Why science writing competitions matter (and how to boost your chances of winning)

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Science writing competitions can be a real confidence-boosters, as well as great practice.

What’s the one thing you can do to transform your prospects of becoming a science writer? Enter science writing competitions. Surprisingly, you don’t even have to win. Many professional science writers and science journalists only made the shortlists, but have nonetheless gone on to forge highly successful careers (and win journalism prizes). It’s a tried and tested way to get started in science writing.

Read on for our top tips on how to maximise your chances of success, and for our list of science writing competitions from around the world.

Top tips

There are two reasons why entering science writing competitions is a good idea. One: it forces you to write, and write to a deadline. Two: winning, or getting shortlisted will make you stand out in a crowded market of wannabe science writers. There is no way to guarantee a win, but there are several things you can do to boost your chances:

1. Read. This is something you need to do, and need to do widely, if you want to develop as a writer. So read popular science magazines and science articles in newspapers. Find writers whose work you admire and study it carefully. How do they bring prose alive? What analogies and metaphors do they use to make the science accessible and engaging for the reader?

2. Review past winning entries for the competition you want to enter. Can you see what sorts of things are the judges looking for?

3. Check the competition guidelines. Aside from the obvious things like knowing when the deadline is, make sure you REALLY understand what is expected of you. What subject areas can you cover? What’s the word count? Most importantly, who is the audience?

Some science competitions helpfully produce video guides, such as this one (above) by the Max Perutz Science Writing Award (for UK MRC-funded PhD students).

4. Plan ahead. Typing frantically just before the competition deadline is no good. Effective writing needs careful planning and thinking, as well as a good dose of inspiration. So be sure to start in plenty of time.

5. Don’t give up. Even if you don’t win your first competition, the fact that you have written and submitted your entry is an achievement in itself (and a lot more than may others manage). So keep going!

One thing I would emphasise, however, is this: be very wary of competitions that ask you to pay a fee to enter, especially if they are demanding a lot of money. Some of them may be legitimate, others may well be scams. Check them out very carefully before handing over any money. A lot of science writing competitions are free to enter, so if in doubt, stick with those.

Below is a list of current or recent science writing competitions. Maintaining a comprehensive list is tricky, as competitions tend to come and go, often only running for a few years at a stretch (and can even be one-offs), so do have a good look on Google to see what you can find.

What follows is not an exhaustive list, but it does cover the major awards. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed, blog and newsletter for upcoming deadlines. Bear in mind that many science competitions are open to global entrants, so don’t write off a competition because it is based in another country: check the eligibility criteria.

Need more help? Check out our science writing courses by clicking on the button below.

Science writing competitions

International

Science Communication Competition | IFST

Environmental Physics Group annual essay competition

Science Communication Prize – Biochemical Society

UK

Science Writing Prize | British Society for Cell Biology

MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award – UKRI 

Science Writing Competition | Study | Imperial College London

Science Writing Competition – The Antibody Society

2021 Science Writing Competition Results | Bio-Rad

2022 Awards | Association of British Science Writers (Dr Katharine Giles Award, for already published articles)

SRF Stewart Rhind Science Writing Prize | Society for Reproduction and Fertility

RES Student Award – Royal Entomological Society

Prizes for Students | The Royal Society of Medicine

Scotland PhD Student Competition

Science Book Prizes & Awards | Royal Society  (books)

EU

ESA – ECSL Essay Competition

Science Writing Competition

USA/Canada

Our 3rd Annual STEM Writing Contest – The New York Times

Essay Contest | Department of Chemistry

NSIS Student Initiative

Literary Awards FAQ – PEN America (books)

Australia/New Zealand

Bragg Prize | Science – UNSW Sydney

NZIC Scientific Writing Competition 2021

India

CSIR/Nature India Science Writing Competition

GITAM Science Essay Competition

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