Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Science Writing and Editing

Among the career paths chosen by scientists who have decided not to pursue a research career, science writing -- along with a wide range of related professions -- is perhaps the most familiar and sought-after.

There are good reasons for the profession's popularity among scientists who are changing careers. Some like it because it allows them to stay close to science without having to do messy bench work or maintain too narrow a focus. Others love to write and always thought they might end up in a writing career.

A career in scientific writing also offers the kind of flexibility that makes it easier to balance work and family. Because you can do it from anywhere in the world, it's an obvious choice for trailing spouses. And because you can do it as an independent contractor working flexible hours, science writing is a popular vocation, real or aspirational, among parents.

There's one more reason why science writing is a tempting choice for career-changing scientists: superficially at least, it seems to require only skills that scientists already possess. Graduate-trained scientists already are pros at extracting hard-to-access information. And we all know how to write, at least a little, right?

Well, yes and no. As much as any other line of work, science writing has a skill set that can take a while to master. It's a serious profession, and the competition is cutthroat. Making a successful career transition into science writing requires time, focus, determination, audacity, and -- some would even say -- talent.

Yet a career in writing and editing is viable for people with scientific training, if they have the right abilities and traits. Serious study is necessary -- through self-teaching and mentoring or through formal training -- but many people before you have made a succesful transition.

The same goes for several related career paths. Other than science writing (encompassing both journalism and public-information work), scientists may pursue careers in medical writing (technical and marketing-related work, conveying medical information to one or more narrow audiences including doctors and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration), and research-journal editing (anyone who has published a research paper will know what that is).

This content collection is a guide to all the best Science Careers articles and resources related to writing and editorial careers. We're sure that if you read everything here, take it to heart, and put it into practice, your odds of a successful career transition into the publishing world will improve.

Science writing and journalism

First, let's look at some careers for those interested in investigating and interpreting science for the general public or for some narrower audience. Science writers may write for newspapers, mass-market magazines, trade publications, broadcast media, or press offices, among many other venues. They may work as freelancers -- independent contractors -- or on staff. There are wide variations in the work, depending on the medium -- many science writers write for more than one medium -- but the work shares many common elements.

Science Writing: Some Tips for Beginners - There's another good reason why advanced scientific training is advantageous: It can make you a better journalist.

Science Journalism Degrees—Do They Make a Difference? - Science Careers' Robin Arnette talks to officials and former students from three science writing programs: MIT, Boston University, and UC-Santa Cruz.

Breaking into the Media -- Do You Need Formal Training? - Is it necessary, or even useful, to attend a formal program in science writing?

Science Writing: What are the Markets? - Some places to send your freelance pitches that may not be obvious.

Survival Secrets for Freelance Writers - Making it as a science writer requires commitment, creativity, and a willingness to take risks. We offer practical tips from experienced writers about how to make it work.

Freelancer's Business Start-Up Kit - An overview of the nitty-gritty details involved in a writing career, including things like record keeping and taxes.

Field Report 8: A Day in the Life of a Freelancing Spy - Pseudonymous Science Careers writer "The Spy" describes -- well, read the title.

Medical writing

Medical writers work in or for the medical and pharmaceuticals industries and serve a range of business-related and regulatory functions. The profession is notoriously well remunerated, at least compared with your average science writer.

Working as a Medical Writer - In 2009, freelancer Sarah Webb described the field and the career paths and motivations of several medical writers.

Is Medical Writing Right for You? - Katherine DeBruin poses ten questions that those interested in medical writing should ask themselves before leaping.

Careers in Medical Writing: Leaving the Bench Without Leaving Science--The Start of a Rewarding Career as a Medical Writer - Theresa Vera outlines briefly the genres of medical writing and describes the good things and the bad things about her career transition.

Clinical Writing--An Entry into the World of Biotech - John Oldenhoff tells about his career transition and how his work experience at a startup company helped him.

Careers in Medical Writing: Regulatory Writing -- What's That Then? - Mark Hughes makes the distinction between regulatory writing and other kinds of medical writing and describes the skills employers look for.

Tooling Up: The Medical Writing and Corporate Intelligence Career Tracks - This medical writer used his experience as a springboard to a career in corporate intelligence.

Medical editing

A Keen Eye for Detail - Hilary Dean describes what it's like to work as a medical editor.

Research journal editing

This kind of editor, the kind that works with journal articles, is somewhat familiar to scientists because the work they do is often more visible to them. Once they reach a certain level of seniority -- a postdoc perhaps, but sometimes earlier -- most scientists spend time working with journal editors as they try to get their articles published.

So what do journal editors do? Best to leave it to the editors themselves to tell you.

Translating Scientific Expertise into Publishing Success - Evelyn Jabri's career transitions are eased by pragmatic optimism and fueled by an insatiable appetite for learning.

The Editor's World: Back to the Books - Now editor and publishing director at Cell Press, Deborah Sweet introduces readers to what she did in her former position as an editor at Cell.

Horses for Courses -- Research Papers versus Reviews - Andrew Sugden, who is now one of Science's deputy editors, describes the differences between the types of articles he works with and the skills required to do the work successfully.

Editing as a Scientific Career - Susan Koester, who at the time was an editor at Neuron, writes about her job and her career transition.

Bench to Page: An Editor's View of Science Publishing - Working, at the time, with immunology manuscripts from Science's Cambridge office, Steve Simpson described a day in his working life and told what he had to learn to do his job well.

At the Gateway of Cutting-Edge Research - Then, Angela Eggleston was a senior editor at Cell. Today, she's a biology editor at Nature. Here, she described the things she did as a graduate student and postdoc that help her in her editorial work.

Resources beyond Science Careers

On the Origin of Science Writers - On his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog, Ed Yong started a thread in which science writers tell how they got started. The count is now at 145 writers, including some recognizable names.

NASW - The National Association of Science Writers is an essential resource for those starting out in science writing, as is their book, A Field Guide for Science Writers.

The Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) offers a guide, So You Want to be a Science Writer?

The European Commission published its European Guide to Science Journalism Training in 2010.

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers