Whenever you search for writing or editorial jobs on websites like Guardian Jobs and The Bookseller, the majority of positions that come up are for scientific publications. So what does a science writer actually do?
Well, it’s quite simple really. Science writers conduct research, write and edit articles on scientific topics for many different kinds of publications, from scientific journals and B2B publications to popular science magazines, such as New Scientist and National Geographic.
The most successful science writers (a.k.a. scientific journalists) are those who have expert scientific knowledge, but also have the talent to write engaging, interesting and concise copy.
As a science writer, you might write news pieces, essays or features. You might also conduct interviews with scientists, academics and other important people on behalf of scientific publications.
At all times, you will need to make sure your writing complies with in-house style guides, adapting the tone and style of your writing where necessary. You may also be given copy-editing and proofreading duties to complete.
Working as a science writer doesn’t just involve hiding away, getting your head down and bashing out a bunch of interesting articles: you will also need to build up a network of contacts in the industry, from press officers and PR executives to researchers and academics.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level science writers only tend to earn between £16,000 and £21,000 per annum. However, as you build your reputation and gain more experience, your salary is likely to increase.
If you work as a freelance science writer, you will most likely be paid per article or by the word, rather than receiving an annual salary. Consequently, you will frequently need to pitch article ideas to commissioning editors in order to secure yourself regular work.
Freelance science writers tend to enjoy fairly flexible working hours. However, if you work in-house for a particular publication, you will most likely work from nine-to-five.
You may also be required to do extra work in the evening and at weekends from time to time in order to meet print deadlines.
Most people take one of two possible routes into science writing: the scientific route or the journalistic route. The complexity of the subject matter you’ll be dealing with as a science writer means that it may be advisable to do a science degree first, and then perhaps complete a postgraduate journalism course before making the leap into gainful employment.
Alternatively, you might complete an undergraduate degree in journalism, English literature or another subject which involves a large amount of writing. You may then wish to demonstrate your interest in science writing by securing work experience with a series of scientific publications.
As with any journalistic career, getting work experience is a vital step towards securing a job as a science writer. You will need to develop a portfolio of writing, which you can show to potential clients, so it’s a good idea to write a blog or complete a handful of relevant work experience placements.
Training & progression
The kind of training you’ll receive will differ from publication to publication. Large magazines or publishing companies offer structured training programmes for entry-level science writers, while smaller, regional publishers may only provide ‘on-the-job’ training.
Professional courses offered by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) may help you to develop niche journalistic skills, though these are by no means essential for becoming a successful science writer.
Career progression and success is mainly dependent on the individual, as there is no fixed route or career path for science writers. Exploring opportunities in new media or freelancing are the typical routes explored by experienced science writers.