First, I’d like to clarify what I mean by science communication. In my view, science communication is extremely broad, and can encompass many things from TV shows like Mythbusters to David Attenborough nature documentaries, to books by Richard Dawkins, to podcasts like Radiolab. Of course, the quality of the science being conveyed may vary between these different outlets, and different science communication is directed towards different audiences. Even within a single outlet, the topics that are covered in science communication can vary widely. For example, just taking the Scientific American online blogs, there are topics as disparate as space science, animal behaviour, anthropology, geology, food science, culture and medicine. However, even though these may be different topics, the same principles generally apply to writing about them. I should also add, that although I’m writing this with written blogging in mind, in my view the same general rules apply to many forms of science communication.
Do I need to take a course? Some people get into science communication by taking a media or journalism course (or even specifically science journalism). Most of these will obviously require both time and money, although it seems that there are scholarships and awards out there for undergraduate students and scientists to learn how to communicate. However, there are a lot of science communicators who didn’t take this route, and taught themselves instead.
Deciding what to write about
When I first started trying out science writing as an undergraduate, I felt intimidated to write about science topics that I knew little about. However, unless you only cover a very narrow field of science when communicating it, it is unlikely that you will always be able to be an expert on the topic you’re communicating. With this in mind, I’d recommend:
1) Choose a topic you’re interested in. This might sound obvious, but if you choose a topic that you find interesting, putting in the extra effort to learn more about it will be a lot easier than choosing a topic that you think others will be interested in but doesn’t excite you.
2) Write something novel. With bloggers all around the world covering science the second it gets published, it can often be hard to find something to write about that hasn’t already been covered. If you’re lucky enough to have access to journals through a university subscription, then you can find articles that aren’t open access and for which there hasn’t been a press release written, increasing your chances that no one else has covered it yet. Alternatively, even if others have covered the topic you want to write about, you can still make it worthwhile writing about if you have a novel perspective, or cover it in a depth that hasn’t been done thus far.
3) Come up with a new slant on old findings. Few people go to the trouble of looking back at old science that has been covered and then re-interpreting it given new findings, but this can give an interesting and useful perspective on how our ideas in science evolve.