Dear Academics: Are you looking for a ghostwriter?

Originally published at Allegra Laboratory‘s Anthropology site.

Time is ticking and though your confidence is dwindling with blank pages, your office and every other room is getting cleaner. Anxiety sets in, confusion, and your self-inflicted isolation leaves you treading water in a vase academic sea. Finally, your fingertips meet the now spotless keyboard. In complete desperation they type out a few words and across the glowing screen now reads:

“Can you write this for me?”

…. [sip of cold coffee]… and send.

Is this you? Probably not, but if it is, don’t worry I don’t know you. However, I am the one receiving these notes and adverts. They can be found all over freelance websites and editing pages. The following is one from oDesk, which can receive 10-40 bids from willing writers around the world.

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Having conducted my own research, written a thesis and obsessively revisited my data for conference papers, I began officially offering editorial services to other academics and researchers in 2012. This includes all the normal editing stuff along with detailed feedback on argumentation, structuring and the importance of storytelling. I also make myself available to discuss content or analysis (much like you would with a colleague or supervisor) and with a background in education and international settings I offer tutoring for ESL writers.

It is a pleasure to mingle in the crevices of minds and ideas, delicately urging critical thought as the authors and I work together to development their writings. It has provided insight into various systems and how they and its scholars crank out journal papers, dissertations, and books. However, mostly shared are the insecurities, lack of resources and pile of flaws that line our academic systems – a driving motive for many to keep the email at their fingertips.

Mushing ideas together can obviously be an incredible experience, and necessary when working with abstract processes of thought. We all have different motivations for pursuing higher education and sometimes we need assistance articulating and forming ideas, especially across languages. Most of those I work with usually approach me with these motives, however it is after a few meetings or edits, sometimes panicking, when I most frequently experience the request. As a short-term solution, some offer to tag on a little extra cash, while others requests PhD dissertations for $100 USD or a research proposal for $50. First, I am always utterly baffled at how an editor does not take insult to a priced offer of this sort; much less undergo the task of writing a dissertation. However most importantly noted, paper writing cannot be made into a thing of immediate, instantaneous production. It is a slow process, a tool, to help organize our thoughts, knowledge, ideas, combining them with those already created for those that are to be created. It is a creative process, a platform to showcase, explore, learn, and develop through. And, if you don’t have an idea for a proposal nor can attempt to write one, I urge you to question your pursuit in this very long journey ahead of you.

The public doesn’t seem to mind a practice of ghostwriting (if you want to call it that) amongst politicians, celebrities, and busy CEO’s. Even if the public finds out it was not actually written by the named author, they are quite forgiving. However, higher education assumes those writing under their name, have organized the knowledge themself. Which is then peer reviewed or graded – determining if you, the person who has the name on the paper can be accredited with the process of generating it. When using a ghostwriter, you did not. Or as Forbes contributor on Business Communication Cheryl Conner puts it, “The ethical breach is asking an imposter to create material and then pretending that it was written by the person who hired the ghostwriter.”

While I cannot morally or financially afford to write the papers, I am curious about the individual’s motives and how our academic systems support or drive these actions. And where have we developed this idea that dissertations are anything less than the slowest of processes? Why are we going outside our institutes, away from supervisors, to ask questions about the ‘one way’, the ‘right way’ that data should be written about? Why are researchers approaching me with these propositions? While some of our Allies have dug deeper into necessary topics on publications and our academic systems to address these concerns, I urge a reflection on what is being gained by having work written or maybe more detrimentally what is being lost when not writing it.

Simply put, if this original creativity in our academic writings are extracted, what is left?

So, as the one receiving your ghostwriting requests for your dissertations and journal articles, my response is this:

tea1)   Make a cup of tea.

2)   During tea, exercise getting amazed at stuff.

Try reading your tea box (its contents travelled around the world twice just to make it to you – from where? Have you been there; what is in it; what information has the company made available to you; what are the words you don’t know? Taste it. Is it any good; how do others prepare it?

3)   Start small, but start. Apply the same ‘tea curiosity’ to sections of your writing projects. What, who, where – maybe Google the face of that long ago inventor, scholar, activist. Were they bald? What did they like to eat; what failures did they learn from?

4)   Have another cup of tea. Wander and daydream with thoughts on how you get to form/write words and ideas that connect you and your existence with others – then do it.

5)   Lastly, muster up all the courage you possibly can and slip your paper to someone for feedback. (This is when you send me your work!!).

WARNING: Obviously, all of this takes a lot of time and tea!

As our systems and its ideas around publishing, productivity, creating continue to drive actions like the email, there too will always be someone out there that will ghostwrite work for a price. But as someone concerned with the dynamics of academia as a whole, I want to acknowledge that there is also always someone there that will want to do more than write it. As we play with ideas, create space, assist each other in our curiosity, we fumble into creating. That’s where I’m told all the good stuff happens; where life happens. With a slew of circumstances that foster a space hardly supportive of slow processes, are we not all still responsible for the delicacy of our own mind, thoughts, and dignity? I suppose if part of higher education, of academia, of education it comes down to what we as individuals and as a whole are in pursuit of… is the email the answer?






Conner, C. (2014, March 13). Forbes. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from Is Ghostwriting Ethical?:

Farnworth , D. (2013, June 7). Raven Blog. Retrieved January 5, 2015, from The brutally Honest Truth About Ghostwriting:

Hurst , F. (2013, February 15). Fraud Factory: Helping Careerists Get Ahead as a Ghostwriter. Retrieved January 5, 2015, from Spiegel Online Interanational : -phd-thesis-a-883726.html

Matthews, D. (2013, October 10). Retrieved January 7, 2015 , from Essay mills: university course works to order:

Molinari, J. (2014, April 3). The Guardian. (H. E. Network, Producer) Retrieved January 6, 2015, from Academic ghostwriting: to what extent is it haunting higher education? :


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