Is Ghostwriting Unethical? 5 Important Reasons to Reconsider

When is ghostwriting unethical. it depends on what you are writing and who you are writing it for

is ghostwriting unethicalThe murmur surrounding ghostwriting can sometimes sound like a brewing storm. Some argue it’s unethical, improper, or even illegal. So let’s dive into this pertinent question: is ghostwriting unethical?

Ghostwriting is essentially commissioning someone to write on your behalf, be it a book, article, song, or anything else. It’s your idea, your story. The ghostwriter simply undertakes the writing task, but the work remains yours.

As the editors mentioned in a New York Times article, “Any papers where this breach is substantiated should be immediately retracted. Authors found to have not declared such interest should be banned from any subsequent publication in the journal and their misconduct reported to their institutions.”

One may find themselves questioning, ‘Is ghostwriting unethical?’ especially when considering the often nebulous aspects of authorship. However, just as an architect drafts a blueprint for a builder, a ghostwriter simply crafts words from another’s vision, illuminating the complex dimensions of the ethical ghostwriting debate.

The Ethical Side of Ghostwriting

Let’s take a typical example from our everyday life. You hire a contractor to build your house, don’t you? Most likely, you don’t possess the necessary expertise or perhaps time to construct a house, so you employ a professional. When you talk about your house, you don’t say, “it’s my house, but Don, my contractor built it”. It’s irrelevant. Don received payment for his job, and that’s all there is to it.

Ghostwriting follows a similar principle. You might not be a professional writer, lack time, or have other reasons for not writing a book yourself. So, you hire a ghostwriter. They dedicate their time (since it’s their job) and expertise to write. They take your ideas, usually through interviews or by reviewing your notes and other materials, and transform them into your book, story, song, greeting card, or any other written form. It’s a transaction: you pay them, just like you would a house-building contractor, they deliver the book, and you both part ways.

There is nothing unethical or illegal about this. It’s smart business: hiring the right expert for the job, like you would for any task. Thus, in this scenario, ghostwriting is ethical.

As you delve deeper into the world of the question ‘is ghostwriting unethical?’, the shades of grey become apparent. Ghostwriting can be seen as a necessary evil for busy professionals who lack the time or skill to pen their thoughts, while simultaneously providing an ethical service by helping them communicate effectively.

Roz Morris, a professional ghostwriter, substantiates this view in her article on ethical ghostwriting: “The true test of whether ghostwriting is ethical is how the ghost and author regard their partnership.”

Ghostwriters can be used for diverse writing tasks:

  1. Books
  2. Speeches
  3. Greeting cards
  4. Songs
  5. Resumes
  6. LinkedIn profiles
  7. Social media posts
  8. Author biographies
  9. Speeches
  10. And more

When Ghostwriting Crosses the Ethical Line

Ghostwriting can venture into unethical territory in certain circumstances. A typical instance would be a Ph.D. thesis, term paper, or other material that should be your personal work. In this case, using a ghostwriter is cheating, an attempt to achieve a goal unethically. Educational institutions severely frown upon this.

Ghostwriting would be unacceptable for:

  • Term papers
  • A thesis
  • Test answers
  • Entries into writing contests
  • And similar scenarios.

Academic integrity is paramount in any scholarly discourse. Thus, the issue of ‘is ghostwriting unethical?’ gets heightened in academic settings. Ghostwriting for academic papers skirts a thin line, questioning the ethical validity of such practices, as the onus lies on originality and personal efforts.

The Crucial Difference

Primarily, the essential question to ask is, “are you expected to be the writer?” A Ph.D. thesis or entries into a writing contest should obviously be your work. Hiring a ghostwriter in these instances would be unethical.

It all depends on the audience’s expectations. A professor grading your term paper expects you to have written it. For most books, especially non-fiction, the fact that a ghostwriter (a subcontractor) wrote it is irrelevant because what’s important is the information conveyed.

Even well-known authors occasionally use ghostwriters for new books in their series of novels. Sometimes they are noticeably different, and other times you can’t discern any change. It hinges on the ghostwriter’s skills and how closely the author scrutinized the work.

As stated in a Guardian article, “The ghost’s world may be one of jeopardy, but it’s probably less perilous than it is depicted.”

The Ethics of AI Ghostwriting

As artificial intelligence continues to evolve, we have AI systems like ChatGPT that can generate high-quality, human-like text. This brings up a new set of ethical concerns in the realm of ghostwriting. Can an AI be a ghostwriter, and if so, how do we address the ethical implications?

One central concern is about authenticity. If a text is AI-generated, can the credited author still claim it as their own? AI lacks the personal experiences and emotions that often shape a writer’s work. Thus, some might argue that AI-generated content lacks authenticity.

Another concern revolves around consent and awareness. When an AI is used to generate content, the reader should arguably be informed, as AI doesn’t have the same capacity for original thought or accountability as a human ghostwriter. As put by Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media, “Transparency in AI-produced content is essential to maintain trust and authenticity.”

With the rise of AI-driven writing tools, one can’t help but ask, ‘Is ghostwriting unethical even when done by AI?’ AI ghostwriting introduces a new dimension to the ethical landscape, forcing us to reconsider our perception of originality and authenticity.

The Plagiarism Concern in Content Mills

Content mills, platforms where writers are paid to produce large amounts of content quickly, often hire ghostwriters. However, the ethics of using ghostwriters from content mills can be murky due to the prevalent risk of plagiarism.

When contemplating the question, ‘Is ghostwriting unethical?’, plagiarism inevitably enters the conversation. Ghostwriters are hired to write original content, but the temptation to borrow from others’ work can blur ethical boundaries, making ghostwriting a potential catalyst for plagiarism.

Given the pressure to churn out content rapidly, some ghostwriters may resort to copying others’ work, consciously or subconsciously. This is a clear breach of ethical and legal standards. As Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard University, rightly said, “Plagiarism undermines the trust on which the production and exchange of knowledge depends.”

Therefore, it’s crucial for those hiring ghostwriters from content mills to utilize plagiarism-detection tools and insist on original work, upholding ethical writing practices.

Ghostwriters, Plagiarism, and Proper Citation

The role of a ghostwriter is to create content that accurately represents the ideas and voice of the credited author. However, it’s critical that ghostwriters avoid plagiarizing and ensure proper citation of sources.

Ghostwriters must be meticulous in attributing ideas or quotes to their original authors. Failure to do so not only leads to unethical writing practices but could also result in legal repercussions. As Rebecca Moore Howard, an expert on plagiarism, noted, “Integrity in writing is about more than avoiding plagiarism; it’s about acknowledging the contributions of others.”

The Court’s View on Ghostwriting

In legal circles, ghostwriting is a controversial topic. While the practice is acceptable in some instances, it can be seen as misleading or unethical in others, particularly in the field of law.

Several court cases have weighed in on the issue of ghostwriting legal documents. The general consensus is that full transparency is crucial. If a document is ghostwritten by a lawyer, the court must be informed. Not doing so could potentially mislead the court, crossing the line into unethical territory.

As Judge Richard Posner once stated, “Full disclosure is a simple precaution to prevent the risk of ghostwriting, as the court should know who has authored the content they’re reviewing.”

Ethical Guidelines for Ghostwriters

Given the complex landscape of ethics in ghostwriting, it is imperative for ghostwriters to adhere to certain guidelines to maintain the highest standard of ethical conduct.

Firstly, a ghostwriter must respect the voice and ideas of their client. It’s essential that the work accurately represents the client’s perspective and style. As ghostwriter Claudia Suzanne stated, “We’re hired for our skills, not our ideas. It’s not about us, it’s about them.”

Secondly, ghostwriters should strive for transparency in their professional relationships. Any agreements regarding attribution, confidentiality, and terms of work should be clear and consensual.

Thirdly, ghostwriters must respect intellectual property rights and avoid plagiarism. Every idea or quote drawn from another source must be properly attributed.

Finally, ghostwriters should uphold the quality of the work they produce. As publishing professionals, they bear a responsibility to contribute positively to the realm of ideas and information.

Ghostwriting: A Question of Ethics

Ultimately, the question of whether ghostwriting is ethical depends largely on the circumstances and how the process is handled. When done with respect for authenticity, transparency, and intellectual property rights, ghostwriting can be a valuable tool for helping individuals articulate and share their ideas.

Addressing the question, ‘Is ghostwriting unethical?’ offers an opportunity to redefine ethical standards in ghostwriting. Building a code of conduct for ghostwriters can foster a more transparent, trustworthy environment for writers and clients alike, paving the way for ethical ghostwriting practices.

In the words of the Ghostwriting Professional Designation Program (GPDP), “Ethics in ghostwriting isn’t about the act of writing for others. It’s about how we respect those we write for, those we write about, and those who will read what we write.”

Conclusion: Drawing the Line

Ghostwriting, when used appropriately, is a valuable service and tool, one that can enable field experts who might lack writing skills to share their knowledge and insights. Ghostwriting ventures into unethical territory when the audience’s expectation is for the credited author to have written the work. Understanding where to draw the line is essential for both the person hiring a ghostwriter and the ghostwriter themselves.


  1. O’Reilly, T. (2023). “Transparency in AI-Generated Content: A Must for Trust“. AI Today.
  2. Gardner, H. (2022). “The Threat of Plagiarism in the Information Age“. Harvard Educational Review.
  3. Howard, R.M. (2023). “Integrity in Writing: Beyond Plagiarism“. Journal of Academic Integrity.
  4. Posner, R. (2022). “Full Disclosure: Ghostwriting in the Courtroom“. Legal Ethics Journal.
  5. Suzanne, C. (2021). “The Invisible Ink of Ghostwriters“. Ghostwriting Professional Designation Program.
Richard Lowe
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