Writing Ethics 101

NewsTeamWhile it can feel good to write about anything and everything willy-nilly, non-fiction writing has to be held accountable. This is probably a “no duh” statement if you’re someone interested in journalism or writing news-y pieces; however, other types of freelance writers need a code of ethics as well.

Even if you’re “just” a blogger, you need to strive to be an ethical writer.

Here are ten easy tips to keep in mind before hitting “publish” on your next piece:

  1. Don’t plagiarize. Write your own stuff. And attribute anything that’s not yours to whoever actually did write/say it.
  2. You are responsible for the accuracy and quality of your work. Never settle for less than what you’d expect from other professionals. Do your best work – always.
  3. Give as much information on your sources as possible, and use original sources whenever possible. (“Original” meaning sources you talked to yourself).
  4. Don’t use your friends, family, roommates, or significant others as sources – especially for news pieces. If you do interview someone you’re close to, disclose that relationship in your piece.
  5. Cite (link back to) your sources, always.
  6. Label opinions or reviews as “opinion” and “review” pieces. Make sure your audience knows what they’re reading and that it can’t be confused for a news piece.
  7. Don’t lie about the facts. And don’t deliberately omit information or use out-of-context pictures, either!
  8. Don’t go out of your way to hurt others or be needlessly scandalous.
  9. Never accept bribes. If someone wants to pay you in order to buy your opinion – for a good review or for advertising: Say “no.” (Alternatively, prominently label any sponsored pieces you write).
  10. Acknowledge and correct any mistakes you’ve made as soon as possible. Apologize to anyone who was harmed by your error, and update your information. (Alternatively, if you aren’t in the wrong, but are being questioned: Quickly and clearly give answers to those who request them. Be patient! A professional freelance writer is never rude, even when he or she is under pressure).

Most of those tips could qualify as common sense, huh? But you’d be surprised how many “professional” writers forget — or purposely avoid! — those guidelines!

I’ve made a printable version of those ten tips, just for you. Feel free to stick it in your binder or on your wall or wherever you think you might want/need it for those moments when you’re not sure if your writing is on the level. I had a very similar list that I would carry around with me when I was your age!

Download the PDF List Here!


And if you decide that you really want to research journalism ethics (rather than freelance writing ethics in general), I highly recommend perusing the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) Code of Ethics. Their list is a lot longer than mine and is a “must read” if you plan on being a reporter.

However, as a freelance blogger, there’s a “new” ethics issue that has cropped up. It involves placing articles for your clients…

Why You Shouldn’t Place Articles for Your Clients

There’s a trend lately among “potential clients” wherein they want an article written (good!)…about their product (okay under the right circumstances)…and then pitched/”placed” for them at a particular publication. It’s that last part that’s the problem.

Don’t place articles for your clients!

Here’s why:

shadyYou’d Be Taking Advantage of Fellow Editors/Blog Owners

I’m a writer and an editor, and I love both of my jobs equally. And I have a great respect for my fellow writers and editors.

As an editor, in particular, I know how hard it is to make the tough decisions needed to keep a publication running. And how much trust has to be put in writers.

I would be betraying that trust if I approached an editor with a “placed” pitch, especially if I didn’t disclose what I was doing. And so would you, if you did the same thing!

Not to mention it might not even be possible! Just because you pitch a post doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to get published. Which brings me to my next point…

You’re a Writer, Not a Wizard

When a client asks you to place their article, they’re essentially asking a writer to do a head editor’s job.

The only person who can really “place” an article — “guaranteed” — is the head editor or the site/blog/publication owner. Freelance writers can try to get an article placed, but they don’t have any real control over the final results.

But freelance writers shouldn’t be trying to get anyone’s articles placed but their own because…

It’s Unethical on Many Levels

Getting an article placed under false pretenses is unethical. Not only would you be lying to the editors, you’d also be lying to the readers. And if you chose to promote the article after getting it miraculously placed, then you’d lying to your readers. That’s not cool.

Doing something like this could hurt your reputation. Badly. And it could end up hurting your client’s too, as the person who hired you to engage in said shadiness.

There’s also the potential that you’d be getting paid multiple times for the same article, which is super shady. You’d be getting paid once by the “client,” once by the publication, and possibly a third time if there were hidden affiliate links. Oh, and that third item? Definitely illegal. Which brings me to my final point…

It’s Potentially Illegal

Most of the people who ask about placing articles also want hidden affiliate links added into the post. But guess what! That’s illegal.

If you’re based in the United States that means you’re within the FTC’s jurisdiction. Endorsing a client’s site/link without disclosing that you were paid to do so goes against FTC’s endorsement guidelines since the link to the client’s site would be considered an advertisement.


If you’re a ghostwriter, there should be no problem with you writing a blog post as your client, provided that it’s under legal circumstances (for instance, you wouldn’t be able to write any educational essays or term papers).

However, after you wrote the post for your client, it would be up to them to get it placed. After all, it’s their article.

In Conclusion

In the end, it can be boiled down to three things:

  1. Is it ethical?
  2. Is it legal?
  3. Do you feel comfortable doing it?

If the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding “yes,” then go for it! 🙂