Types of Science Writers

Science writers can be categorised into one of two basic types: public information officers and science journalists. Each type has its specific duties and purposes in writing.

Public Information Officers

Public information officers work for a specific institution. These institutions may include, but are not limited to, universities, research companies, government agencies, museums, technology companies, non-profit health organisations and science foundations.

The material written by these types of writers is almost always biassed toward a single point-of-view and is often used as promotional material or a press release. It is the duty of the writer not only to write the material based on a specific set of research, but to prepare the information for release. It can openly be released to the press, but the public information officers may also help science journalists to interpret and disseminate the information so it gains a wider audience.

Today, public information officers are not as reliant on the press as they once were. With the advent of the Internet, it is often easier for them to bring the information directly to the public themselves. The articles may be written for one of several different types of media. Some of the most common types include trade magazines, institutional reports, web copy, brochures and speeches. Speeches may be for public or private presentation, or they may be scripts for video or radio news spots.

The work of public information officers differs from that of science journalists in several ways. First, the sources of information used are very limited. In many cases, the information is limited to that of the specific organisation, but it can also incorporate work by others that corroborates their primary source. The writing is also very different since it is usually geared to a very specific audience. The work of public information officers is much more detailed than that of general science journalists because most of it is not meant to be read as is by general audiences.

Science Journalists

Science journalists are very different from public information officers. Science journalists work for one or more types of press media. This media includes newspapers, magazines, book publishers, television news, Internet news and news wire services. While most of the media for which science journalists work is commercial, they can also work for private organisations with an internal news outlet or for non-profit organisations dedicated to the advancement of science that see a duty to provide the public with non-biassed science news.

Since most science journalist articles are written for commercial enterprises, they are usually written for the average lay person. However, science journalists may also gear their work toward a more specific audience, depending on the slant of the media for which the work was produced. Many science journalists work for a single company as a full-time writer. Others work freelance, selling their articles to the highest bidder or taking on projects issued from various sources. Writers employed by a company or organisation are usually paid a salary, while freelance writers are paid by the story.

Science journalists are often confused with another type of writer – the technical writer. Technical writers are not journalists. While their writing may deal with science, it is usually in the form of instructional materials or technical specifications.

Science journalists often write about new scientific discoveries. Scientific discoveries are always considered newsworthy when they have the potential to affect the life of the average person sometime in the future. These news articles can be in the form of general feature articles, small sideline articles or detailed reports aimed toward more specific groups, such as those interested in the sciences through hobby or profession.

The most detailed type of science journalism is when an entire book is written on a subject, rather than a news article. Science book authors can often devote years to researching and writing about their topic.

While most people think of science journalists as writing for print media, they can also work for radio and television. The content of the stories is very similar, but the styles are different because they must work on the strengths and weaknesses of the particular media. Some Internet science journalism can also be very complex due to the ability of the Internet to integrate several types of media, including print, audio, video and graphical images.

Science journalists research their material very differently than public information officers. Science journalists cannot stick to one major source of information but must sift through many different sources in an attempt to get a perspective on all sides so an objective story can be produced.