Ghostwriting – Short conceptual explanation

Ghostwriting is the practice of hiring a professional writer to produce a piece of work for a fee. The ghost writer usually takes no credit for the work or retains any further rights to it and allows the client to publish the work as if it was their own. The term originally referred to books such as the autobiographies of famous people who had demonstrated great talent in their own fields such as sport, business or acting and their fans were eager to read their life stories. However, writing a book wasn’t something they were able or willing to do themselves so they subcontracted the project to a ghost writer. Ghostwriting is just another form of outsourcing and today, the Internet provides the opportunity to find a freelance writer to produce work of any size from a small blog post to an entire book.

The history of ghostwriting

Professional writers have been available for hire ever since writing was invented. In ancient times, most people were illiterate and only the very wealthy received an education so there was always a need for scribes. Literacy didn’t become widespread until after the industrial revolution and the introduction of compulsory education while today only some children leave school without basic reading and writing skills with the majority of the population being literate and numerate.

Most people also have access to powerful computers with word processing software that comes complete with spelling and grammar checking technology that was undreamt of just a generation ago. Given that most people can produce their own written work and easily publish it on the Internet, one might have thought that ghost writers would have become extinct by now but this isn’t the case. Many people don’t want to spend their time writing and it’s never been easier to find a professional to do the work.

Who hires ghostwriters?

The term was originally coined in the world of book publishing and applied to autobiographies, biographies and even novels. There are recorded cases where a famous author’s name is on the book cover but the contents of it have been written by someone else hired to write in the style of the famous person. The publishers do this because they know there is a demand in the market for more work than the best-selling author can actually produce on their own. Music is another field where composers and lyricists can produce work for other people to pass off as their own. The world of entertainment plays and film scripts is another area where a ghostwriter can be used to produce work in the style of someone famous whose name will guarantee good results at the box office. There are also many other areas that can benefit from hiring a professional writer and many of them specialise in particular types of work. Speeches are one of the oldest and most commonly used forms of ghostwriting. Politicians may have the presentational skills to speak in public or on television but frequently lack the ability to express their ideas on paper. This is where the profession speech writer or “spin doctor” comes in to ensure that the right message is being conveyed to the audience and politicians get their approval or votes.

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Ethical considerations

While it’s not illegal to publish someone else’s work as your own, there are some areas where it is considered unethical such as scientific papers or academic work. There are freelance writers prepared to write an essay or thesis for students for a fee. This is basically cheating and if detected, the student will have broken the institution’s rules and can be penalised. Scientific papers can also be ghostwritten if the publishing author can find suitably qualified people to do it. There have been cases of academics passing off the work of students as their own and this again is considered bad practice and it’s up to universities to stamp it out.

Ghostwriting web content

There is an insatiable need for good content on the World Wide Web because search engines are constantly looking for the best work to present to their users. This means that website owners are in competition with each other to get the highest listing in the search engine result pages and many are hiring ghostwriters to produce new content. This includes articles, blog posts, tweets and newsletters. Some companies outsource their social media effort to freelancers because there is so much activity on these sites that maintaining a Facebook presence becomes a huge task. The internet, and the technology supporting it, is constantly evolving and this means that the sheer volume of information out there is growing exponentially. This provides an opportunity for professional writers of all kinds because there is so much more work that needs to be done.