Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

How Do I Get Started in Science Writing?

A Guide To Careers in Science Writing

Employers typically expect science writers to have a college degree, whether in science or journalism, although some top-flight science writers achieved their positions via the school of hard knocks. At some national research institutions, preference is given to PIO applicants with master’s degrees. Aspiring science writers should consider taking courses that complement their majors; that is, journalism majors should pursue courses in science, and science majors should take journalism courses. Also, many colleges and universities offer specialized courses and graduate programs in science writing. Again, science writing for the lay public is different from technical writing, and one should make sure that a college course is the former and not the latter before signing up for it. 

Besides learning to write about science, prospective science writers should also develop multimedia and social media skills, including learning to use photo and video editing software and understanding techniques for managing blog, podcast and Facebook and Twitter postings. 

Writing science stories for school newspapers and magazines while in college is an especially good way to discover whether science writing is a desirable career possibility. Also, university news offices will often take on undergraduates as science writing interns and even allow them to earn independent study credit; and local newspapers may hire students as freelance "stringers." 

Any student who contemplates a career in science writing should also join the National Association of Science Writers as a student member. Membership offers invaluable benefits, including the NASW magazine ScienceWriters and access to member services on the NASW web site.

Regardless of academic preparation, however, getting started in science writing means reading omnivorously about science in newspapers, magazines and scientific journals such as Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science, Science News, Wired, Science and Nature. Online news services such as EurekAlert! and the National Science Foundation's  Science360 also constitute good sources of science news and examples of science news releases.

Launching a career in newspaper science journalism may mean a first job as a general assignment reporter, perhaps at a smaller newspaper or radio or television station. As illustrated in the section on salaries, entry-level salaries for such positions are notoriously low, especially compared with opportunities in fields such as engineering or business. However, as a new reporter gains experience, editors will be willing to give the opportunity to specialize in science. And with such experience will come the chance to move up as a science writer at a larger newspaper or a national magazine, with a higher salary.

A career as a science PIO may begin with an entry-level job as a science writer in a public information office, advancing to a senior science writing position or directorship with more experience.  In many cases, news media journalists move at some point in their careers to PIO positions.

In any case, the jobs bank listings on the NASW web site offer a good start on a hunt for contacts, internships and jobs. Also, NASW members are quite willing to offer aspiring science writers advice and help. Many areas have local NASW chapters, and contact information is available on the web site.