Getting Started in Science
Copyright Melissa Barton
- All Rights Reserved
writing is one of the most exciting niches in
journalism--science writers get to travel, meet intelligent and
interesting people and report on new developments from the
dramatic and groundbreaking to the quirky and peculiar. Science
writers may specialize in one of the traditional natural and
physical sciences--biology, geology, physics, and chemistry--or
write about anthropology, archeology, medicine and health,
engineering, space and planetary science, mathematics or the
Breaking into the science writing
field can be daunting due to the scarcity of mid- to low-range
markets, but the field is rewarding. You don't have to have a
science background to be a successful science writer. John
McPhee, famous for his lyrical geology articles in The New
Yorker (some of which are collected in the Pulitzer
Prize-winning book Annals of the Former World), studied
English, not geology. If you do have a science background, that
can help you, but overcoming your training to use technical
language may be an obstacle.
While almost every writers'
organization seems to offer travel writing courses, science
writing courses are rare. Health and medical writing courses
are most commonly taught, but colleges and universities
occasionally offer more general science or environmental
writing courses. Be sure to look carefully at the instructor's
publications before deciding whether to take the course.
Seminars on science, environmental and medical writing are
sometimes offered at regional or national conferences. These
courses and seminars can be a great introduction to the field
or help you polish your skills.
Some science writers,
particularly those aiming at a staff position, may find a
graduate degree is the way to go. Graduate degrees are
expensive, however, so consider your options carefully. Some
respected science and medical writing graduate programs are
offered at MIT, Columbia, University of California--Santa Cruz
and Boston University.
organizations provide networking opportunities and resources
for science writers. Many offer discounted student membership,
and some resources are available to nonmembers.
and regional organizations can also be a great way to
Read All About
In addition to the
basic freelance writing books, these books for science writers
provide more specific information about everything from finding
stories and markets to tips for conveying complex technical
Ideas Into Words: Mastering the
Craft of Science Writing, by Elise Hancock (2003)
This slim book leans more towards
craft than marketing, and provides a solid and enjoyable
introduction to how to write about science.
A Field Guide for Science Writers
(1st ed.), eds. Deborah Blum and Mary Knudson (out of
A Field Guide for Science Writers
(2nd ed.), eds. Deborah Blum, Mary Knudson and Robin Marantz
editions have very different content, and both are a mine of
information for the aspiring science writer. They cover
different markets and types of writing in detail, with
contributions from leading science writers.
Everyone knows about
the big general science magazines like Discover and National
Geographic, which are prestigious and pay well, but are also
hard to break into. Mid-range specialized magazines like
Archaeology and Astronomy may be better targets for some, but
they don't have equivalents in all science
Fortunately, many magazines
accept science stories with the right angle. A forestry
magazine might be interested in an article on how a study on
bird ecology impacts forest management. Alumni magazines
frequently publish articles about science by professors or
alumni of the institution. Ecotravel is a booming trend
frequently covered by travel magazines.
Don't discount other ways to make
ends meet--writing about science for nonprofit organizations,
private labs, and businesses is the bread and butter of many
science writers, if less glamorous than being a staff writer
As with any other writing niche,
science writers can break in with good, timely writing and
perseverance. So research those markets, start sending queries
and don't give up!