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Starting a Career in Science Writing

Science writing encompasses a wide variety of niches that can include writing for newspapers, mass-market magazines, trade publications, university press offices, broadcast media, and newsletters, among many other venues. But regardless of where you end up publishing -- most writers end up working several of the venues listed above -- a great way to learn the terrain is to listen to others who already work in the field, either on the writing side or the hiring -- that is, the editing -- side.

That's why in preparing this feature we queried established writers and editors on many of the issues we remember facing when we were first getting started: deciding what training is best, what markets are most accessible and lucrative, how to get that very first gig, and practical, day-to-day concerns like accounting and dealing with taxes.

We asked, they answered, and we wrote it down. The result is a coherent package of articles that we believe constitutes -- pound for pound and dollar for dollar -- the best short introduction to a career in science writing currently available.

We suggest you start off with Some Thoughts on Becoming a Science Writer, in which Jim Austin, Editor of Science's Next Wave, covers some of the basics from the perspective of an editor and a former (and occasionally a current) freelancer, offering tips on making the transition from the scientific bench to published authorship.

In preparing Science Journalism Degrees: Do They Make a Difference? Robin Arnette spoke to school officials and former students from three leading U.S. science-writing programs about the value of formal training in science journalism. Do you really need a credential to make it in this field?

In Breaking into the Media -- Do You Need Formal Training? Contributing Editor for Europe Elisabeth Pain addressed the same question, more or less, from a European perspective, where writers can choose between a journalism program, a program in science communications, or no formal training at all.

Also reporting from Europe but, for this article, covering a broader territory that includes North America, European Editor Anne Forde suggests Some Markets to Explore, noting that the most lucrative and approachable science-writing niches aren't always -- or usually -- the most obvious. Opportunities exist in everything from newspapers to books to internal company reports. What are the differences between these markets? And what strategies do seasoned professionals recommend for budding science writers? Anne and her sources aim to answer these questions.

It is entirely possible for a seasoned -- or not so seasoned -- scientist to make it as a writer, but that doesn't mean it's easy. In Survival Secrets of Freelance Writers, Canadian correspondent and frequent freelancer Andrew Fazekas joins a select group of freelance writers in offering advice on surviving in this hectic world and noting that earning a living as an independent science writer takes discipline, perseverance, and a thick skin.

Finally, Managing Editor and long-time freelancer Alan Kotok offers his Freelancer's Business Start-Up Kit, a succinct introduction to the business aspects of writing for a living independently.

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