Is Ghostwriting in Business Cheating or Outsourcing?

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We all know that academia frowns upon, even forbids, ghostwriting—the practice of paying another individual to write a paper, essay, or thesis, then claiming the writing as your own. The term they give it is ‘cheating.’ And in the academic realm, it is. But in the business world, is hiring a ghostwriter unethical? Is it cheating?

I don’t think it is—as long as it’s done ethically.

Is that a vague answer? Perhaps. The point is, when a business owner decides to write copy or a book, they often don’t have the time to do so (logically, because they are busy running a business). In addition, just because a person is knowledgeable about their business and operating the day-to-day operations doesn’t mean that he or she is a skilled, even gifted, writer. The solution is to hire a professional writer—a ghostwriter.

When is hiring a ghostwriter ethical and acceptable in business?

1. When the ghostwriter is writing the thoughts, beliefs, principles, and practices of their client.

Whether it’s a blog, web copy, promotional or sales material, or a book, if a business outsources their writing needs, the writing should be based on their original thoughts, practices, and philosophies. It would be inappropriate for a business owner to put the business owner or company’s name on copy that doesn’t reflect who they are, what they’re about, and their views. But when the material that is the source of the copy belongs to the business and the business owner, it’s legitimately their intellectual property. That’s the key factor. If a ghostwriter used another business’ practices, words, philosophies, etc., to pen the copy, it could be considered deceptive and unacceptable.

Look at it this way. A business owner who authors a book isn’t doing so to claim that they are a gifted writer. The purpose of the book is usually to build credibility, gain exposure, and attract clients to the business. In business copy and books, the author is selling his or her knowledge, experience, and expertise, not their writing ability. If the content does in fact contain the author’s knowledge and expertise, then they can indeed claim to be the author of the material contained in the copy or book.

2. When the business owner is involved in the writing process.

It’s recommended that the business owner, or their representative, be involved in the writing process, providing material, resources, ideas, and feedback on the writing. By being actively involved, the business owner is legitimately an active participant in the writing process, and is contributing his or her intellectual property, ideas, and input to the content.

When is hiring a ghostwriter questionable in a business environment?

1. When the ghostwriter is asked to write his or her own thoughts and ideas, without any contribution or input from the client.

When a business owner outsources writing needs to a ghostwriter, they are asking them to develop content that reflects their credibility and originality. If the copy is not based on the client’s beliefs, thoughts, ideals, and practices, it’s similar to false advertisement.  In this instance, the content does not reflect the author’s expertise or knowledge—therefore, some might consider it to be unethical for the author to claim ownership of the copy. Simply put, it does not represent who they are or what they think.

2. When the ghostwriter is not compensated for his or her services. Chalk this up to common sense. If you’re going to claim something as your own, in exchange for compensation, then ownership of the material does not pass until that compensation is made. Simply put, you own it when you pay for it!

Some might think there is a fine line in determining whether hiring a ghostwriter is appropriate or even ethical. In the fiction world, it’s deceptive (and, surprisingly, extremely common). In the academic world, it’s cheating and trying to advance through the educational system without proving that you have acquired the necessary skills to do so. In the business world, however, it’s not. In business, hiring a ghostwriter to pen your philosophies and ideas is not only acceptable—sometimes, it’s also a smart business decision.

Article co-authored by my team member, Patti McKenna.

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