Webeditorial 10

In this scathing but funny piece, Stephen Gilliver wonders about some of the writing jobs that are posted, and the writers who accept them.

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The views and opinions expressed in this webeditorial are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent those of the European Medical Writers Association or its Executive Committee.

RidiculAds: Job Offers You Can Refuse

Stephen Gilliver (Center for Primary Health Care Research, Malmö, Sweden)

Fed up with laughable adverts for dubious jobs with shameful rates of pay, Flora Krasnoshtein, a freelance medical writer based in Toronto, has launched RidiculAds (http://ridiculads.blogspot.com), a new blog dedicated to resistible job ads.

Here you can read about opportunities to, say, earn $50 for penning ten 800-1,000 word articles on haemorrhoids or $5 for 500-1,200 words on sex pills.

Websites such as WhyDoWork.com, Freelancer.com, Guru.com and oDesk.com are virtual marketplaces where employers can connect with potential contractors. Basically, companies/individuals post descriptions of projects they want help with and registered freelancers bid for them. Among the genuine job offers, however, are numerous assignments that can at best be described as questionable.

Take a look at this oDesk job offer from 31 July 2012:

hi, i am looking for a writer who really know about psoriasis and how to tackle it with home remedies with indepth medical knowledge. i do not wan ppl to just rewrite the article. i can tell. pls do NOT apply if u do not really know what it is. the article is with 1000 words. will pay $7 for this article.

There’s no doubt the person offering this job needs writing help, but $7 for a 1,000 word article is not a tempting remuneration rate.

Perhaps you would like to earn a bit more than $7. How about this job, also from July 2012:

This project requires: extensive psychology research, online research, strong writing skills, APA style referencing. TASK: To answer fourteen (14) questions, 2 pages per question, each page approximately 500 words. … 28 Pages Total. All questions must be answered in clinical, psychological terms. Explained in good clinical detail. … The maximum budget is $125 for this job.

So, that’s a maximum of $125 for ~14,000 words (approximately $9 per thousand words). Hmm, not quite what I was hoping for. Still, it seems positively generous when compared to this earlier job offer:

Hi I need 100 articles, 400 words each about Plastic Surgeries which talk about plastic surgery details how to prepare, what the surgery is and how to recover … Budget $5.00

One hirer registered with oDesk had, at the time of writing, paid out $2,028 for 1,227 hours of work – an average of $1.65 an hour.

The people who post jobs are often not shy about describing what they are after, as this oDesk post from 23 July 2012 illustrates:

I am looking for a ghost writer with a medical background or experience in medical writing for a series of reports on specific natural health related topics.

Ghostwriting is a dirty word in the academic world. Not here it isn’t. Freelancer.com even has a dedicated Ghostwriting Jobs section. Here you will find, among other things, a number of opportunities to ghostwrite erotica, if you fancy trying your hand at something other than medical writing.

One thing I will say is that there is great potential to learn new things while undertaking the kind of freelance writing assignments that are being advertised. The following job was posted on oDesk on 1 August 2012:

I need 5 good quality, well-researched articles on the following topics:

1. Japanese breast massage 2. Yoga poses for weightloss 3. Weightloss bmi 4. Breast enlargement massage 5. Zerona laser

Payment is $3 per article minimum of 500 words.

I have to admit that I’d never heard of the breast-enlarging power of massage. Sadly, PubMed and ClinicalTrials.gov searches returned zilch. On the plus side, that does mean I can give you my article on this topic right now: “There is no evidence that breast enlargement can be achieved by massage.” Can I have my $3, please?

But surely no-one’s actually accepting these job offers, right? Wrong. oDesk allows users to browse the jobs that writers have accepted and completed. These have included creating a whole website worth of content (4,400-5,900 words) for $40; writing a 6,000-10,000 word e book on vitamin D, again for $40; and the following task from 11 January 2011:

500 word unique article that has the following

-a description of grass feed beef

-the difference between grass fed beef and conventional beef

-why its important for a triathletes to consume grass fed beef over conventional beef. (example. its effects on the body)

- why the opposing view (ie. people that believe grass fed beef is a gimmick f some sort.) is wrong.

Budget $7.80

Okay, so I’ll tackle the writing project with an open mind, shall I?

There are certainly plenty of opportunities to get into marketing. One job that was open at the time of writing was an opportunity to earn $40 for writing an article “highlight[ing] the benefits of using a multipeptide product over the other options” for “the homepage of a new eyelash growth product that uses multipeptides as its main ingredient”. If, however, writing biased marketing articles isn’t morally questionable enough for you, perhaps you’d like to go one step further and write fake reviews of medical products you’ve never even seen, let alone tested:

Hi there fellow writers! I'll be launching several websites based around various medical products (hair loss, weight loss, skin care, acne, etc) and I need a writer (or two) to help me with parts of the content. … The current project is for a 400-500 word customer review for the product Phen375. You can find more info about this fat burner here: http://phen375.com/ You can also find an example review here: http://phen375truth.com/

I’m happy to report that no-one accepted this rogue offer. I’d like to think it’s because of the nature of the proposed task, but it probably has more to do with the $5 budget.

Don’t worry editors – it’s not all about the writers. There are opportunities for you to be mugged too, as this 2012 project from Freelancer.com shows:

We are looking for editors to check articles for spelling, grammatical, and formatting errors. … The proofreader must review the articles and correct any mistakes to ensure that the articles are 100% error free. You must have the ability to edit the articles if these are poorly written or rewrite completely to make it perfect. The rate for proofreading is $0.25 per 500 words, for editing $0.50 per 500 words and for rewriting $1 per 500 words.

Most of the editing I do is copy editing, typically at a rate of 800-2,000 words per hour. Working at this rate, I would earn $0.80 to $2 per hour on this project. Nonetheless, it sparked a flurry of bids from writers in Europe, the US and around the world. Incidentally, the company advertising the project charges its clients $30 per hour.

At the other end of the scale are the offers that seem too good to be true. Have a look at this ad from WhyDoWork.com:

We are looking for some people that are interested in working on a part or full-time basis writing articles for us. … You will be paid $100 - $500 writing topic based articles and stories. We will also pay you $25 - $50 per hour for posting articles in blogs. You will receive reliable upfront payment twice-a-week for all published articles … No experience necessary, Flexible hours. To find out more we encourage you to send an email to lesanndra@gmail.com detailing your interest. Thank you for your interest.

Sincerely,

Lisa Roberts

Director of HR

Seems okay, right? Perhaps. But the Gmail email address and lack of a company name have alarm bells ringing loudly in my ears. As does the fact that writing experience is optional.

I was made aware of RidiculAds during the course of a discussion in the Medical Writer Jobs & Editor Jobs LinkedIn group. A freelance writer had gone through the application process for a writing job advertised to members of the group only to find that she would be writing term papers for college students. Justly outraged, she flagged this up in the relevant job discussion. Surprisingly (or not), other members of the group continued to express their interest in the job, even after its true nature had been exposed.

It’s hard to decide what’s worse: companies advertising for people to ghostwrite essays, fake product reviews and the like or writers’ willingness to accept such assignments – and be paid peanuts for their efforts.