What is the difference between copy editing and line editing?

People mean a lot of different things when they talk about “editing,” so as writers, communicators, and editors we need to grasp the nuances of these terms, starting with the difference between copy editing and line editing.

So what are the differences between copy editing and line editing? That is what we will get into today in this article.

What is copy editing?

Copy editing is the second to last step in the editing process and happens before the final document is ready for a final read to catch any last changes. Copy editing is sometimes used generically to mean “any editing of content,” but it is important to recognize that copy editing is actually a specific step in a traditional editing process.

Copy editing is focused on the technical aspects of language that make text more readable, professional, and in keeping with the brand’s style guide. It is the final edit before the document is considered “finished” and passed to proofreading to catch any remaining errors. 

Copy editing happens after line editing is completed and the editor and writer have worked through the document in order to finalize the bulk of the content.

As an example, copy editing is the stage in which an editor will correct a document in order to make it adhere to style guide specifications such as MLA format. If the style guide specifies MLA format but the writer wrote the titles in sentence case, this is caught and corrected during copy editing.

Copy editing blends into line editing, which is the editing step before copy editing, in that copy editing can also catch areas of the text that are unclear or wordy.

That said, copy editing and line editing are two distinct steps in the editing process just as copy editing and proofreading are distinct steps as well.

What is line editing?

Line editing is the step in the editing process before copy editing. Line editing focuses on making each sentence and paragraph be as effective as possible in communicating the information and argument of the piece.

This type of editing can include, but is not limited to:

  1. Synthesizing information to reduce word count and increase comprehension.
  2. Rewording and rephrasing to clearly explain a concept.
  3. Re-organizing sections to improve narrative and coherence (though this often happens in the developmental editing stage).

Line editing takes a completed manuscript and aims to reduce the word count to improve the readability and effectiveness of the content. In business writing, this can be the difference between a conversion and a failure to acquire the reader’s contact information.

What are the differences between copy editing and line editing?

Think about copy editing and line editing this way:

  • Line editing is when you’ve written the first draft of your paper, maybe looked it over a second time, and then you hand it in to get thoroughly torn apart by your lead editor as they can mark it up and make it as tight as possible. You’ll have some substantial revisions to make.
  • Copy editing is when you have finished a paper in college and asked a good friend with editorial training to read over it before you finalize it and ask a friend to proofread.

Line editing and copy editing should both be done by a professionally trained editor who has been trained in the various styles and intricacies of language, and who can make sure that the document adheres to the guidelines and knows how to correct any errors. 

Because line and copy editing have different focuses, the tasks should be taken on by someone trained in those details. 

A copy editor should understand tone, formatting, and concise writing. 

A line editor should be confident thinking about organization, information synthesis, and word choice. 

Even a proofreader needs to fully grasp complex sentence structure and punctuation rules for various style standards.

Additionally, line editing usually involves an editor with subject-matter expertise who can fact check and confidently explain concepts that may have bogged down the writer. At minimum, a line editor should ask for clarification in some areas to make sure that the copy is doing its job.

A line editor often sends copy back to the writer for updating. A copy editor usually does not send a document back to the writer for changes, unless line editing did not already happen and there are major structural issues with the copy.

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This document was professionally edited by EditorNinja editors.