Becoming a science writer requires several different skill sets, a persistent and tenacious attitude, and the ability to network heavily with editors, publishers, publicly funded organizations, and even private trade groups. It also requires a number of decisions on the part of the writer. Although positions do exist for those who wish to become a science writer, the competition is very fierce.
First, the aspiring science writer needs to be versed in two areas. He needs to be able to write, and understand the mechanics of writing. This translates to a firm grasp of grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and style. Every science-based publication, be it in print or on the web, will have specific guidelines for article style, perspective, and length. If you wish to become a science writer, you must be able to adapt to the publication’s requirements.
Equally important is a background in one or more areas of scientific study. Most publications seeking a science writer prefer candidates who possess at least a bachelor’s degree, and most will also prefer that the writer specializes in a specific area. Those with expertise in a defined niche are preferred over a generalist. The reason for this is that science publications are concerned first and foremost about conveying a sense of credibility to the reader.
Assuming you can write, and do have scientific credentials, then the next step is to seek out markets. Ask yourself some questions and define your goals. Do you wish to become a science writer to inform and enlighten an academic audience, or do you seek to make the field a paying career? Is it your intent that fellow scientists read and consider your opinions and theories, or is your preference to provide articles that can be easily understood by the layman?
Once these decisions have been settled, it is time to find venues that might be interested in publishing your work. Just as research is important in science, it is also critical in discovering the publishing outlets that will allow you to become a science writer. Keep abreast of not only scientific journals, but also the trade journals produced by the publishing world. Contact editors with query letters and potential ideas, join online groups and forums, and attend conferences.
Becoming a science writer, as is true with all writing, is about who you know as much as what you know. Most magazines, newspapers, or web publications prefer long-term relationships with a writer, and work with a stable of people who have proven to be factually and personally reliable. When you do get your foot in the door, be prepared to accept any assignment. Also, make certain the completed assignment is submitted error-free and in advance of the set deadline.
Know your field, watch for trends, and submit regular ideas to an editor. Keep the lines of communications open, and build a reputation as a writer whose work does not need major corrections or modifications. You can become a science writer, but always keep in mind that both the science and writing aspects are of equal importance.