Writing is an art, but it’s also a craft that requires careful editing to produce polished and effective written material. Copyediting and line editing are two important stages in the editorial process that play a critical role in improving the quality of written work. While both types of editing share similarities, they serve different purposes and require different skill sets.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the differences between copyediting and line editing and how they contribute to the overall effectiveness of written material.
What Is Copyediting?
Copyediting is a crucial stage in the editorial process. Its purpose is to improve the accuracy, readability, and overall quality of written material. Copyeditors review a document for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, as well as inconsistencies in style and formatting.
Copyediting typically involves the following:
- Fixing grammar and spelling mistakes
- Improving the flow of sentences
- Correcting punctuation
- Correcting or formatting citations (foot- or end notes and/or bibliography or reference list)
- Applying a style guide like the Chicago Manual or your publisher’s house style
- Document formatting (at the section, chapter, and book levels)
- Improving word choice
- Ensuring consistency (at the word and manuscript level)
- Eliminating repetition
- Basic fact-checking (e.g., names, places, pronouns)
- Glaring issues with argumentation, content, or evidence (see developmental editing for more help with this!)
Copyediting is a highly mechanical process that requires a trained professional. These editors are often experts at one or more style guides (Chicago, APA, AP, AMA, for example), which they apply to both the text and any citations.
One of the main goals of copyediting is to ensure clarity and cohesion in a text. Copyeditors look for ways to make the message clear and easy to understand for the intended audience. This may involve rephrasing sentences, eliminating redundancies, or clarifying complex concepts.
In addition to clarity, copyediting also focuses on consistency. This includes checking for consistency in style and formatting. For example, a copyeditor might check to make sure that all headings are formatted in the same way, or that acronyms are consistently spelled out or abbreviated throughout the document.
Copyediting is typically the final stage of the editorial process before a document is ready for publication. Once the copyeditor has made all necessary revisions, the document is ready to be typeset or otherwise prepared for publication.
What Is Line Editing?
Line editing is a more focused type of editing that looks at the language and style of the text at a sentence and paragraph level. A line edit typically takes place before a text is copyedited. A line editor’s goal is to ensure that the text flows smoothly, is easy to read, and has the desired impact on the reader.
Line editing generally involves the following:
- Improve word choice and so that each word conveys maximal meaning
- Correct the syntax of sentences so that they flow easily and naturally, as a native English author might write
- Improve the overall pacing and logical flow of a piece
- Ensure that you’re using the right tone and voice for the type of publication you’re aiming for
- Address transitions between paragraphs and sentences
- Dramatically prune/cut down word count at the paragraph and sentence level
- “Smooth” rough translations to English from another language or texts translated using software (e.g., DeepL)
Line editing involves reviewing each sentence and paragraph for a variety of factors, including grammar, syntax, diction, pacing, and tone. Line editors may restructure sentences, remove unnecessary or change inappropriate words, or add transitions to improve the overall coherence and readability of the text.
The primary concern of the line editor is the writing style: Is it appropriate for the author’s intended audience? For example, if the manuscript was written for a printed publication, it might need a complete overhaul in order to be more effective as an oral presentation. If the author needs to express themselves in a different tone, more or less formal, for instance, they might confer with a line editor.
Additionally, line editors might be helpful for writers if they need to significantly shorten their text, as when a 120,000 word manuscript needs to be reduced to 80,000 words. They are also experts at assisting non-native speakers express themselves in fluid English.
While this genre of editing is relatively new to academic writing, line editing is particularly important in fiction and creative writing. In these genres, language and style are often as key as the story itself. A skilled line editor can help a writer achieve the desired tone, pacing, and style, making the work more engaging and enjoyable for the reader.
What’s the Difference Between Copyediting and Line Editing?
While copyediting and line editing are both important stages in the editorial process, they serve different purposes. Copyediting is a broader type of editing that considers the overall quality and effectiveness of the text, while line editing is a more focused type of editing that considers the language and style at a sentence and paragraph level.
Copyediting is essential for ensuring accuracy, readability, and consistency in written material. It helps ensure that the text is grammatically correct and adheres to the publisher’s style guide. Copyediting is often the final stage of the editorial process before publication, and it can take anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the length and complexity of the document.
Line editing, on the other hand, is more concerned with the language and style of the text. Line editors focus on the details of each sentence and paragraph, making sure that the text flows smoothly and has the desired impact on the reader. Line editing can take anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the length and complexity of the work.
Copyediting and line editing are two distinct types of editing that serve different purposes. Both types of editing are important for producing high-quality written material.
A skilled editor will be able to determine which type of editing is required for each stage of the editorial process and will work with the writer to ensure that the final product is clear, effective, and engaging. By understanding the differences between copyediting and line editing, writers can ensure that their work receives the appropriate level of editing, leading to a more polished and professional end result.
It’s worth noting that copyediting and line editing are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many editors will perform both types of editing on a given piece of writing and the two terms are often confused. Copyediting ensures accuracy and consistency, while line editing improves the flow and readability of the text. By combining these two types of editing, an editor can help a writer produce a polished and effective piece of writing.
In addition to the differences between copyediting and line editing, it’s also important to note that there are different levels of editing that can be applied to a document. These include developmental editing, which focuses on the structure and content of a work, and proofreading, which is the final stage of editing and involves checking page proofs for errors and inconsistencies.
Overall, copyediting and line editing are two important stages in the editorial process that serve different purposes. By understanding the differences between these two types of editing, writers can work more effectively with their editors to produce high-quality written material that is clear, effective, and engaging for their intended audience.
Want help with copyediting or line editing?
The editors at Flatpage can help you with that. We've helped thousands of writers with various aspects of the publishing process. Learn more about our copyediting and line editing services by clicking below.Learn more
About the author
Cara Jordan is chief editor and president at Flatpage. She has spent her career editing academic and artists' writings, primarily as a developmental editor and copyeditor. She received her PhD in art history from the Graduate Center, CUNY.