Ombud’s corner: Do you believe in ghosts?

“Ghosting” is the common term used to describe situations when a piece of work is done by somebody but credited to somebody else. Ghosting often occurs in creative fields, such as writing texts, music, developing graphic charters or translating. Let’s celebrate Halloween this year by acknowledging the contributions of all the CERN ghosts who work tirelessly behind the scenes in all areas of the Organization.


“Ghosting” is a recognised job with international professional associations, particularly in the field of text writing. The role requires strict anonymity, good reciprocal trust and understanding between the people involved, and the professional flexibility to be able to adapt to different situations and different styles of expression as needed.

At CERN there are many ghosts: you can find them in the Translation and Minute-writing service, whose members also provide valuable editing and proof-reading skills; in the Communications group with its team of writers, graphic designers, photographers and video editors; and of course also in the various collaborations, working groups and meetings where a few individuals take on the responsibility of producing proposals, minutes and reports on behalf of the collective community. These ghosts require a specific set of skills that are not just a question of writing, drawing or taking pictures, but rather draw extensively on professional expertise that has been developed through study or years of practice.

The notion of ghosts in organisations can be further extended in some cases to include a substantial part of the role of an administrative assistant who drafts correspondence or prepares PowerPoint presentations on the basis of just a few key elements. Here too, the competence of these ghosts, together with their understanding of the context, should not be underestimated, and due consideration should be given for sufficient lead-time to meet deadlines.

Sometimes the work is correctly credited, while at other times the signature simply does not exist or is different from the one specified in the by-line. Ghosting is not an incorrect practice but rather a win-win agreement between the parties involved. The “ghost” works behind the scenes on the clear understanding that the role is known to be vital and appreciated in the wider sense.

The level of involvement of ghosts can vary from being a simple source of inspiration to one of doing most of the actual work. In either case, do not be afraid of “ghosts” – indeed, if you are required to do some creative work and do not feel sufficiently confident to do it, do not hesitate to ask for the help of a ghost!  In the same way, if you are possessed with ‘ghostly’ talents, do not hesitate to offer your services to your colleagues!  Collaborating with such ghosts at work should not be perceived as a frightening encounter – on the contrary, there is clear evidence that it is actually a golden opportunity to pool resources and make the most of the diverse types of talent that exist in the work environment.

So now do you believe in ghosts? Can you really let this Halloween pass without acknowledging them and appreciating their contributions?

As a reminder, all previous Ombud's Corners can be accessed in the Ombud's blog.

by Sudeshna Datta-Cockerill