Grey Area

Last week, a college classmate contacted me, asking whether I still did technical writing. I said yes, obviously, and he told me he wanted to commission articles around a list of IT domains, for publication to LinkedIn. He felt he would be unable to do it, and thus wanted to know if I would be interested in taking on the work. I said yes, and so far so good. He needed 2 articles over the course of 6 months. Not strenuous by any means. And I figured they would be on the heavier side, taking me many weeks to iron out the facts into prose.

When I was asked about this commission, I was under the impression that the articles were a part of his work, and that he was subcontracting the task to me. This is fairly common, and not remotely morally questionable, insofar as his workplace is aware that this is happening. Ghost writing is very much a stalwart of the writing industry after all.

Then I got my first surprise: the word count per article was to be about 300 words. That’s.. not a lot. Most of my blog posts here are longer than that! It is just enough to write a short introduction, make 3-5 points very briefly, and wrap up with a short conclusion. Ok. Why do I need 6 months to churn out these piddly articles?

Next, he was very vague on the the actual topics he wanted to write about, and just told me the domains: cloud, AI, etc. At first, I was a little flabbergasted, because I hadn’t realised that finding topics was also part of my commission. Anyway, having gotten into the habit of spoonfeeding all my customers with thorough research that ideally they should do, I drew up a questionnaire: audience, tone, thrust, etc. I also cobbled together a list of 30-odd topics currently doing the rounds of publications.

He highlighted 5 of the topics on that list. And added a comment at the end: “To start with.”

Hm.

By this point, my head was awhirl. He said he wanted 2 articles, but had now upped his commission to 5. Next, he wanted the articles to go up soon. As in, immediately. And finally, once I had accepted the work, he told me that these articles were intended to go up on his personal LinkedIn, in order to get a better appraisals, and to impress a few hiring managers he had recently added.

Bloody hell.

I don’t know what to make of all of this, to be honest. If he had written the article himself, and had me edit it, would that have made this seem less morally dubious? I stuck to my timelines, but he still followed up with me regularly, and published the first article hours after I sent it to him.

I just.. don’t know what to think.

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