How to Become a Scientific Writer: Tips and Tricks To Help You Get Started

Learn how to become a scientific writer with our expert guide including essential skills, courses and more!

Becoming a scientific writer is an opportunity to combine your love for science with a passion for technical writing. The world of science journalism is undoubtedly competitive, especially as the general public‘s appetite for science is growing thanks to famous figures such as Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Building a successful science writing career is more than finding a full-time job you love – it’s about communicating information to the general public about some of the biggest developments in popular science. Science writing requires many skills a technical writer uses, and if you want to study this area first, we suggest reading our technical writing guide.

Education in a Scientific Field

Getting a science degree is an obvious way to begin your journey toward becoming a science writer. However, becoming a scientific writer isn’t reserved for people with high-level science degrees, as plenty of other options could help you start your science writing career.

Bachelor’s Degree

The best way to kick-start your science writing career is by earning a bachelor’s degree from a research institution. A career path in science writing often starts with a bachelor’s degree in one of the common scientific fields such as biology, chemistry, or physics. If you want to learn more about physics, consider reading some of the books from our best physics books for beginners guide.

Many of the most revered science writers are members of the New York-based National Association of Science Writers, and a large percentage of them hold a bachelor’s degree in science. Many professional organizations that cover breaking science news will favor writers with degrees from respected universities. For example, if we look at The Guardian’s science section, we find that most writers hold a degree in some field of science.

Masters and Post Docs

Going on to further higher education after completing a bachelor’s degree may help you stand out from the crowd of science writers, especially if it allows you to work for government agencies or research in the healthcare sector. The leading science journalists generally have master’s or Ph.D. degrees in specialized fields, giving them world-leading insight into the topics.

Master’s Degree: Building a Strong Foundation

A master’s degree usually spans 1-2 years and allows students to delve into a level of detail around a subject that isn’t found during a bachelor’s degree. If you want to focus on a specific field of scientific writing, such as becoming a medical writer, then a master’s in an applicable subject field will go a long way.

Beyond simply teaching you about a scientific field, a master’s degree will often incorporate modules on science writing and science communications, which will make you a better technical writer. If you want to improve your skills as a technical writer, consider reading how to become a technical writer.

PhD: Specialized Expertise

It is by no means a requirement to pursue a PhD to become a science writer. A PhD is an extremely specialized degree that takes up several years of someone’s life and involves hundreds of hours of research. Nonetheless, many leading science writers hold PhDs, but these people treat science writing as a part-time job. At the same time, they continue to lecture at universities and carry out research in their respective scientific fields.

Online Courses in Science Writing

Udemy logo
The Udemy Medical Writing for Healthcare Professionals is ideal for medical writers

Luckily, in our digital age, you no longer have to go to university to learn about science and science writing. Numerous options for online study can open doors to becoming a freelance science writer. These online courses will prepare you to write your blog, write press releases for science journals, create a podcast, or even find work as an information officer.

  1. Coursera: Science Writing Specialization

The Coursera science writing course covers multiple aspects of science writing for beginners. The course is carried out in partnership with Stanford University and with the guidance of leading figures in the science writing field.

  1. Udemy: Medical Writing and Technical Writing

Udemy offers a number of courses. The Udemy Medical Writing for Healthcare Professionals is ideal for medical writers, and the Introduction To Technical Writing course is a great course to take before diving into science writing.

  1. The Open University: Science Communication and Public Engagement

The Open University offers a course in Science Communication and Public Engagement. This program explores the principles and practices of science communication. It’s a great course to build your communication and writing skills.

Essential Skills for a Scientific Writer

To become a successful science writer, there are a series of writing skills you’ll need to perfect if you can compete for gigs at popular science magazines, professional organizations, and mass media outlets.

  1. Clear and concise writing
  • Science writing has to be to the point with minimal fluff. You have to be able to boil big ideas into easy-to-digest sentences.
  1. Attention to detail
  • There’s no room for errors in science writing due to the precise nature of the subject.
  1. Strong research skills
  • One of the main reasons the best science writers often have research-heavy degrees is that finding new information is an important skill when creating fresh science content.
  1. Ability to interpret complex data
  • As a science writer, you’ll be dealing with plenty of data sets, and the ability to interpret data into easy-to-digest written content is a critical skill.
  1. Familiarity with scientific jargon and terminology
  • Having a working understanding of your specific field of science and the technical terms is crucial.

How to Get Experience

How to become a scientific writer
Science writing internships such as in National Geographic are the gold standard of early career experience

The biggest roadblock for many people when considering a career in writing is getting experience. Many of us have spent countless hours imagining our future as journalists, freelance writers or social media content creators, but getting experience can feel impossible. Fortunately, we’ve got a few tips for you to get started.

1. Signing Up for the Open Notebook Masterclass

The Open Notebook science journalism masterclass is a great place to get started if you don’t have any experience in the field. It will guide you through all the most important aspects of science writing and help you build your portfolio as you practice creating different types of copy.

