For more than 35 years, Inc. has been the premier publication dedicated to entrepreneurs. As a columnist, you are a valuable part of our digital network, sharing your experience, advice, and commentary with fellow business owners who make up Inc.com's audience. Please consult " Getting Started" (access restricted) for tips on writing posts, crafting headlines, and promoting through social media.

Preface

At Inc.com, we value trust and honest communication, and maintain a high standard of ethical conduct.

We've prepared this document to assist you making choices in the constantly shifting media landscape. By following our Code of Ethics, you not only help Inc. continue to build its relationship with readers but you also enhance your personal credibility. Your contributions as a peer expert are key to the value of the Inc. brand, and we hope that the Inc.com platform burnishes your brand as well. Let's make sure that this relationship continues to work for both of us.

Trust is critical at a time when "pay to play"--that is, undisclosed payments for media coverage--and other temptations are on the rise. Please note such activity violates not only Inc.'s standards but also Federal Trade Commission rules on deceptive advertising.

Inc.com's philosophy is that by giving you the freedom and tools to publish on our platform, you can and will do your best work. With this freedom comes the responsibility to always act with the utmost integrity.

During your tenure as an Inc.com columnist, situations may arise in which you will be faced with ethical decisions. The Code of Ethics is meant to make the right decision as clear as possible for you. If you ever have questions about an ethical dilemma related to your column, we want to hear them: Please consult with your editor.

We expect you to follow these standards. Please read through the guidelines carefully and apply them to all aspects of your work for Inc.

1. Credibility

--As an Inc.com columnist, you are not a PR representative for your company, and Inc.com is not your company's promotional platform. Don't write about yourself or your company without tying some experience to a larger trend or development. Don't write about your clients or potential clients in an attempt to win or keep their business; the point of any inclusion is to provide value to the reader.

--Err on the side of transparency. If you are fairly writing about a client or any party with whom you have a relationship, make sure to disclose that relationship up front, especially if not doing so could make a reader question your integrity and motives. Above all, don't deceive the reader. Remember, a marketing message that uses the format of a news feature or article violates FTC rules.

Please note: During the course of your "onboarding" as an Inc.com columnist, you will be asked to provide your editor with a list (for internal purposes, not for publication) of clients, PR firms, marketing firms, and other parties with whom you have a financial relationship. Inc.com must be vigilant that our coverage is not tainted by suspicions of quid pro quo.

2. Conflicts of interest

--Being paid by a third party for writing about a specific subject as an Inc.com columnist is considered an unforgivable offense. So, too, is being paid by a third party to include links in your Inc.com posts. Both will result in immediate revocation of your posting privileges. Inc. is aware that a growing number of unscrupulous parties solicit coverage or promotion on "authority" sites such as our platform. We are vigilant about monitoring our site for abuse.

--Writing or linking about a specific subject as a "favor" to others, even without direct compensation, is not permitted. As an Inc.com columnist, you must remember that your primary allegiance is always to the readers. At no time should you unduly promote a product, business, or individual with which you are affiliated.  

--No freebies from people and companies mentioned in your post. No free flights, lodging, or transportation worth more than a cab ride in most major cities. You cannot accept products worth more than $100 for free for purposes of a review. (Borrowing such products briefly for a review, though, is fine.) You should not accept any gifts, entertainment, meals, or favor worth more than $100. No free tickets to sporting events or performances, unless it's a rare case in which you're reviewing said performance and your editor is aware of what you're doing. It's fine to have someone you're writing about pick up a check for lunch or dinner for which your share is less than $100, as long as you make a good-faith effort to reciprocate in the future. It's also fine to accept a press pass to a conference that's relevant to what you write about.

3. Traffic generation

--You shall not, directly or indirectly, generate page views through any automated, fraudulent, or other invalid means. This includes the use of robots or other automated query tools or computer-generated search requests, or the fraudulent use of software. Inc. actively monitors for suspicious traffic patterns and reserves the right to investigate, at its discretion, any activity that may violate your contractual agreement as a columnist.

4. Libel, plagiarism, quoting

--Don't make false claims, and don't engage in libel. A handy definition of libel: publishing false statements injurious to someone's reputation. Knowingly or recklessly publishing false information will result in immediate revocation of your posting privileges.

--Don't plagiarize or paraphrase without attribution. A handy definition of plagiarism: lifting someone else's work and presenting it as your own. Don't do it. When presenting someone's words verbatim, make sure to use quotation marks; if paraphrasing for space or clarity, credit the source. When in doubt, attribute generously. Consider using a "block quote" format when quoting at length.

--Don't "copycat" others' work, particularly when it comes to headlines. At Inc.com, we aim for original, thought-provoking, compelling work. While honest overlap may occur, it is never appropriate to deliberately mirror another publication's or another columnist's popular headline or, in the case of a listicle, a post's tips, bullet points, or subheads. Get into the habit of Googling headlines or doing an Inc.com-specific search before publishing, to make sure you're not accidentally copycatting.

--Don't send an article to a source before it goes live. At times, a source or interview subject may seek to review quotes (or an entire post) ahead of publication, sometimes as a condition of talking to you. It is against Inc.com's editorial policy to send unpublished material to sources, as they may seek to alter, tone down, embellish, clean up, or even delete all together information that has been fairly obtained. That effectively allows the source or interview subject--not you--to control information that is presented to the reader. We encourage you, however, to check factual statements and quotes with your sources and interview subjects by phone or email. But you should keep control of your copy.

5. Balance

--Your columns (even opinion columns) need to be fair to the subjects whom you're writing about. While we want you to share your perspectives, taking a cheap shot reflects badly on you and on Inc.com. Before you publish a piece that's critical of a person or company, see if you can find whether the person or company has commented on the issue and, if so, include that, citing the original source, and embed a link. If you can't find an existing comment, please reach out to the person or company to get one. Their side of the story deserves to be heard. If you're unsure whether your piece is appropriate for Inc.com, please reach out to your editor for guidance.

6. Political affiliation

--Avoid framing your perspective as that of a political or policy expert. At Inc.com, our readers span the political spectrum. Unlike other news organizations that endorse candidates, we don't have a stake in the ground other than the advancement of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. Should you choose to write about political candidates (during an election season) or current political leaders, don't hold forth as a "talking head" and proclaim that a politician is unqualified for office or make blanket statements such as "Obamacare is good." Instead, frame your arguments in personal terms, referencing your experience as an entrepreneur, in the context of how your specific business or industry is affected by the issues. If you are unsure whether your column meets these standards, please check with your editor for a review before it publishes.