Science writers cover some of the most fascinating advances in diverse scientific fields such as epidemiology, quantum physics, psychology, and biochemistry. When they write for lay audiences, science writers have the privilege of advancing the scientific understanding of the general public, thereby combating the abundance of misinformation that now dominates the online landscape.
What do writers in this demanding and exciting field earn? How can you become a science writer? Read on to explore this fascinating career.
Average Salary for Science Writers
Salary.com, a platform that collects data about salary ranges across professions in the United States, reports that:
- Science writers make an average annual base salary of $60,805.
- The lowest 10 percent of earners in this field earn less than $49,882 per year.
- Most full-time science writers can expect to earn between $55,087 and $66,963 per year, being figures that fall outside of this range being outliers.
- The top earners — highly educated and experienced science writers working for prestigious publications — can earn annual salaries that exceed $72,570.
PayScale offers similar data, estimating that the average annual salary for science writers in the US currently lies at $55,332, with typical wages ranging from $44,000 a year for less experienced science writers to $86,000 for seasoned staff writers.
The most reliable data regarding the average salary for science writers, however, comes from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This government data shows that:
- The median annual salary for all writers and authors in the US — which would include, for instance, reporters for local newspapers, web content writers, and speech writers — was $67,120 in 2020.
- The lowest 10 percent make $35,880 or less per year, while the top earners have annual salaries of over $133,460.
- Science writers have a median annual salary of 66,680 — more than $20,000 higher than the national average for all occupations.
These statistics show that being a science writer is not only a challenging and interesting profession, but also a relatively lucrative one.
What Do Science Writers Make Per Hour?
Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, science writers typically earn around $32.27 per hour. However, that would assume a full-time position. Freelance science writers would typically charge per word, meanwhile, and working for the most prestigious publications can yield rates of more than $2 per word.
Salary Based on Experience
More extensive experience typically offers non-tangible benefits — after having built a personal network within the scientific community and well as the publishing industry, alongside a solid reputation, science writers will have access to more interesting stories, which they will be able to place with higher-paying publications.
Experienced science writers likely represent the highest 10 percent of earners, while recent graduates will fall onto the lower end of the salary scale.
Salary.com does estimate that science writers with one to two years of experience make an average of $58,671 a year, while those with seven to nine years of experience on the job are more likely to earn approximately $62,643. Industry veterans — those who have worked as science writers for more than 20 years — don’t make significantly more, on average, however. Their average annual salary is estimated to be $63,103.
Salary Based on Education
Most science writers will have a background in journalism, with degrees in English or communications also offering opportunities in the field. Given the fact that a Bachelor’s degree is a minimum job requirement in most cases, the lower end of the salary scale will pertain to more recent graduates.
Not taking experience into account, Salary.com estimates that those science writers who hold a Bachelor’s degree in a related field earn an average salary of $60,208. A Master’s degree only leads to a salary increase of a few hundred dollars per year, and even a PhD does not significantly increase a science writer’s earnings potential. According to Salary.com, PhD holders working as science writers earn an average of $60,805.
Top Paying States
ZipRecruiter indicates that the highest-paying jobs for science writers are based in California, Alaska, and Virginia. Considering that these states offer some of the highest salaries in general, in line with a higher cost of living, this is logical. Many science writers will have to consider moving in order to work for certain publications or to be in the vicinity of major scientific centers, depending on the discipline they cover.
Recent graduates who would like to become science writers can expect to be hired as junior staff writers, or otherwise to pursue internships or to work as freelancers. The career progression from thereon out is, for staff writers, fairly linear; science writers may rise from junior writers or assistants to writers, and later senior science writers and, toward the later stages of their careers, they may become editors.
The job growth in the sector of professional writing is projected to amount to around nine percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while it is not clear how fast science writer jobs will grow. Those science writers who land staff writing positions can expect above-average job stability as well as additional benefits such as retirement plans and medical insurance, however.
What Exactly Does a Science Writer Do?
Science writers — including medical writers — cover scientific news, or review topics of interest in-depth. They may write for a wide variety of publications, including science magazines aimed at the general public, web-based publications, news papers, and trade magazines, including scientific journals. Very often, science writers act as a “bridge” between the scientific community and the public at large, offering important information in terms that nearly everyone can understand.
The typical responsibilities of a science writer may include:
- Analyzing the latest peer-reviewed studies, their quality and any methodological errors, and the impact the findings have on the future of a particular field of science.
- Interviewing people of interest, such as the lead authors of studies or other people who have made scientific breakthroughs, or gaining information from sources within the sciences.
- “Translating” new scientific findings to everyday English, so that the general public can understand them.
- Analyzing statistics.
- Write articles, based on all these previous steps.
Science writers have to be expert writers as well as possessing a deep understanding of the scientific field they are covering. In some cases, they have scientific backgrounds themselves. More often, science writers have degrees in journalism and a keen interest in science.
How to Become a Science Writer?
Those people who would love to pursue a career as a science writer can consider multiple different paths.
Some universities now advise people in this position to major in a scientific field, while minoring in a writing-related field, most often journalism. This will make you a scientist first and foremost, but a scientist with extensive training in professional writing — including for laypeople.
It is still possible to become a science writer with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, as well, and this is the second, more conventional, path to consider.
Beginning to build industry connections as soon as possible, and seeking out internships wherever they open up, is always advisable. These steps will open valuable doors later on, in turn allowing aspiring science writers to kick-start their careers.
Qualifications to Be a Science Writer
Science writers may possess an advanced degree in a related scientific field, while simultaneously taking courses in journalism. They can alternatively study journalism and branch out into science writing later on.
Nearly all science writers will have a Bachelor’s in one of the sciences or in journalism, with advanced degrees potentially being desired.
Skills to Be a Science Writer
Science writers depend on a wide variety of skills. Many can be gained and perfected over the course of your studies, but natural aptitudes also play a role. The skills science writers will heavily depend on during their careers include:
- Scientific knowledge. A strong background in relevant scientific fields is essential to be able to report in science news effectively. Solid scientific knowledge and awareness of research methods is one of the two core skills science writers rely on.
- Writing skills. Excellent writing skills form the other part of the foundation on which science writers build their careers. When writing for lay audiences, it is crucial to be able to explain advanced scientific concepts in an engaging manner, and without using jargon. Academic writing skills alone are not sufficient.
- Interpersonal strengths. Science writers need to be able to connect with their audiences, their sources, and their editors alike. Possessing strong people skills is essential in this career, as it is in all journalistic fields.
Can You Be a Science Writer Without a Degree?
Science writers require a strong scientific background, in-depth knowledge of the scientific method and the methods used in academic research, and strong writing skills. These skills require a degree. No more than a Bachelor’s degree may be required, however.