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Ghostwriting: A closer look at academic writing

August 05, 2012


“Only write from your own passion, your own truth. That’s the only thing you really know about, and anything else leads you away from the pulse,” the adage by Marianne Williamson defines the true essence of writing. But for some writing is no longer a passion but a way earning.

The trend of academic writing in Pakistan has taken a front seat for many aspirants who carry a good sense of writing and are qualified to write on a given subject but may be unemployed themselves. There are many companies in Pakistan and India which are involved in academic writing; where hundreds of writers are associated with each company as freelancers or fulltime employees.

The tricky part of the job for academic writers is to deal with working on someone else’s work. Ehtisham Hussain, a freelance academic writer for different companies says, “There are a set of orders related to dissertations and term papers, assigned to writers who after thorough research, write for the customer-proposed assignment.”

So what do most of the companies prefer while hiring an academic writer? Fizza Batool, an academic writer for the past two-and-half years, states that preference is not given to a specific degree. Anyone having a strong command of English can apply for the job.

Though the writers may have a flair for writing, they lack in research skills so there are some companies who after hiring the writers also train them. Fizza’s company provides an initial training of 15 days for the newly-hired lot. Also during the probationary period of three months, their prime focus is to make one adept with the basic terms of research, irrespective of their productivity. Nevertheless, academic writers claim that they do not support plagiarism, but the work which they do supports plagiarism. For it is to claim someone else’s work as your own. But setting a target of writing 1,000 words on a daily basis affects the quality of the work, and one can also resort to plagiarism.

So how do these companies prevent plagiarising? Fizza and Ehtisham both staunchly support the use of the plagiarism-prevention service Turnitin for checking the work. Though, Ehtisham, on the other hand, adds the possibility of Turnitin to be tricked by other software.

The academic writing companies have reduced the burden of international students, especially for those who are unable to manage their studies due to language barriers or other work commitments. Ehtisham explains that the companies have non-English speaking students as their customers who are enrolled in universities in the UK, USA and Australia. Their origins are from Asia and Africa, sometimes they are not even interested in education as their main priority is holding a job in the country to where they have traveled on a student visa.

Alaa Naseer, an undergraduate student in Houston, proclaims, “I do not get much time to study and do my assignments because of my job; therefore I take assistance from these professional writers online; one of the best things to have occurred to me. I send an outline of my assigned topic, and within a week, I receive my write-up, and it’s cost-effective as well!”

Though, many students were reluctant to talk about the matter, hence be exposed, a post-graduate student at University at Coventry, on the basis of anonymity, reveals: “I find it difficult to work as well as concentrate on my studies; therefore I do take assistance.” He also divulges that one of his essays was rejected by a professor, but after hiring a professional writer, he received good feedback on it. He mentions that is a good way for students to avoid bearing the consequences of not putting in much work.

The academic writers, unfortunately, are not given credit for their endeavors and are also called ‘ghostwriters’ because they do not have the rights to own their write-ups. “I feel sad when I write something really good, knowing that I won’t get credit for it,” says Ehtisham. There is no pleasant way of saying this; but all my hard work and restless nights are just for monetary reasons, so a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do to make a living,” he quips.

So what else, besides the money, motivates these passionate writers to continue as ghostwriters? Fizza elucidates that you gain awareness on a variety of topics which may or may not be your area of study. “You are also pushed beyond your boundaries to work on a subject that may be out of your context, but it gives immense pleasure once you have completed your task,” she says.

Not just reading and writing, the work also provides guidelines for writing a thesis, which can be helpful if you pursue a higher degree. Nonetheless, Ehtisham firmly believes that this business doesn’t really contribute much for the students, who are their clients, because they don’t go through the whole process of research. “A person who writes the paper will always be superior in knowledge to the person who only memorises that paper,” he points out.

Ehtisham is of the opinion that the whole dissertation/essay writing business will have to switch from ‘writing’ to ‘consultation and training’. He also clarifies that through consultation, one can tell the students what to do and how to do it, and that way they can do it themselves. “Without getting into the argument of whether it is right or wrong, this academic writing industry is not here to stay because Google is improving its ranking policies, along with introducing a stringent legal system to protect intellectual property and avoid plagiarism,” he says. “Consequently, the companies would suffer losses, and have to come up with other ideas to survive,” he concludes.

The writer, a former academic writer, is now working as a content writer for a private channel.