Interested in trying your hand at freelance academic writing? You probably have a lot of questions. It’s true, freelance writing is a lot different than submitting assignments for a university class. Maybe you’re wondering:
- What is academic writing all about?
- How can you find work for your academic writing skills?
- What are the best sites for freelance academic writers?
If you’re looking for answers, or just want to know a bit more about the freelancing options out there for someone with higher education, you’ve come to the right place.
What is Freelance Academic Writing?
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 academic writers:
The jobs mostly involve doing people’s homework for them.
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.
On the surface, this 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’s a huge problem with this scenario:
It’s completely unethical.
These kids are paying you $100 per research paper to help them cheat their way through university.
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 are going 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.
Are All Jobs in Academic Writing Unethical?
I’ve been in the gig economy for a while now, and I would say for the most part, nearly all jobs in freelance academic writing are unethical. You’ll see job sites word things very carefully to try and convince you that it’s 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 doing other people’s homework as a service.
That said, I cannot truly say that 100% of freelance academic writing jobs are unethical. There are some legitimate situations out there, like a professor hiring someone to help with their literature review, format their references for an academic journal, or edit their article. They’re busy professors and just need a little help with the tedious tasks associated with academic research. That’s totally fine.
I just took a glance at academic writing jobs on Upwork and came up with a few listings that appear to be legitimate academic writing gigs:
PhD holder wanted for a true crime podcast? Sounds like a criminologist’s dream!
Is It Worth It To Pursue This Freelance Niche?
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 the academic writing niche.
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?
Problem Number 2: Credibility
The second biggest problem with freelance academic writing is credibility, because for the most part 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 clients if you can’t prove the quality of your work with examples and testimonials from happy clients.
Of course, you could avoid all those homework assignments and just stick to legitimate gigs like helping people with their literature review or produce a criminology podcast. Then you can get testimonials and maybe some referrals. But that brings me to the third biggest problem with joining the academic writing niche:
Problem Number 3: Oversaturation
Sorry to say this, but academic 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 PhD. 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! Freelance academic writers are always wanted. So they apply for some gigs, then BOOM, land their first freelance job, earn money, and the rest is history. Academia is the only online writing niche they ever work in.
The problem with this oversaturation is that it drives the value of your work down. There are too many academic 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 a PhD writing college papers for a freshman for less than $100/essay. It’s sad but true.
What’s the Alternative?
All these academic writers are making a huge mistake, one I nearly made when I first started freelancing years ago. They think that academic writing 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. I don’t go near academic writing gigs because I know they pay so poorly.
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.
How Can You Get Genuine Freelance Writing Jobs in Academia?
After understanding all that, if you still want to pursue freelance academic writing, you can. You just need to be extra careful to ensure you’re only applying for ethical positions and avoid accidentally doing someone’s homework.
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 withdraw 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 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 you’re doing 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.
Some Freelance Job Sites To Check Out
So, if you’re ready to start looking for some freelance academic writing jobs, do avoid sites that are designed specifically for this purpose. These are almost always homework job sites. Instead turn to freelance platforms where you can browse and select the kind of gigs you want to apply for.
Here are a few academic writing websites 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” 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.
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. It’s definitely an easy option for people with an education to earn a little freelance income fast. 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.