Line Editing vs. Copy Editing: Unraveling the Distinctions in Manuscript Polishing

line editing vs copy editing

Editing is an indispensable part of any writing process, a fact that holds even greater significance when writing either fiction or nonfiction books and academic journals. Since there are many different techniques to consider, it’s only natural to ask about what is the difference between line editing and copy editing. Not many people know that there are five major types of editing, including line and copy editing. One must stay attentive and focus on the tone and the writing mechanics when dealing with a specific genre and a manuscript. Still, these processes are totally different and must be based on peculiarities that an editor strives to follow.

In addition to copy- and line editing, there are substantive editing techniques, mechanical editing, and a more demanding developmental type of editing.

Difference between line editing and copy editing

Before we dive into the complex definitions, let’s keep things short and simple! After all, when you plan to compose a book and think about doing some editing, it doesn’t have to be rocket science!

  • Copy editing means editing something focusing on the mechanics of spelling, general grammar rules, and the proper use of punctuation.
  • Line editing is where things always get deep because you must stay focused on the style and tone of your writing.

Before you ask about the type you might need, remember that professionals will always start with a technical line editing of a manuscript. Only then will they start with copy editing, where grammar and spelling are checked after all work has been done! As a rule, both types of editing will be used for any book or manuscript you present.

Working with line editing

Line editing is exactly the type of work that must be done by professional editors when working with a manuscript for a book or any other type of publication. The purpose here is to address the creativity aspect by improving the writing style, use of language, length of sentences, and more. This should help you understand what is copy editing vs. line editing in practice. It is where you do not have to seek all the grammar and spelling mistakes per se! You have to use line editing to communicate your message much better. The key is to make your writing clear and fluid by inspiring your readers to read further. If you want to create tension or add more emotion, this is the exact type of editing that you need!

As you work on the line editing, a professional can help you to:

  • Avoid the overused sentences that don’t belong to the paragraph.
  • Eliminate run-on sentences and odd phrasing.
  • Fix various redundancy and repetition issues.
  • Correct dialogues and/or paragraphs that can be narrowed down.
  • Focus on sentences that require more detailed action and better transitions.
  • Address tonal shifts and phrases that do not sound natural.
  • Correct passages that have readability issues.
  • Fix narrative digressions that may confuse a reader.
  • Approach various changes that can be made to improve the readability.
  • Clarity certain words and phrases to improve the meaning behind the author’s message.

Let’s take a look on an example of line editing:

Before Line Editing: 

“I really quite enjoy eating cheeseburgers because they are very delicious and make me happy, particularly when they are from that burger place around the corner from my house.”

After Line Editing: 

“I savor the delightful cheeseburgers from the local joint just around the corner – they’re a surefire recipe for my happiness.”

In this example, the line editor has enhanced the writing by eliminating redundant words (“really”, “quite”, “very”), making the sentence more concise, improving the language use (“savor” instead of “enjoy eating”), and creating a more engaging tone.

To sum things up, line editing helps you to improve your manuscript by focusing on creative ways and critique to boost the readability and the quality of your writing!

Working with copy editing

Most people that have already used line editing question whether they still need copy editing as the next measure. The truth is that it’s only another stage that you have to implement to correct totally different issues.

Here is why: copy editing stands for all the technical flaws elimination. It is precisely where you can address all the industry standards by focusing on grammar, spelling, syntax, and the other aspects of writing. In a certain sense, it can be compared to deeper-end proofreading.

Comparing line editing vs. copy editing, you shall see that an editor who does copy editing will help you to address the following:

  • Correct various spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax issues.
  • Address British versus American style spelling, use of hyphenation, specific fonts, numbers, and personal names.
  • Eliminate capitalization issues that may be necessary based on given standards and genre specifics.
  • Focus on specific macro concerns that may include things like internal consistency.
  • Adhere to your plot, correct use of a setting, and character For example, they correct the “blond-haired girl” called Mary for the cases where she always “brushed her black hair as her mother did”!
  • Copy editing also focuses on correctly using statements and facts. While anything is possible in science fiction, dealing with non-fiction is far more critical.

