What is a Copy Edit versus a Line Edit?


Many authors don’t know the difference between a copy edit versus a line edit. The two are similar, yet the processes are very different.

Edit or Regret It
Edit It or Regret It

What is a Line Edit?

A line edit focuses on the creative content, writing style, and language used in sentences and paragraphs. However, the purpose of a line edit is to focus on the way language is used to tell your story. For instance, is the language clear, fluid, and enjoyable to read? Also, does it convey the atmosphere, tone and emotion of the story? Have you selected words that communicate a precise meaning, or are you using broad generalizations and clichés?

For a Line Edit an editor focuses on

  • Words or sentences that are unnecessary or overused
  • Run-on sentences
  • Paragraphs or dialogue that can be tightened
  • Unnatural phrasing and tonal shifts
  • Redundancies, such as repeating the same information in different ways
  • The action is confusing or unclear due to bad transitions
  • Tonal shifts and unnatural phrasing
  • Passages that don’t read well due to bland language use
  • Confusing narrative digressions
  • Changes that can be made to improve the pacing of a passage
  • Words or phrases that may clarify or enhance your meaning.

What is a Copy Edit?

The purpose of a copy edit is to focus on flaws on a technical level. This includes ensuring the writing is in accordance with industry standards. It is similar to a high-end proofread. For more information on copy editing see this checklist all writers need.

For a copy edit an editor focuses on

  • Correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax
  • Consistency in spelling, hyphenation, numerals, fonts, and capitalization
  • Flags ambiguous or factually incorrect statements (especially important for non-fiction)
  • Internal consistency.

Line editing should always come before copy editing. The line editing needs to be finalized before any copy editing can be done. Typically, a copy editor is the last person who touches the manuscript text before it goes to production.

In summary, the purpose of a copy edit is to help the author tell a better story, whereas line editing is to ensure the grammar is correct.

Note: Internal consistency means your plot, setting, and character traits don’t have discrepancies. For example, if on page 39, you write: Sally wore her red hair in a ponytail, and then on page 61 you write Sally brushed her long brown hair. It’s a copy editor’s job to point that out.

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