Posted by: Leigh Ann Otte | 02/18/10

Should medical experts write for free? The pros and cons.

The idea of writing for free is a touchy subject in the freelance world. It comes into play with Web sites and upstart publications in particular. With limited money coming in, they have limited payments to give out.

This frustrates many freelance writers. But medical professionals have more aspects to consider than the average writer. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons for you, as I see them. Do you have more?


  • If you’re just starting out, you at least get something published. (What that’s worth varies from writer to writer, and from outlet to outlet.)
  • If you’re only writing for publicity, a bio and Web link may be all you want anyway.
  • Chances are, people seeking free content aren’t going to be too picky. You’ll probably get more yeses than rejections, which again can be good if you’re looking solely for publicity.


  • Many argue that when some write for little or nothing, this helps bring down fees for the industry as a whole.
  • Unless you see publicity as your payment, you’re giving away time and skills that you may be undervaluing.
  • Pretty much everybody can use some editing. If the outlet also doesn’t have the money to do this, you may not be putting your best foot forward.
  • Though many outlets that get articles for free are on the up-and-up, beginning writers do get taken advantage of. Even some large sites that pay writers little, called content mills, have lots of controversy around them. Do a little googling if you’re iffy. Often, if there are questions about an outlet, people will already be talking.

Have you had to consider whether to write for free yet? What did you decide?

Full disclosure: I have worked for companies that pay for articles and companies that offer publicity only. I make no judgment either way (as long as nothing’s unethical, of course).

Image courtesy



  1. Thanks for a concise, objective list of the pros and cons of writing for free.

    As I consider the freelance path, I see way too many ads looking for writers, but not looking to pay them. These ads ask for samples on specific topics and while they may not, I tend to imagine them publishing “samples” as content.

    The sites that offer publicity and links can be worthwhile, if they end up reaching your target audience, or more readers than visit your own site.

    For now, I weigh each possibility and write for free if the publication, site or cause interests me.

    • Yvonne, sounds like you have a good grasp of pitfalls to look out for when considering writing for free–and of potential pros. Thank you for your compliment and for your concise rundown too.

      Leigh Ann

      • Smiles, I was Googling myself (don’t we all do that) and I found my post and then saw your response. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it years before but thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment.

  2. Researchers & doctors have medical journals available to them for peer publishing.

    It would be delightful for medical doctors to team with writers who work in the general public arena.

    Perhaps, a win-win where the doctor gets the message across & a small $ and the writer gets to pay the light bill.

    • Yes, I agree, Kate. I love working with doctors. They know their stuff, and I just help translate it to the written word. Thanks for making that point.

      Leigh Ann

  3. Good overview. This topic is heavily and constantly debated on the Linked In writer groups that I’m in as well.

    I think its generally fine for professionals in other fields (medicine, for example) to write for reputable magazines/websites/etc, without pay, as a way of promoting their expertise and sharing information they think is important for their public.

    Content mills and similar sites that promise you can be a “published” writer, no matter what kind of content you submit – I advise avoiding them if you want to be considered a serious writer in any field. These places generally have such low editorial standards (or none at all) that they don’t look good on a professional writer resume.

    Writing for free in a reputable small publication or web site is a different matter, especially when you’re starting out and trying to build clips. Appearing in a good non-paying publication can help you get noticed by paying ones in the same field; that’s how I made my first pro non-fiction sale.

    BTW, Leigh Ann, this appears an excellent choice for a niche topic. I’m glad you decided not to do a generic “writer blog” like zillions of others.

    • Hi, kshayes513. Thank you for your comment—and especially for giving your view on content mills. You make great points. (Also, thanks for the kudos at the end. I really appreciate it.)

      Leigh Ann

  4. Thank you for the feedback, bluerabbit. Good point about other things we do for free too–and about the fact that we do have to balance and prioritize. Being a one-person show is challenging, though, of course, rewarding too.

    Leigh Ann

  5. This is a great summary of the pros and cons. I am a professional education writer. Sometimes, I speak at conferences. I also offer occasional art workshops for kids.

    I see these occasions as promotional opportunities and chances to maintain contact with fellow educators and students. They feed my creativity and keep my work “alive.”

    When I finish a workshop, I often share links and key points from the talk, or from the lesson if I was working with kids. I have already done the preparation work, and this step simply extends the size of my audience.

    I know that writers who blog more regularly than I build up more of a following, but, like you, I have to put current paying assignments first when prioritizing my work. All of us do, after all, have to cook, shop, take care of sick husbands, and, sometimes, even sleep.

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