you’ve never used?

    You may as well write some articles about products that you love on your own affiliate site. It takes some time to get it built up but if it provides value then you could have a passive income stream before you know it.
    Darnell Jackson recently posted…Grow Your Audience One Step At a Time [5M 014]My Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      Great point Darnell! If you’re into writing reviews, do your own review site, put up your own ads, and rake it in…instead of getting pennies and being ethically challenged by writing fake reviews for others. I like it.

  17. Anabelle on

    This speaks to a problem I have (or had really).

    I work for an internet marketing agency, and we have this client who we decided to write feature articles about topics that relate to their business–basically using the client as a source. How do I disclose it to an editor in a way that will convince him or her that the article is still genuinely informative? I’m a bit apprehensive as to how to approach it.

    What do you suggest I do?

    Thanks!
    Anabelle recently posted…The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison AllenMy Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Anabelle —

      Oh, don’t be — publications get these pitches all the time and are completely used to it. And there’s nothing unethical about it — as long as everybody understand what’s happening.

      When you’re clear that this is article is part of this company’s marketing, and it has useful stuff but basically IS being provided to help promote the company, then the publication is free to decide if they take pieces in this category or not. Some do, some don’t…and some will only if the stuff is REALLY great.

      As long as you don’t try to pretend you’re an independent writer who just thinks this company is amazing and wants to pitch a profile for which you’ll be paid, you’re fine.

      To sum up the whole post, lying is not OK in any aspect of your freelance writing life. If you just make sure you disclose where you fit into the scenario, you’ll be OK. Worst that happens is they say ‘no’ and they don’t want to run it, but that’s out of your control.

    • Carol Tice on

      Well, good for you, Rob!

      That one I reproduce above was the first time I’d been hit with the “write me an ‘unbiased’ review and I’ll pay you” gambit. I can’t imagine he’d pay more than a few bucks…hoping writers just steer clear of this sort of thing.

  18. Patrick Icasas on

    I do sometimes pitch articles on behalf of my copywriting client, but my client and I agreed that I should always identify myself in my bio as “Marketing Consultatnt for xxxx” or something similar to keep things transparent.

    Speaking of unethical assignments, I’ve also seen really sketchy jobs on Freelancer.com like article spinning and even transcribing Captcha images (it keeps showing up in the “writing” section even though that’s more data entry)

    • Carol Tice on

      Wow, that Captcha thing is a new one on me! But certainly there are so many scams out there you can never keep track of them all. Article spinning, of course, has been around a long while and will probably not go away, since everyone now realizes they can’t use duplicate content.

  19. Kristen Hicks on

    You had me worried for a second at #3.

    I have done article marketing for a client before, but I did let the publication know of my association with the company in the initial pitch.

    I also didn’t write a profile or promotional piece – I wrote an informative article relevant to what the company offered, with a mention of the client and a link to their site in the byline. At one point, the client did want to insert more mentions of the company name and product into an article I’d written, but to no surprise on my part, the editor stripped all those out before publication.
    Kristen Hicks recently posted…3 Steps to Prioritize Your Small Business Social Media StrategyMy Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Kristen —

      When you approach a publication honestly, “I’m working for this client, could we contribute something about what they do at no charge to you?” it’s all good.

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