While growing up, I read mystery novels that told stories about ghost-writers and ghost-writing. Then, I thought ghost-writing was all about writers shadowing important people so they could chronicle important events in their lives. All I knew about ghost-writing centred around writing true stories on people’s lives.
Later, I found out that ghost-writing isn’t just about writing stories on people; it is all about writing things that wouldn’t fetch you any credit, except the money you will be paid. I learnt this when I started writing speeches and addresses for my bosses. That was when I realised that presidents and CEOs don’t have to write their speeches. All they needed to do was to hire ghost-writes and then edit what was written.
But today, ghost-writing is taking another dimension. People still hire others to write their stories and speeches as well as textbooks and novels, which is ok as far as I know. But the one that is gradually taking over the ghost-writing business is what I call “academic ghost-writing”.
Understanding Academic Ghost-Writing
Remember, ghost-writing involves writing piece of works for others and taking no credit for them. A ghost-writer is what he is – a ghost. He’s invisible in all ramifications. He writes what was contracted to him as if he was the client. When the work is done, the client’s name is published as the author. And the ghost-writer, who is the actual author, vanishes into oblivion. Most clients do not even allow their ghost-writers to keep copies of their works. Some don’t allow these ghost-writers to present their works as samples of their creation. These clients assume authorship and seal up any portal that will link those works to their ghost-writers.
This is ok and acceptable in the world of creative writing for so many reasons, such as want of time, expertise and resources. But when students and academics hire ghost-writers to write their academic articles, assignments and projects, then ghost-writing becomes ruinous.
I know people may jump to conclusions by stating that this situation is peculiar to Nigeria, but I am here to make it known that this is a global thing. Yes, we see and hear of students paying other students to write their assignments, tests and exams for them; and we know some projects and thesis were ghost-written; but I know that these attitudes were frowned at and discouraged by academics. In fact, some project supervisors, who suspect their supervisees of hiring ghost-writers, ask that students continue to re-phrase, re-cast and restructure their works until they are sure the work is original. These students may see them as mean but it is all for their own good.
However, things are getting digital these days, so that today it is easier to hire ghost-writers from different parts of the world. This is made possible as a result of internet platforms that bring together academics and students solely for this purpose. These platforms usually advertise openings for academic writers, research writers, researchers and so on. Those that seek for ghost-writers that will carry out location-bound research only hire people that live within that location. Some look for only people in specific fields of learning. Others pick academics based on their highest qualifications and quality and quantity of publications. These platforms can be found in every remote work advertising websites.
Kindly understand that academic ghost-writing is not the same thing as seeking out researchers, who will supply their clients with data which will be used in research. It is also not the same thing with looking for editors, who will point out loopholes in their clients’ works. Academic ghost-writing here is a situation whereby an academic or a student pays someone else, in whatever form it may, to carry out studies and research, structure them, outline the paper and then write them. After which the client will assume full authorship for a paper the content of which he didn’t know how it was arrived at.
Dangers of Academic Ghost-writing
I know many people benefit from these transactions but I believe this may have negative effects in the long run if it is not curtailed. I’ll try as much as I can to state the side effects of hiring ghost-writers for academic works.
This is the commonest problem associated with academic ghost-writing. Plagiarism will be almost impossible in situations where the writer tells stories of someone’s life or writes speeches for specific occasions (except in the few embarrassing instances we witnessed in Nigeria). But in academic works, plagiarism is high. This could be linked to the fact that academics accept and write papers on areas of their specialty. And when they are to write on the same subject matter for two or more different persons, they will be tempted to simply twist some words and phrases and then push out the works.
Cases such as this have been witnessed in academic project defences, where two or more students wrote almost the same content but with modified project topics, or where students copied an existing project verbatim. In most cases, investigations reveal that the affected students used the same ghost-writers. Well, they pay the price by having their works cancelled.
- Half-Baked Graduates
This stands to be debated because I know a lot of people argue that it’s not a must that students need to write their assignments and projects before they become good in their fields. In as much as I know that empirical study can show this as true, it is still worthy to note that one of the things expected of a student is to be able to outline his assignments and then write them analytically. If a student finds it hard to study a phenomenon, read up past works on it and analyse his findings, then I don’t see that student graduating as a professional.
- Recycling Information
As I always tell my students that when one thousand students are given the same assignment, the lecturer expects to see one thousand new ideas. But in a situation where the one thousand students decide to use ten ghost-writers, only ten ideas will be projected.
This is more noticeable in the cases of dissertations, where topics that have been in existence for donkey years were written over and over again and the same results are given. The effect of these is that we have so many hands that would have helped to solve the world’s problems, but because these hands entrusted this responsibility to just a few people, the same old solutions are used to solve new problems.
This is more pertinent in the case of academics hiring ghost-writers to conduct research and write their academic papers. As a lecturer, I have been approached by several colleagues, who wish to pay so I could include their names in any paper I wanted to publish. These people are only interested in getting their next promotions and never bothered about professionalism nor knowledge acquisition. By the end of the day, we have so many top academics, who have little knowledge of their fields because they have not bothered about conducting research and publishing them.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not kicking against people seeking help from academics across the globe in doing their assignments and other academic publications. My take here is that the whole work shouldn’t be left to ghost-writers to perform. The essence of academic works is to acquire further knowledge, which will be lost if academic ghost-writing is allowed to get out of hand.