Written by the hands of a ghost

The honour of being a renowned researcher is linked to a mass of publications. Publish or perish they say. Yet publishing is a very time-consuming work and perhaps the topic of ghost-writing should be discussed in this context.

A ghostwriter is a professional writer who is paid to write books, articles, reports, or texts that are officially credited to another person. Mozart for instance is a well-known example of a musical ghostwriter for his patrons. In Academia, ghost-writing threatens the academic world and its honour.

What are types of academic ghost-writing? How do universities try to prevent it? How do agencies exploit the pressure on academics to publish by offering ghost-writing services in a twilighted zone of legacy? Let’s examine.

Types of Academic Ghost-writing
There are two types of academic ghost-writing that have been established in academic circles. First, sometimes, research assistants or PhD students write entire research articles and conferences presentations for their professors  and do not receive credit for their work. Other academics do not prepare presentations for lectures and seminars, rather they have their students do that.  Sadly, students are surely conscious of this phenomenon yet pursue to conform.

Secondly, legitimizing their own inability to create a research paper, as their supervisors might do the same, the students engage in the very same behaviour. Due to tense deadlines and an enormous work overload, some see themselves forced to engage in the illegal behaviour. This is the niche where ghost-writing agencies have established themselves. They promise the student to write their manuscript in exchange for remuneration. The responsibility, how else could it be, lies on the students’ side. Ghost-writing agencies deliver their manuscript and if the student uses it without any correction, they claim to only having given advice to the student.

Ghostwriting agencies
Agencies publishing their announcements on various university websites, promise to help in the chaos of essays, research papers and theses. Yet, it’s illegal, not to mention extremely expensive. Enough students seem to need ghost-writers so much that the ghost-writing agencies can charge as much as 10.000€  for a creation of a dissertation.

Who are those ghost creating academic papers?
Most agencies employ ghost-writers who have a high academic degree. It is most likely that they are doctors or even professors having either made negative experiences with university or needing some extra income. Since an agency can earn up to 70 Euros creating one page of a manuscript, ghost-writing seems a quite lucrative job for some.

Control by university
If you submit a ghost-written manuscript and sign the declaration of academic honesty while handing it in, you have committed a punishable act that can be prosecuted by legal remedies. For example, as a student, you can be exmatriculated from your university. Universities mostly require a printed and an electronic version of student’s thesis and dissertation, since they can access special data bases comparing the student’s manuscript to already published articles to prevent plagiarism. Particularly since the political affaires around plagiarism major attention is drawn to it. Discovering that a university has awarded a degree for someone for a ghost-written thesis diminishes the institutions reputation considerably.

Still, how to decrease ghost-writing?



As being part of EFPSA’s JEPS team, Sina Scherer works as JEPS Bulletin’s editor and is currently enrolled in the last year of her Master programme in Work and Organizational Psychology at the Westfälische Wilhelmsuniversität Münster. Her fields of interest cover the areas of Intercultural Psychology, Personality and Organizational Psychology such as Health Psychology. 

Sina Scherer

Sina Scherer

Sina Scherer, studying at University of Münster, Germany, and University of Padova, Italy. I have previously worked as JEPS Bulletin Editor and am active in a NMUN project simulating the political work of the United Nations as voluntary work. I am interested in cognitive neuroscience and intercultural psychology, anthropology and organizational psychology (aspects of work-life balance, expatriation).

More Posts