2. Internships or entry-level positions

Science writing internships are the gold standard of early career experience. They aren’t easy to get, but you have a chance if you consistently apply and improve your application. Consider watching science magazines such as National Geographic, Mongabay, and Scientific American for internship opportunities.

3. Freelancing opportunities

Freelancing can be a great way to get experience in science writing and build your portfolio. Several sites have plenty of paid freelancing opportunities, such as Fiverr. If you aren’t sure where to start your freelancing career, read our Become a Freelance Writer: 17 Reliable Tips post.

4. Volunteering for scientific publications or websites

Some websites and scientific publications will take on volunteers with little to no experience in science writing. If you’re just starting, some volunteer experience can help you build your portfolio and learn about science writing from more experienced writers.

5. Build a blog

The brilliant thing about becoming a science writer today is that you can start building your portfolio from day one by launching your blog. Creating a blog requires minimal financial investment, and sites like Medium allow you to reach a large audience of science readers. Read our Start a Blog: A Simple 9-Step Guide for Beginners (2023) post to learn how to create and maintain your blog.

Building a Portfolio

Once you’ve got some experience, it’s time to start building a portfolio. Adding your work to some form of portfolio from day one is crucial. Consider collating all your work on a single site. MuckRack is a digital portfolio used by journalists from all walks of life that gathers all your bylines, orders them, and tracks the media outlets that have published your work.

Why Is a Portfolio Important?

A good, updated, well-organized portfolio will make you look professional and serious to editors and potential employees. These are two of the main reasons every budding science writer should have a portfolio:

  1. Demonstrating Expertise: A portfolio provides evidence of your capabilities as a science writer. It also makes it easy to show off your work by sending potential employers and editors a single link instead of sending many links to different sites.
  2. Personal Branding: Your portfolio is an opportunity to define your unique style. Take care of your portfolio by updating it and only include articles you’re genuinely proud of. Quality trumps quality in a science writer’s portfolio, especially as most editors won’t take the time to read beyond the top handful of articles.

In conclusion, a professional portfolio is an indispensable tool for science writers. It allows you to establish your credibility and showcases your expertise to everyone who comes across your name online or receives your pitches.

Navigating the Scientific Publishing Landscape

Research Papers
Research papers are the most common type of scientific paper

To become a successful science writer, you’ll need to develop a solid understanding of the publishing landscape. You’ll be using several types of science communication sources to back up the arguments in your articles, so learning the different forms of scientific research publication will help you become a better researcher and science writer.

These are three of the most important types of science writing that you need to be familiar with for carrying out good research.

  1. Research Papers: These are the most common type of scientific paper. They present original research findings, including the methodology, results, and discussion. You probably won’t be writing research papers as a science writer or journalist. Still, you will depend on them daily to learn about the latest scientific developments and gather data for articles.
  2. Case Reports: Case reports describe specific clinical cases or unique phenomena in medical and healthcare fields. Suppose you want to become a medical writer. In that case, you should familiarize yourself with these reports as they can often contain potentially interesting articles on new developments in the field.
  3. Review Articles: Review articles summarize existing research on a specific topic. They often draw on multiple studies, providing you with a great overview of specific scientific fields and trends.

Once you’ve identified your scientific field, gathered your resources, and written the article, it’s time to consider submission. You should always check an organization’s submission guidelines before contacting the editor, as even the best stories will be ignored if they don’t follow the requirements.

Getting your first article published is a massive achievement but also a painstaking process. Remember that everyone started somewhere, and all the hard work will eventually pay off. The submission process for a scientific publication will roughly follow these steps:

  1. Pitch: A good pitch will highlight why an article is unique and why it fits the publication and deliver a brief outline of the article. If you want to write the perfect pitch, read our guide on How To Write a Pitch for an Article: Step-By-Step.
  2. Editorial Review: If the editor likes your pitch, they’ll review the idea in more detail. Don’t be surprised if you end up waiting days or weeks for a reply, as that’s the unfortunate reality even the most well-connected freelance science writers face.
  3. Full article: The editor will ask you to send over the article in full.
  4. Revisions: It’s possible that the editor will want edits to the article.
  5. Published: The article is published, and you’ve added another piece to your portfolio.

Keep Studying

Regardless of your scientific field, there’s always something new to learn. Delving into research papers and case reports is the only way to keep on top of your niche and remain competitive in the growing field of science writers.

You can stay ahead of the curve by regularly taking online courses related to your niche. The great thing about online courses is that you can do them in your own time, and they’re generally reasonably priced. Consider making a list of science publications that you read regularly. Here are five leading publications worth adding to your list:

  1. Nature is one of the most prestigious and widely read scientific journals.
  2. Science is a leading publication covering many scientific topics, including research papers and news articles.
  3. New Scientist is a weekly magazine covering the latest science and technology research.
  4. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) publishes several journals across various scientific fields.
  5. Wired Science is the Wired publication’s science section that publishes articles on science, technology, and culture.

What is academic writing? Check out our guide to find out!