Do you consider yourself an ethical article writer or blogger? Whether you write for print publications or the web, professional ethics are an important part of building trust with readers and clients, which is part of what keeps them coming back for more.
My ethical standards won't necessarily look like yours, and vice-versa. For example, I have ethical issues with writing about certain topics that I don't feel are appropriate.
As an example, I wouldn't take on marketing copy for a company selling tobacco or articles supporting companies that I consider harmful to my audience. But beyond the issue of avoiding article topics you might consider unethical, how else can you maintain high professional ethics when writing for clients or even on your own blog?
Let's look at five things ethical article writers wouldn't do:
1. Steal / Plagiarize
Obviously it's wrong to steal material from another writer and slap your name on it. But ethical article writers also don't "rewrite" articles from another source (a derivative work which is still a copyright violation without the original copyright holder's permission). And if they pull inspiration from a single piece and want to expand upon the original article, they should cite the original source. Being inspired by another's article and rehashing it are very different things.
This should go without saying, right? Yet it's not unheard of for article writers, and bloggers, to flat-out lie in order to make a point. I remember one blogger a few years back who I caught lying on numerous occasions. For example, they started promoting something they used to speak out against. And when someone called them out on it, they lied, saying they'd never spoken out against the issue at all. That's because they deleted the older posts, and without realizing that email subscribers still had copies in their inboxes.
Lying is always a stupid move. Don't fudge stats, quotes, or anything at all to make a point in your articles. Either call your article what it is -- an opinion piece, paid advertorial, etc. -- or re-think your premise if you can't find facts to back you up.
3. Libel Someone
Along those lines, don't spread malicious lies about other people. I'm the last person who will ever tell you that you shouldn't call out BS when you see it, if you're the type of writer who's willing to do that and if it's appropriate for the article you're writing. But if you're going to go on the attack, keep it factual. Being negligent or willfully spreading lies that could hurt someone's reputation could cost you (and your clients) dearly.
4. Fail to Disclose Sponsorships and Affiliations
Ethical article writers don't hide conflicts of interest, such as writing a supposed news story about a paying sponsor, client, or company they're an affiliate of. This is especially important when there's any direct compensation involved, such as paid link placements within content, affiliate links, or a sponsor having any kind of control or influence over the article content itself.
5. Skip Fact-Checking
When writing new pieces or other articles that rely on supporting facts or information from third parties, ethical writers don't ignore fact-checking. That involves anything from double-checking statistics to verifying allegations with other reliable sources.
Look. Everyone makes mistakes. And ethical standards vary from person-to-person and publication-to-publication. But sticking to these guidelines can help you avoid crossing an ethical line you might later regret.
What other ethical guidelines do you follow in your article writing -- whether that's journalism, blogging, or some other kind?