Everything You Need to Know About Freelance Academic Writing
Freelance academic writing offers a unique opportunity for people with higher education to work from home. When I first started working online, I didn’t really know what I was getting into, so I had to learn from trial and error on how to build my income in this writing niche. Academic writing jobs were some of the first freelance work I did after finishing my master’s degree.
The good news is, applying your academic knowledge to creating quality content can earn you better pay than generalized writers with less experience and knowledge than you. The key to success is understanding what freelance writing is all about, where the demand for academic writers comes from, and following some key tips that I wish I’d known when I first started out. Read on to learn all that and more!
What is Academic Writing?
Academic writing is a style of writing that is planned, focused, and backed up by evidence. The goal of academic writing is to inform and educate or argue a position while citing external sources for support. Complex vocabulary isn’t essential or even encouraged in academic writing, although different disciplines include specific jargon and writing guidelines to abide by.
What Freelance Academic Writing Jobs Entail
A freelance academic writer can create many different types of content, including essays, reports, articles, book chapters, presentations, curriculum, syllabi, and more. In some cases, an academic writer needs to make esoteric content more accessible to non-academics, in which case they’ll also write blog posts, press releases, news articles, etc. A freelance academic researcher can also create literature reviews, qualitative databases, and take on other types of tasks associated with academic research.
If you have a degree and are interested in joining the freelance world, academic writing jobs probably caught your eye. I did academic writing when I first started freelancing. I was fresh out of university with my MA, what else was I qualified to do?
But over time I figured out why there was always such a huge demand for academic writers:
Most academic writing gigs are doing other peoples’ homework.
The vast majority of freelance academic writing gigs online today are posted by college kids looking for someone else to do their assignments for them. There are also entire businesses designed specifically to connect students to people with a bachelor’s or even higher degree to help them ace their essays and assignments.
That said, there’s still plenty of legitimate writing gigs out there for people with a degree or two. I just took a glance at academic writing jobs on Upwork and here’s what I found:
Most of the gigs are actually academic editing jobs, which is another good niche to get into. But I did come across a gig for turning a doctoral thesis into a book, which is a good example of a legitimate academic writing job.
What Are the Best Sites to Work for as an Academic Writer?
There are lots of freelancing job sites out there where you can find academic writing jobs. Here are a few ones to check out:
Just Google any of these websites to start looking for job opportunities. Some of them are very generalized so you’ll need to type “academic writing” or other keywords into their search field to get more specific results, such as gigs looking for research writers. Some will show job listings for student essay writing, so be careful to avoid these online assignment writing jobs.
Kolabtree is a pretty new platform that’s actually designed to connect academics with other academics to help them with their research projects. So you can definitely find some legitimate academic writing work there:
If you do a quick Google search you’ll come across all sorts of essay sites looking to hire academic writers. Some of them are blatant about the fact that they’re hiring you to do someone’s homework for them. But beware… Some essay sites are much more subtle.
You’ll see essay sites word things very carefully to try and convince you that you’re really not helping people cheat on their research papers. They’ll focus on the perks, like how much you can earn per page or per academic assignment. They’ll call it creative writing, remote tutoring, or writing “example essays” that students can use as content to guide their own drafts. But that’s all a lie. These are attempts at getting you to not feel guilty about taking essay writing jobs and doing other peoples’ homework.
If I were you, I wouldn’t trust any of the freelance academic writing websites out there, no matter what their reassurances are. Instead, turn to freelance platforms where you can browse and select the kind of gigs you want to apply for.
What to Know Before Applying to an Academic Writing Job
If you want some advice for landing your first academic writing job, here’s what I recommend:
Stick to your area of expertise
There are so many content writing gigs out there for academics that it can be difficult to keep up with and apply to each one. The best use of your time is to only apply to gigs that require academic knowledge specific to your discipline. For example, you’re much more likely to land a gig writing for a history blog if you actually have a degree in history. That said, you could apply your writing skills to related fields (such as a geologist writing about paleontology topics). It all depends on what you’re comfortable writing about. Just don’t waste your time applying for writing gigs that are way out of your field, as someone actually in that field is going to win that bid.
Revamp your CV first
If you have an academic background, you probably have a 10+ page CV to go with it. Your credentials and experience will be important for your writing business, but your resume shouldn’t be anywhere near as long-winded as an academic CV. Cut down your CV to something more digestible for people outside of academia. Try to keep it to 2 pages maximum. If you end up cutting out something really relevant to the content writing gig you’re applying for, you can easily paste it back in before sending your resume to potential clients.
Prepare academic writing samples
Portfolio clips are the most valuable thing freelance writers can use to land content writing gigs. Have these samples readily available for each potential client to review. When I first started out freelancing, I sent potential clients a copy of my master’s thesis. I also referred them to my peer-reviewed publications. Once I started getting my work published on blogs and in online magazines, I shared these links as well. Start with whatever academic writing samples you have then grow your portfolio with quality content from there.
