Science communication is a broad-based field in which new developments are described for the general public, as well as for fellow writers and scientists. The intended audience and tone of writing are the main factors that distinguish jobs and qualifications in science communication.
If you are interested in spreading knowledge to the general public, writing for newspapers and magazines are great routes to explore. These careers require writers to take complicated scientific ideas and reword them for a general audience. Science communicators working in museums, on the other hand, use a more visual approach to explain science developments through exhibits. Exhibits are a fast and convenient way to make ideas and new findings known to a wide range of people of all ages and backgrounds.
There are also jobs for science writers who are interested in reaching more specific audiences, such as fellow scientists and government agencies. Grant writing, manuscript editing, and writing government reports are a few examples of such audience-specific jobs. The clearly defined target audience can make writing for fellow scientists and the government easier than writing for the general public; however, the narrow audience can also lead to precise requirements and strict time limits.
Public information officers also work with a specific audience—the media. These communicators write press releases and hold press conferences to tell other science writers about breaking news at government, academic, and private institutions.
Lastly, there are those science writers who enjoy working for themselves. These writers are called “freelance writers”. Freelancing usually involves the submission of single assignments to a company; once the assignment is finished, employment with the company ends. Freelance writers should be knowledgeable on current events, as well as independent, since they choose their own topics. Freelance writers must also have a sense of what ideas and findings are appropriate for publication. Authors of books are considered freelancers because they choose their own topics and control most of the publication process. Book authors must have an extensive understanding of current issues in science—to sell many copies, they have to write on “hot” issues that people want to read about. These authors do not have anyone setting deadlines or explaining the publication process, and so it is up to the authors to manage their time and duties. Most importantly, book authors must be strong and confident in their writing skills.
Choosing a path in science writing really depends on your personality. If you like working with the public, then museum or general science writing is a good place to start. On the other hand, if you want to work directly with scientists, then consider a job at a university or government institution. If you prefer to set your own deadlines and make your own assignments, then freelance writing is an option. In the end, science writers in all of these roles have the same goal in mind--to spread science information effectively.
For more information:
American Chemical Society
Council for the Advancement of Science Writing
National Association of Science Writers
Public Information Office (Highlands County, FL)