Let’s take a look on a before and after example of copy editing:

Before Copy Editing: 

“The boy’s showed there dog too the park and played fetch with it’s favorite toy.”

After Copy Editing: 

“The boys showed their dog to the park and played fetch with its favorite toy.”

In this example, the copy editor has corrected the punctuation and grammatical errors. The correct usage of apostrophes has been ensured, and the homophones “there”, “their”, “too”, “to”, “it’s”, and “its” have been used correctly.

As you can see, it’s highly technical and demanding editing work that must be done for every type of manuscript work. Of course, in a certain sense, a general editor may also process unnecessary issues, yet requesting copy editing as a separate measure always helps!

Comparing line and copy editing in writing

To sum things up, line editing is the type of work that focuses on creativity and readability. In contrast, copy editing helps to address various technical writing issues. While you can use developmental editing to address various technical mistakes or issues related to logic, copyediting is always essential as it helps bring your writing up to specific standards. Most editors act as perfectionists, which is why developmental editing is quite another thing, as one requests different types of editing! When you wish to maintain your unique style, line editing is precisely what you need!

Now, copyediting will help you have a deeper look through your prose and basically proofread it by fixing your grammar, various typos, redundancies, or adding capitalization to all the proper nouns. Likewise, when dealing with British English, you can change the spelling and the use of words like “primary school” or “elementary school,” depending on the period and the regional preferences.

Without a doubt, types of editing for books will not make much sense without editing examples where you can see a sentence “before” and “after.”

Incorrect passage:

He nervously shook his head and waited, all confused, for Mister Jones to give him his belongings back. He felt a sudden sense of peace as Mister Jones finally stopped and did not say anything for 60 minutes by handing Tom’s belongings back.

Correct passage after line editor’s work:

Tom nervously shook his head, confused, as he waited for Mister Jones to hand him his belongings. Feeling at peace suddenly as Mister Jones stopped, Tom returned his belongings as Mister Jones did not say a thing for an hour.

Correct passage after copyeditor’s work:

Tom nervously shook his head. He felt confused as he waited for Mister Jones to hand him his belongings. As Mister Jones stopped without saying a single word for an hour, Tom suddenly felt at peace as he received his belongings back.

You can see what kind of line edit vs. copy edit work has been done regarding capitalization, correct spelling, and shortening confusing sentences. The readability factor is also addressed in both “corrected” paragraphs.

To clarify, the copy editing process should always start after the line editing, yet not before or at the same time. The primary reason for that is the analysis of your content sentence by sentence to proofread it in terms of your message and its logic. Once this part is finished, the copyeditor’s work starts! No matter what publisher you choose, turning to a copyeditor should be the last step before allowing your manuscript to go into production.

Conclusion: The Complementary Roles of Line and Copy Editing

In conclusion, the difference between line editing and copy editing lies in their distinct but complementary functions. Line editing focuses on the stylistic and creative aspects of the manuscript, enhancing the flow and tone of the writing to better engage the reader. On the other hand, copy editing addresses the technical elements of the text, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax, ensuring the manuscript meets industry standards.

Both forms of editing are essential in manuscript preparation, with line editing usually taking precedence, followed by copy editing. Understanding their unique roles is crucial in producing a high-quality, polished piece of writing, ready for publication.


  • Can you tell me more about the 5 major editing types?

Five major types of editing include copy editing, substantive analysis editing, mechanical editing, line editing, and developmental editing. Copy editing stands for the review of paragraph structure, tone, readability, spelling, and grammar. Substantive processing stands for the structure and the general flow of your manuscript. Mechanical editing is for writing mechanics. Line editing is the creative analysis of the writing with corrections. Finally, developmental editing reviews the book’s content and development. These editing styles are essential for making your manuscript clear, accurate, and accessible to the target audience.

  • How can I determine what editing type will fit me best?

As a rule, professional book editing services can include five major types of work. The most important is line editing to evaluate your content creatively and copyediting work to fix all the grammar, spelling, and writing mechanics issues. Depending on your book’s genre and other specifics, you may require additional technical evaluation editing or developmental processing to check things even deeper.

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