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Scientific Writer


Description

Albert Einstein once said that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." This is a great guiding principle for anyone wanting to become a scientific writer. Not everyone in this world has a scientific mind. For example, when you buy a new type of medication, you may not understand what its effects are without reading the instruction manual. The majority of individuals need instructions in order to use scientific products, as they have no knowledge or training of such things. Scientific writers bridge this gap between scientific jargon and clear writing to help the average person understand. They translate scientific, medical and technical information into words that are readable and easily understood. In other words, they explain difficult concepts in simple, but accurate words.

Scientific writers write, review and edit study protocols, clinical reports and other higher level scientific documents based on clinical trial data and destined for internal and external use. They produce all kinds of user documents such as instruction manuals, textbooks and user guides. They also write company or organizational policies, catalogs and safety handbooks. Some may even develop the visual aspects of the publications they produce and select illustrations and photographs to accompany the text.

In general, a scientific writer produces any non-creative or journalistic writing. When writing these manuals, scientific writers must consider a number of important factors, such as the audience. An audience study is very important since writing for seven-year-olds is a bit different than writing for orthodontists. Based on the target audience the scientific writer will write in a specific style. Scientific English must be clear, unbiased and objective.

Before a scientific writer can begin the writing process, there is an element of research involved. This may include interviewing people as well as reading and gathering information from print and electronic sources. Some may speak to experts in the particular field or get the product in their hands and test it out for themselves. This is why there is an element of teamwork involved in scientific writing. For example, in writing a new drug development study, the writer will consult with the pharmaceutical company and doctors that designed the product. Also, many of these writers hold science and medicine degrees, so their knowledge is based on what they have learned in school.

Scientific writers must keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date through professional development activities, taking continuing education courses, attending workshops and conferences and reading and communicating with others in their field. Some may be knowledgeable about specific scientific or medical practices. All in all, a scientific writer needs technical knowledge as well as strong writing skills. Wherever science and technology is being developed, used and produced, a technical writer is undoubtedly behind the scenes.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$30,270
 
Median Salary:
$50,580
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$80,900

  Interests and Skills  
Scientific writers require excellent communication skills, both in writing and in person, with the ability to think logically and generate clear, concise and understandable writing. Many scientific writers are knowledgeable about a specific subject area such as chemistry, biophysics or medicine. They have technical and mechanical minds, but can also communicate ideas and instructions clearly. Accordingly, scientific writers should be able to give and take constructive criticism and rework their original ideas numerous times until clients are satisfied.

Most scientific writers have a true interest in science and technology and can present their ideas to people in a logical fashion. Scientific writers thrive on pressure situations and enjoy finding innovative solutions to problems. Finally, they should be very organized and know how to manage their time properly. Since freelance work comes in chunks, writers must be prepared to work on more than one project at a time and work with overlapping deadlines.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Research subjects and analyze materials such as specifications, blueprints, diagrams, maintenance manuals, reports and studies
  • Write user guides and instruction manuals in a language that all people can understand that explain how to install, operate and maintain mechanical, electronic and other equipment
  • Write company reports, proposals and policies
  • Write online help files and other documentation, including reference, procedural manuals, technical reports
  • Rewrite and edit drafts as often as is necessary after they have been reviewed by technical experts for accuracy
  • May manage documentation projects
  • A typical day for a technical writer will consist of writing and researching technical information and producing technical literature for companies and organizations in an indoor setting. Technical writers generally work standard office hours, although they are sometimes required to work overtime to meet deadlines. Freelance technical writers can set their own hours but must be prepared to work longer hours when required to complete projects on time. The pressure associated with having to meet strict deadlines can be a stressful in this career.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Scientific writers may be employed full-time or on a contract basis by large pharmaceutical and health-related companies, hospitals, non-profit organizations, public and private sector research laboratories, resource and reference publishers, educational publishers, manufacturing companies, and all levels of government.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced scientific writers can move into related writing fields such as technical writing, journalism, editing, publishing, public relations or film. Also, since many scientific writers are so knowledgeable about technology and science, they may also move into technical jobs with further education. They may also choose to move into the media or work on a freelance basis and accepting contracts on their own terms.
 

  Educational Paths  
Although there are no standard education requirements for becoming a scientific writer, these days, most companies will not hire writers without a specified diploma or extensive work experience. Many scientific writers have an undergraduate degree, in a scientific discipline, English, journalism, engineering or a combination of those subjects. Many then go on to take a post-graduate technical and scientific writing program at a community college. Today, employers look for writers with analytical and technical skills, which is hard to come by in most people.

Scientific writers also need a working knowledge of a specific scientific field, so that they can speak intelligently with scientists and engineers about the products. Some also have knowledge of copyright law, layout and design and publishing practices.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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