Understand the project before agreeing to it
You should also be aware that even if you avoid essay sites, you could still end up doing someone’s homework for them by accident.
That happened to me once. Years ago I got hired on a job site to write a blog post (so I thought) on some marketing topic. Can’t remember what it was anymore. Anyway, I wrote a draft and submitted it to the client. They responded with:
“I love this, thank you! Could I ask you for one little change though? Instead of citing sources with links, can you use APA style? That’s what the professor wants. Thanks again!”
The job was listed as blog article writing. There was nothing about the posting that suggested it was for a university class. I had inadvertently done someone’s homework.
Once I realized this, I politely withdrew myself from the job without doing the APA citations. The client got a full refund, and a free research paper to boot. But at least my conscience was (relatively) clean.
And it’s not just in freelance writing that you can inadvertently end up doing someone’s homework for them. You could end up designing a logo for someone’s community college design class. Or running a statistical analysis for someone’s MA thesis. I’ve seen job listings asking for people to write their dissertations.
The moral of the story here is to always know what the job is for. Understanding why the client wants you to do the job will help you ensure you deliver what they want, and ensure you don’t inadvertently do someone’s homework.
Why You Should Never Take Essay Writing Jobs
On the surface, working for essay sites seems like the easiest way for someone with an education to make a buck. I mean, I’m an anthropology MA, I could write an ANTH 101 term paper in my sleep. But there are several huge problems with this scenario that should make you think twice about doing essay writing:
Problem Number 1: Ethics
The biggest problem is that you’re helping students cheat. End of story. Imagine if you helped someone cheat on their essays then they go on to go to medical school and become your doctor. Do you want to receive treatment from someone who barely opened a book throughout undergrad?
I know, everyone has to make a living somehow. And on the surface, it looks like you can totally get away with this and never get caught. But there’s no saying the hammer won’t fall sometime in the future. Remember when all those famous people got in trouble for hiring people to help their kids cheat on their college admission exams? Guess who else got in trouble? The people who actually helped them cheat. People went to jail over that!
You don’t need that kind of risk in your life, especially when there are plenty of ethical ways to earn freelance income online today.
I’m not trying to discourage you from becoming a freelance writer (that’s what I do, after all!). But there are a few problems that might make you want to think twice before diving into essay writing jobs.
Problem Number 2: Credibility
The second biggest problem with essay writing jobs is credibility because you’re ghostwriting.
Your written work goes under someone else’s name. You get zero recognition for it. It can’t become a portfolio clip. And your clients (who are students) can’t give you testimonials praising your work. These are both really important things you need to build your professional profile as a freelance writer. You can never demand a high pay rate from new clients if you can’t prove the quality of your work with examples and testimonials from happy clients.
Problem Number 3: Oversaturation
Sorry to say this, but essay writing is one of the most oversaturated freelance niches out there. It’s right up there with pet and travel blogging. Everyone and their mom is an academic writer. Here’s how that works:
People have a bachelor’s degree, or MA, or Ph.D. They decide they want to start freelancing, so they browse the different job categories out there. Academic writing jumps right off the page!
They already have all the skills they need to join this niche from day one! Essay writers are always wanted. So they apply for some gigs, then BOOM, land their first freelance job, earn money, and the rest is history. Essay writing is the only freelance writing niche you ever work in.
The problem with this oversaturation is that it drives the value of your work down. There are too many writers for employers to choose from. When two equally qualified people apply for the same gig, they will pick the cheaper one. That’s how you get someone with a Ph.D. writing college papers for a freshman for less than $100/essay. It’s sad but true.
What’s the alternative?
All these essay writers are making a huge mistake, one I nearly made when I first started freelancing years ago. They think that doing peoples’ homework is all they’re qualified for. They don’t try breaking out into any of the other writing niches because they assume they don’t have the skills to do it.
But it’s not true.
I’m the perfect example of how it just doesn’t work like that in the freelance world. I have 2 degrees, a BA and MA in anthropology. Guess what my freelance writing niche is?
Yep. I write about all sorts of marketing topics, but mostly PPC advertising strategies. I cannot stress this enough:
I have not taken a single marketing class in my life.
I have zero credentials in this niche. I landed my first marketing writing gig before I knew the first thing about the topic.
But I taught myself what I needed to know, and now I make excellent money as a freelance marketing writer.
You can do exactly what I did, with a little confidence and a little help. So many people have asked me for advice about how to turn their academic skills into freelance income, that I created a free mini-course to help them pick a profitable freelance niche. Please do check it out.
If you made it to the end of this post, I’m confident you know exactly what you need about freelance academic writing to decide if it’s the right niche for you. Academic writing jobs can be a great way for people with higher education to earn money while working remotely. But if you’re interested in getting paid really well as a freelancer (think, growing your income to 6-figures!), please do check out my free mini-course. It will give you an overview of all the most valuable freelance niches out there today, and help guide you through picking one that best aligns with your current skills.
This article was originally published on September 4th, 2019 and was updated on November 4th, 2020.