Their words are all around us. I detect them in press releases, blog posts and web pages, even in articles attributed to specific executives.
Some of these words are written by ghosts — well, ghostwriters. They intentionally choose to disappear behind another purported author. Invisibility is part of their job or their value proposition. Successful nonfiction book ghostwriters are often well compensated for their ability to disappear.
There are other types of writing ghosts:
Brand ghosts: Within the business environment, many individuals write in “the voice of the brand.” For certain roles in marketing, corporate communications, investor relations, and public relations, creating and writing in a brand voice is part of the job description.
Group ghosts: When a group collaborates on a writing project, one person frequently takes on the task of putting the team’s efforts into words. The team gets the credit, even though a single individual did the drafting phase of the project.
The invisible writing above is business-as-usual in many organizations. But there’s another type of ghost that’s more dangerous: the unhappy ghost.
Someone reached out to me a while back about a problem he experienced writing on the job. In his role, he worked with subject matter experts to write reports. He did the writing while the technical experts got the bylines. The writer felt that his contributions weren’t valued.
He felt invisible.
The unwilling ghost can haunt the workplace. Unhappy employees may resent the people they work with or the organization that employs them.
Does this sound familiar to you? Are you at risk of becoming an unwilling, unhappy ghost?
If you ever find yourself in this situation, consider how you can make your work visible where it matters.
Levels of Visibility
Recognition comes in many forms:
- Authorship credit (a byline) signals to the world at large that you contributed to the creation of a piece of content. Everyone can see the authors.
- Attribution is a public record of your role in a project. It may a qualified author attribution. For example, when you see “By Jane Doe with John Smith” on a technical journal article, many people will assume that Jane is the subject matter expert and John the writer.
- Acknowledgment is recognition of your effort. Its scope may vary from your team, the organization, or the world at large.When you are acknowledged, others can see you if they look hard enough. When Apple first shipped the Macintosh, you could click the About the menu option for the native software and see the list of developers who authored it. Apple gave external recognition to people who usually remained hidden behind the code.
These are the levels of recognition that you have to work with. Negotiate for the best you can get, while meeting the needs of the project. Perhaps you won’t be listed as the primary author, but an attribution acknowledges your contribution.
Your first obligation, as a writer, is to the reader. Your second is to the entity that employs you – the business.
Any attribution should meet the needs of both of those parties. For example, an investor reading the Shareholder Letter in an annual report wants to believe that it represents the words of the senior leadership. If someone else wrote it, that writer should remain invisible.
Be Visible Where It Matters
Even if the reader doesn’t see you, make sure others on your team and beyond are aware of your contributions. You can do this in subtle ways, such as reporting on your progress on these tasks, making the depth and extent of your work apparent.
Even if you are invisible to the reader, make sure you are seen and valued in your organization.
This post is based on content from The Workplace Writer’s Process. If you write on the job, check it out.
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