If You’re Interested in Academic Writing, Read This First

Carol Tice

The truth about academic writing. Makealivingwriting.comAre you a college graduate who loves to write? If so, you may be drawn to the many, many websites that offer ‘academic writing’ opportunities.

You’ve written scads of school papers in the past, in your academic career. You might wonder if there’s an opportunity to find freelance writing jobs.

There is — though it doesn’t pay a lot. From what I’ve seen on the bigger sites, $15-$20 a page for college essay writing is typical.

If you’re fast and want to put in a lot of hours, you might earn a few thou a month.

There’s only one catch: Academic writing is unethical.

I want to be super-clear on that. It’s not a gray area. It’s not sort of mildly naughty. It’s wrong.

As a writer who’s on a mission to bust scams and help writers find good pay, I should have tackled this topic long ago. But let’s get to it now.

First, let’s visit some essay sites and see how writers get sucked in.

The bait-and-switch of paid essay sites

It’s easy to see how writers get confused about academic writing. There are a ton of essay sites out there that make this seem like a legitimate freelance writing niche.

Some of these sites have creative ways of describing what you’re doing. They’ll tell you it’s ‘tutoring’ work, or that your submitted essays provide ‘inspiration’ for students’ writing.

But they’re lying.

Read closely. As you’ll see in these screenshots, essay sites like to dress it up. But in the end, we all know what’s happening. Students are having you write their papers.

Check out how one essay site pitches writers:

academic writing - example 1

Doesn’t sound so bad, right? (And yes, I noticed all the grammar errors in that.)

Read a little closer, though, and a little farther down the page, you get this:

Academic writing - example 2

Ho! All of a sudden, we’re ‘getting paid to write essays FOR students.’ Not editing their paper. Not giving them a little help or ideas.

Sounds fishier now, right?

Finally, if I stay on one of these sites long enough, inevitably, a box like this will pop up:

academic writing - example 3

As a mom who’s paid for college, let me say I didn’t take out student loans so that someone else could write my son’s papers.

There’s a reason schools have ethics codes — to prevent exactly this sort of thing.

Writers’ experiences on essay sites

The feedback I get from teachers is that papers written by pros are pretty easily detected. I was having a chat about this on my Facebook page recently, and got some choice feedback.

Professors can sniff out the difference between a student who’s perhaps had a little light editing help with a dissertation — which IS legit —  and one who’s farmed out an essay, wholesale:

academic writing - teacher reaction

Writers sucked into these gigs also usually figure out they’re in an ethical swamp pretty quickly:

Academic writing - writer review

Yes, you can earn some money at this. But it’s dirty money.

And that’s not the only reason doing this type of writing hurts you, the writer, and doesn’t lay the groundwork for building a successful freelance writing business.

Why academic writing is a road to nowhere

Here are the three things you need to build a great freelance writing portfolio and begin commanding professional rates:

  • Referrals
  • Testimonials
  • Portfolio samples

With academic writing, you get none of the above. You’re ghostwriting for someone who’s not going to give you a testimonial and risk getting themselves expelled.

Essay sites are never going to refer you a better client and cut themselves out of the deal.

Even if you could get permission to put ghosted essays in your portfolio — which would be unlikely — you can’t use these samples without outing yourself as a writer without scruples, who’s just in it for a quick buck, no matter who it hurts.

In other words, academic writing is a dead end. The only place it leads you is to getting more essay work from the same website you signed on with. If that site goes bust, have fun starting all over.

Meanwhile, the years are going by, and you’re stuck in a niche with a bad reputation.

The final problem? You’re spending your time doing academic writing — stiff, formal, footnote-filled writing that bears no resemblance to any of the good-paying types of writing in the rest of the marketplace. So you’re not even gaining helpful writing experience.

Stop the denial

Despite the obvious fact that ghosted essays get students expelled, I find academic writers often have a violent reaction to the suggestion that what they’re doing is unethical.

For instance, one writer recently blocked me on Twitter after I had the nerve to point out that academic writing is wrong. That means I can’t show you her original post, in which she blithely described how she writes essays for pay for students at levels from undergrad to PhD.

But here’s my reply:

Academic writing tweet response

If you’re a writer hoping to get some respect for all your hard work ghosting essays, I’m sorry to disappoint you. What you’re doing is wrong. Academic writing hurts your career, right along with the academic career of the students who pay you.

Ask yourself this: Do you really want your writing legacy to be: “At least I didn’t get caught?” Or are you here to light up the world with your writing talent? I’m betting it’s really the latter.

If you’ve been caught up in the academic writing treadmill, there’s no time like the present to leave this ethical swamp behind, and move into doing more legitimate gigs — articles, case studies, Web content. That’s how you end up finding better clients and earning more.

Ever done academic writing for pay? Share your experience in the comments.

article writing template


  1. Carol Tice

    Totally different! That to me is university business writing, no ethical issue there!

  2. Stephanie Sides

    Dear Carol and others who have responded to this post:

    I may be the lone anti-voice here based on my experience. And maybe what I do is not what you’re talking about here. Still, in my experience, academic writing is NOT inherently unethical. I have made my freelance career (since 2008) writing for academics (at UCSD mostly, some at CSU campuses and other private lesser-know colleges in the San Diego area), some of whom I’ve known for 30 years. I write/edit their NIH and NSF proposals, their annual progress reports to their funding agencies, and “science highlights” of 800 words that popularize work they’ve published in peer-reviewed papers, including in Science magazine and other highly regarded journals. I’m treated with the highest respect by these clients. And they pay me (without question) $110/hour. In my experience, it’s all about my relationships with these people (their winning proposals signal to them that my services are worth the price). New clients based on their referrals (of which I have a few new ones) treat me the same way. Sometimes I get a byline.

  3. Riannon Westall

    I agree with you 100%. I’ve had several people contact me about writing their essays or assignments. I don’t even bother responding. They can get through school the way I did- by studying and working hard. People have their own beliefs, but it’s bad karma in my opinion 🙂

  4. Mary

    Thank you for writing this article. I am new to freelance writing and was interviewing for an “academic” writing job. I am appalled and disheartened, by these web sites. That explains why none of my questions were answered up front. Well, I guess back to the drawing board. Again Thank you. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      If I can give you a tip, no great writing jobs are waiting for you on some big online site. The good gigs, you go out and find yourself.

    • Mary

      Absolutely! I have no illusions. Thanks again and for your honesty.

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