What Is Line Editing? Line Editing vs. Copy Editing

The main difference between line editing and copy editing is that line editing looks at each individual line for content to ensure each line does its job of communicating effectively, whereas copy editing focuses on the technical aspects of language to make sure it adheres to the desired style (such as MLA or AP).

Seeing success through content isn’t just about good writing – it’s also about good editing.

As Michael Lee once said,

“The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.”

Editing isn’t as simple as just sending whatever you’ve written to someone to “edit.”

Good editing begins before a piece of content is ever produced by creating a good content brief that outlines the topic, what you want to cover, the tone of voice, a style guide with the format, and specific guidance around brand voice. This is usually done by a “managing editor” or whoever is in charge of content strategy and overseeing production.

After the piece is produced, it is time for editing.

There are many layers to editing that usually go in this order:

  1. Developmental editing focuses on the overall structure and narrative of the content, helping it craft a better story so that it can accomplish its goals.
  2. Line editing is more detail-focused in that it focuses on each individual sentence to make sure each is as clear and effective as it could be.
  3. Copy editing focuses on the technical aspects of writing and ensures that the piece adheres to the rules of standard English and the internal content style guide.
  4. Proofreading is the final step in the editing process to ensure that any lingering spelling or grammar issues are caught before the piece goes to print.

What is Line Editing and Why Do You Need It?

Line editing is the second step in the editing process (after developmental editing is completed) and focuses on the details of each individual sentence to make sure it is as clear and effective as it could be in accomplishing its goal of contributing to the overall piece.

A line editor is best thought of as a close reader who takes the piece as a whole as well as the author into account to determine the point the piece of content, whether an article or an opinion piece, is trying to make. The line editor then makes suggestions to improve the content so that it accomplishes its goal better and faster.

A line editor is a key part of the editing process because it sits between the process of developmental editing, which is concerned with the overall structure and if the piece accomplishes its goal at a meta level, and copy editing, which is more focused on the technical aspects of writing and the rules of English (or whatever language is being used).

Line Editing vs Copy Editing

Line editing and copy editing similarly are close to each other but are also distinct.

Line editing is usually the second level of editing to look at individual words, sentences, paragraphs, and sections to tighten up language as much as possible.

Copy editing, on the other hand, is concerned with the technical elements of writing and ensuring that the copy adheres to the accepted rules of the style in which it was written, such as MLA, Chicago, or AP style. Copy editing moves and adds commas and periods, fixes quotation types, capitalizes or uncapitalizes, and so on.

Line Editing vs Developmental Editing

Line editing is different from developmental editing, though the two are often lumped together or thought of as one in the same.

Developmental editing is the first line of editing, often happening after each draft, to work on the overall structure of the piece to ensure it makes sense, accomplishes its goal of communicating what it wants to communicate, and does the topic justice. Developmental editing is more focused on the actual content and its correctness, as well as the soundness of arguments, than any specific details.

Line editing on the other hand happens after developmental editing and is focused on each individual word, sentence, paragraph, and section to tighten them up and accomplish the overall goal of the piece in the fewest words and with the tightest language possible.

Line editing makes the piece what it can become before it goes to copy editing and proofreading, which are the final steps of editing before publication.

How To Line Edit Your Own (Or Someone Else’s) Content

Line editing your own or someone else’s content is not difficult per se but does require a trained eye and close attention to detail.

The best way to think about line editing is that it is a very close reading to clarify any wording or arranging of words so that the piece reads as close to the author’s original intent as possible.

The line editor asks, as they go through the manuscript, if each specific sentence accomplishes:

  • The tone it is trying to convey
  • Succinctness of statements
  • How the manuscript flows from sentence to sentence
  • Consistency of point of view

A good trained line editor will work closely with the author to draw out their intent and actual point of view to make sure that their writing accomplishes this well. Line editing is often multiple rounds to fully achieve the goals of both the writer and the editor.

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