"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, Tiny Buddha, LifeHack, Technorati, Date My Pet, South 85 Literary Journal and other award-winning sites.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ethics in Writing? What's Your "Deal Breaker?"

If you're a new follower, I'm pleased as punch to have you here.
If you're a regular, thanks for reconnecting; I appreciate your loyal support.
I had a pretty nice break. I hesitate to call it a "vacation."

Let's be honest here: real writers are never "really" on vacation.
Take us to the most remote place in the world, and you can bet your bottom dollar you'll still find us crafting ideas in our head at dinner. Or interviewing people we meet for a potential article. Or having "light bulb" moments as we retire in bed.
You know the script. Am I right? :-)

Well, while I was on my Blog "break," I had a situation that surfaced, that actually inspired today's post. I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Like most writers, I welcome the opportunity to take on new clients, build rewarding relationships, perform work that I love, "increase my bottom line," and enhance my quality of life in the process.

Which is why I rarely turn down new business, (unless I'm overwhelmed with commitments).
What I've discovered over the years, though, is that the success of any "partnering" is built upon a "meeting of the minds" and a good "fit" for all parties involved.
Though opposites attract, they're rarely cohesive.

But, I digress a bit here...back to the original story...

When a friend of mine called me to say that he was referring a new client to me, I was initially pleased. The timing was good, and this friend had sent business my way before, with decent results.
My excitement was short-lived once my friend shared the nature of the gig. A college student wanted to hire me to research and "ghost" write a 15-page essay for a class he was taking. Don't get me wrong: I know that there is a legitimate need for term papers to be written, and I'm not opposed totally to providing direction and professional expertise in some areas.
But somehow, I didn't feel right about relieving this student of all his responsibilities and depriving him of a learning experience that he would need later in his academic career.
So, I turned it down.

Ethics. It's a small word with major impact. Many times we think of it as dealing with politics, or business, or positions where a lot of money is exchanged.

But "ethics" are indeed involved in the field of writing too.

Here are some examples of ethical issues for today's writer:
  • Bias in reporting
  • Plagiarism
  • Making misleading statements or misrepresenting one's qualifications (remember James Frey and the Oprah incident?)
  • Providing false testimonials or endorsements
  • Selling links to your Blog
  • Contributing content to projects that objectify women, or promote racism, sexism, or violence
Ironically, in many of these situations, the potential pay can be pretty "seductive." You typically won't find bargain basement rates being offered by the client.
So, what is a writer to do?

Here are some things to consider:
  • Let your conscience be your guide. In other words, what's considered acceptable for someone else may not be for you. If it conflicts with your moral code or sense of peace, it's usually not worth it. In the words of Joel Osteen: "If you don't have peace when you make the decision, you probably won't have it after."
  • Does the project harm or slander anyone? (like with gossip sites or some social media blogs)
  • Does it mislead, scam, or misinform readers or consumers?

Remember, the reputation you save may be your own.

Curious. What are your thoughts here? Have you ever been faced with an ethical writing issue?
Do tell.


  1. People who don't write for a living have no idea of the ethical dilemmas that can arise. For myself, I won't write an assignment for someone. I won't plagiarize for anyone, including for myself. I won't "rewrite" something if that means "change a few words so it sounds different." Basically, if it involves representing words as belonging to someone they don't belong to, I won't do it. There are other things, but that's my big one.

    1. Angie,

      So true. They don't. Thanks for starting us off here. I appreciate your feedback.

  2. Jennifer, good on you for not ghost writing the assignment, it's important to follow our personal moral compass in every trade - having good ethics is what makes the difference between the professional and the novice. Our ethics are the invisible boundries we set in place that others can see. Maribel

    1. Maribel,

      I couldn't have said it better; thanks for saying it here. :-)

  3. Hi Jennifer - I'm one of your new followers. :) I became a follower because I visited here and liked what I read. Now I like you even more! Remaining true to our ethical standards may force us to pass up work in the short term, but in the long term it points to strength of character that will increase our value no matter what we tackle. Great post

    1. Lisa,

      How sweet; now I like you even more as well. :-) Thanks so much for the feedback. I think it's an important and timely issue for today's writer.
      In the words of Joel Osteen: "If you don't have peace about it before you make the decision, it probably won't bring you peace later. "

  4. Kudos to you, Jen, for turning down the "ghosting" gig. Why would anyone even think this is okay? Yeesh. You and Joel make great mentors. Excellent topic to think about in today's world. Glad you're back!

    1. Hiya' Sue,

      What a great compliment to even be considered alongside Joel; thanks a bunch!

  5. I agree, you do have to choose carefully. I applied for an online writing job once that turned out to be someone wanting their college papers written. I turned it down. I am not opposed to helping a student brainstorm, edit and proofread, even piece together a few thoughts. However, actually writing the paper is an entirely different thing, and having someone else write it is quite simply, cheating. The point of taking a class and writing papers for it is to learn something. This doesn't happen if someone else does it. Besides, what if this is a future surgeon or other professional whose services I might require? I don't want one who cheated; I want them to know their stuff.

    Good topic, Jen. Thanks for bringing it up. Glad you had a good break. You are right, we are never totally on vacation, are we? Happy Wednesday!

  6. Happy "Hump Day" to you too. You make some good points here, Karen. Thanks for adding to the brew. :-)

  7. Oops! Sorry for the goof. "Conscious" formerly used--should have read "conscience."
    I just caught that, folks!