Are you fascinated by science? Do you find yourself taking breaks from work to watch videos about single-celled organisms, look at newly published photos of asteroids, or read about the latest breakthroughs in quantum physics? If that’s the case, you might be intrigued by the idea of pursuing a career as a freelance science writer. But is this a realistic goal? How difficult is it to get into this field? Here’s what you need to know in order to break into the world of freelance science writing.
Assess Your Science Background
You’re probably wondering whether you would need a science degree, advanced or otherwise, in order to write about science professionally. Having a degree in any scientific field is undoubtedly an advantage to anybody who wants to be a science writer. It’s certainly something you should emphasize in your resume as well as on job applications. If you don’t have a degree, you should be sure that you are truly interested in science and won’t mind spending a lot of time reading about it.
It’s also important to keep in mind that having a background in science won’t automatically prepare you to be a science writer. It takes skill to translate the esoteric details of science into accessible explanations that a general audience can understand. While having a degree may help you understand those details, having strong writing skills and a knack for describing complex topics in a clear way is far more important. If you have these skills, you’ve got what it takes to be a successful science writer.
Consider Which Scientific Subjects Interest You Most
Most science writers do have a beat that they cover, which allows them to delve deep into a certain area and discover story ideas that other writers might not be able to find. Your beat should be the field that most interests and engages you. If your degree was in anthropology, but you’re more interested in forensic science, make forensic science your niche. It’s a good idea not to make your focus too narrow, however. If you want to write about ocean science, don’t just write about jellyfish. That will limit the number of writing opportunities you’ll be able to find.
It’s also a smart idea to stay up to date with the latest developments in science. Nobody can pay attention to everything, of course. However, you should make a habit of following updates on your favorite areas, whether that means keeping up with black holes, animal psychology, or cancer research. Find some high-quality science blogs and read them regularly. Look for well-reviewed books about your favorite subjects, and take notes while you read them—then review your notes. You may even want to find some professionals to talk to—not necessarily for specific stories, but for background information that you can use in writing about a particular field. The more you immerse yourself in the world of science, the easier it will be for you to write well about it.
Know Where to Find Gigs
The skills that are required to be a successful science writer are, in many ways, the same as those that will help you with freelancing in general. Along with being a good writer, you should be able to communicate well with editors. Practice writing succinct, but engaging pitches. You should have strong self-editing skills, and you should be able to meet deadlines. Science writers should also be good at research, since a big part of the job is reading or skimming other articles—including some that may be dense and difficult to decipher—for information.
When you’re ready to start pitching articles, first make sure that you’re pitching stories that you feel comfortable writing. If you’ve never written about DNA, don’t make that the subject of your first pitch—write about something you’re familiar with. It’s also important to find the right places to pitch your work to. Find scientific magazines and websites that run stories about subjects you enjoy, and study what’s already on their sites. Try to get a feel for the tone and style of their articles. Think about the audience that they are targeting. If you aren’t reading a publication, you’ll be at a disadvantage when you try to pitch to it.
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