Line Editing Vs Copyediting: Clear Information You Need To Know

No matter what type of content you create – blogs or articles, newsletters, or a full-length novel – editing is a key part of the process. Editing is a broad term that encompasses several stages.

It’s more than a simple scan through a piece of text for errors. 

The editing process seeks to improve the piece’s overall quality by assessing it for mistakes, grammar, tone, engagement, and delivery. It also involves adapting a piece to align with an overall theme and purpose.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between two common types of editing – line editing and copy editing. Both involve breaking down a text and checking for errors, but one is a more in-depth process than the other. 

Later we’ll take a quick look at three other stages of the editing process – developmental, structural, and mechanical.

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Line editing vs copyediting: What’s the difference?

So, what is line editing? And what is copy editing? Both are integral parts of the overall editing process but take place at different stages. 

Line editing is a more in-depth and detailed task and typically happens before copy editing.

Line editors check sentences for syntax, alignment with theme, word choice, and more. When line editing is complete, the piece of text moves further along the editing process. 

The text reaches a copy editor in its final stages, where its overall quality and correctness are assessed.

Even though copy editing happens last, it can also take place throughout the entire editing process, providing authors, editors, and publishers have the luxury of time.

Let’s further explore copyediting and line editing below.

What is copy editing?

Copy editing is a general editing process whereby a copy editor takes a piece and assesses its quality in terms of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It also covers terminology and formatting based on the linguistic and formatting needs of a particular piece of text. 

For example, newsletters read differently from novels. To copy edit, one must understand the general tone behind, or function of, a piece of writing and adapt the unedited text to fit with its purpose.

What is line editing?

Line editing is an early stage editing process whereby a line editor looks at a writer’s use of language and syntax and suggests edits. 

Line editors aim to improve the clarity of a piece of text by assessing word choice, tone, and syntax and offering alternatives that enhance the overall quality of the work. Such is why line editing is sometimes called stylistic editing or line-by-line editing.

A line editor may notice and highlight basic spelling mistakes and grammar issues, but this is not their primary job. Such is the work of the copy editor. 

Typically, line editing happens before copy editing, where copy editing is one of the last types of editing that takes place before a manuscript is finalized.

Unlike the copy editor, the line editor considers word choice, tone, and theme and whether or not the author’s work and word choices align with the theme of the piece. If alignment is off, a line editor will suggest alternative phrasings and word choices.

How to line-edit

Line editing is a crucial aspect of the editing process, so don’t ignore it. 

Many authors hire a professional editor or editing team to check their work, and line editing is included in the process.

Though hiring a professional and ensuring that your work meets the highest standards is wise, it’s also possible to line edit yourself. 

Even if you still hand over your work for editing to a professional, knowing how to do some basic line editing can save your editing team time and ultimately make you a better writer.

1. Assess if your sentences make sense

This might sound like a silly question, but do your sentences make sense?

Of course, they do, right? Why would you write sentences that don’t?

A common problem among authors is that we get so immersed in the world of a story or so drained from repetition that our discernment diminishes.

To help you discern whether or not your sentences make sense, take a break from the piece. If you can afford to take time away from a piece of text, you’ll come back to it with fresh eyes later and may just discover better ways to phrase your sentences and convey your message.

2. Check for syntax

Syntax is the arrangement of words in a sentence. 

Poor syntax is hard to read. Good syntax offers a smooth reading experience and an easy-to-understand message. 

Consider the syntax in the following sentence. 

Jack was on his way home when I saw him. In his hands, he carried twelve eggs and a really big jar of coffee, and when I asked him if he wanted help, he didn’t want it.

Line-editing, the above piece with a focus on syntax, leads to the following changes:

I saw Jack on his way home. He was carrying a dozen eggs and a large jar of coffee. When I offered to help, he refused.

The edits to the above are small but make a big difference. Not only have we corrected punctuation and flow for ease of reading, but we’ve also eliminated unnecessary fluff from the text.

‘Jack was on his way home when I saw him’ becomes ‘I saw Jack on his way home.’

‘In his hands he carried’ becomes ‘he was carrying.’

‘When I asked him if he wanted help..‘ becomes ‘When I offered to help..’

‘He didn’t want it becomes ‘he refused.’

The opening line may be retained depending on the context. For example, if the narrator is under questioning about Jack’s recent activity by a police officer, he may have been asked, ‘Where was Jack when you saw him? What was he doing?’

In response to that question, the line ‘Jack was on his way home when I saw him’ works as dialogue. It fits the tone of the piece. 

Such is the work of the line editor – to not only assess a piece for syntax and correctness but also to consider the use of phrasing or sentences in context with the rest of the piece.

3. Don’t lose your voice

One of the reasons why an author may choose to line edit by themselves rather than hire a professional line editor is because heavy line editing can change the voice of the piece

As an artist, your voice is unique to you and is one of the reasons you write in the first place. As a business, your brand tone and voice offer customers familiarity, which invokes a sense of safety and trust. 

As such, voice is vital to retain throughout the editing process.

If you do hire a professional editing team, make sure that communication is clear and understood regarding your voice. 

If time and budget allow, opt for multiple revisions whereby you can assess how much your voice has been retained, and if not, send it back to the editor with notes. 

Good editors will work diligently to understand and retain your voice so that it’s not lost in the editing process.

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Types of Editing

Line editing and copy editing are two types of editing that take place before a manuscript or piece is finalized and ready for publishing. 

Other crucial aspects of the editing process include:

1. Developmental editing

As the name suggests, development editing aims to develop the piece by asking if the overall piece makes sense. 

Do ideas flow well together? Is there an overall theme, and does the existing piece accurately convey that theme? Does the piece contain major plot holes or illogical sequences?

A developmental editor asks these questions, edits the text, or offers important notes to the author during the writing process.

2. Structural editing

Structural editing considers the structure of the piece. This includes flow, tone, and quality. 

Professional editing teams typically offer developmental and structural editing as a package, but they are separate processes. Both developmental and structural editing consider the big picture rather than the small details.

3. Mechanical editing

As mentioned earlier, copy editing is one of the last points of contact an editor has with a manuscript before it’s ready for publishing. 

Mechanical editing is an aspect of copy editing and its process. The piece has already been checked and edited by copy editors and line editors for tone, grammar, spelling, syntax, relevance, and alignment with the theme.

In this final stage of the process, the technical requirements of the piece are assessed. 

For example, if you write an academic paper, mechanical editing will check that the format of the piece aligns with its purpose, such as format (MLA, APA, Harvard, etc.).

Conclusion

No matter what type of content you create, it’s wise to seek the help of professional editors. 

You can take on the editing process yourself, but doing so is a painstaking task that increases the chance of careless errors in your work.

Professional line-editing services often come with a larger editing package, whereby you work with an editing team in an ongoing process to improve your work before it’s finalized.

Content standards continue to rise, so you really can’t afford to skip on high-quality editing. Many authors want to budget and save by taking on editing and proofing tasks alone, but a wise investment in the quality of your work is likely to pay off in the long term. 

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