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What does a Science Writer do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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A science writer is a writer who focuses on topics in the sciences. Science writers can work as journalists, reporting science news and creating an interface between popular culture and science, and they can also work for various institutions as information officers conveying news about new discoveries and research in the sciences. The payscale for science writing can vary; as with many other writing careers, it depends on how hard the writer is willing to work, and on making connections which will land a science writer in the right jobs.

In the case of science journalism, a science writer may work for a mainstream or scientific publication, performing work on assignment or writing speculative pieces. Science journalism is designed to convey information about science news to the general public, and it can run the gamut from articles about breakthroughs in neurology to weekly columns on ethical issues in the sciences. A science writer may also opt to work on full-length books about scientific issues.

Information officers work in the scientific community, writing press releases, grants, and other materials which are related to scientific work. Often, these materials can be read by the public, as in the case of press releases published by a university. Information officers may also assist with the formal preparation of articles for trade journals in the sciences, helping scientists organize their material so that it can be communicated in a clear and accessible way.

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In order to become a science writer, someone needs to have strong writing and editing skills, along with training in the sciences. Many science writers go to college for science degrees, focusing on an area of the sciences in which they are interested, such as biology or astronomy. They also hone their writing and communications skills by taking journalism and writing classes, and some science writers opt for programs which offer science writing degrees, combining both forms of training.

A science writer may become an acknowledged expert on a subject, in which case he or she may be asked to contribute written pieces on a topic to multiple publications, or invited to write a book to convey information to the public. Science writers may also appear on television and radio broadcasts, talking about the issues they cover and getting members of the public interested in the sciences. Most major newspapers and other media outlets maintain at least one science writer on the staff to talk about science issues, and it is not uncommon for a big company to have several, covering a variety of topics.

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browncoat
Post 4

@clintflint - It does depend on what you eventually want to do though. If you want to write science non-fiction books, you will have to have a platform and it's difficult to build one of those unless you've got the qualifications that come from a science career.

I mean, you have to ask yourself why anyone should listen to you, if you don't have formal qualifications. There are a lot of writers out there competing for attention. You have to be able to stand out.

clintflint
Post 3

@pastanaga - There are definitely ways around that, depending on what your friend wanted to do. He might not have been able to step right into a job at Popular Science right away, but there are a lot of magazines geared towards children that don't really care what kind of qualifications their writers have, as long as they get the tone of the article right.

You have to be willing to do a lot of work without a guarantee of payment at first though, because you'll usually be submitting your articles blindly, without knowing if they will be picked up. And, honestly, you wouldn't get paid all that much at first either. But I think someone without formal qualifications could absolutely get a job as a science writer. You would just have to work your way up.

pastanaga
Post 2

I had a friend who really wanted to do this, but he didn't really have the right qualifications. He had a degree in education and was actually very good at explaining science in a way that people could understand, but there was no way he was going to get hired anywhere without a degree in science, or at least a journalism degree. Science writing seems to really require a fairly advanced degree before anyone will take you seriously.

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