Line editing vs copyediting: Which is best for your manuscript?

When comparing line editing vs copyediting, there is a clear distinction between these services. Copyediting takes place after line editing and works closely with grammar and spelling, addressing language and styling inconsistencies. On the other hand, line editing ensures that your plot line or argument is conveyed in the clearest and most appealing way possible. Within the publishing timeline, copyediting takes place after line editing when you are happy with your argument and structure but want to polish the presentation of the language.

Having your manuscript professionally edited is a good investment that will add value to the book, improve its readability and marketability, and in the long run, its chances for success. However, in the best interest of your self-publishing budget, you should hire an editor and select editing services that are most appropriate for the needs of your manuscript. For this reason, in this post, I compare line editing vs copyediting to help you determine which type of editing your manuscript needs.

Line editing vs copyediting: Understanding line editing

Line editing involves an editor working line by line through your manuscript. Discovering the words and rhythm that effectively tell your story and bring out your authentic authorial voice is a subtle process and primary objective of line editing. This service also aims at communicating your message and story so they are clear and relevant to your target reader.

What is included in line editing?

The three most essential elements addressed during line editing are clarity, tone and vocabulary of your text. In other words, line editing assesses whether your perspective, voice and style are conveyed in the best possible way for your intended reader. As a part of this service, a line editor may bring to your attention the following:

  • redundant words or sentences that can be tightened without jeopardising the message,
  • repetitions of the same information presented in slightly different ways,
  • vocabulary that may be unappealing or unnatural to your target reader,
  • abrupt changes in the narration due to a lack of transitions,
  • unintended shifts in tone and pacing,
  • phrasing or content that may be considered sensitive and thus should be conveyed accurately and respectfully,
  • phrases and sentences that reveal unintentional bias,
  • digressions that do not contribute to developing the narration or argument,
  • inconsistent style or tone.

Line editing also involves working closely with the author (especially compared to proofreading and copyediting) because the line editor needs to gain an in-depth understanding of the author’s intended voice and message as well as their target audience.

What is not included in line editing?

Line editing does not diagnose grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting issues. These aspects are addressed in the editing services that come after line editing, namely, copyediting and proofreading.

Likewise, the big-picture issues, such as those concerning flow, structure, tone and clarity of every chapter, but also themes and argument or plot developments, should have been finalised by the time the text undergoes line editing. These aspects are diagnosed in the preceding stage, during developmental editing. It is worth mentioning that although line editing analyses issues with clarity and tone, they are focused on the paragraph and sentence level (while developmental editing takes a broader look, analysing chapters and the entirety of the manuscript).

Line editing vs copyediting: Understanding copyediting

Copyediting is an editorial process that checks for clarity, consistency and correctness and deals with spelling, punctuation and grammar issues. Copyediting acts as a gatekeeper, spotting any problems relating to consistency, correctness and clarity of the language. Without it, a manuscript sent to a publisher may feature inconsistent character names or low readability. For this reason, copyediting is an essential editing process in preparing a manuscript for publication, especially for self-publishing authors whose texts may not undergo other rounds of editing.

Moreover, copyediting takes place after line editing and before proofreading. It may also be a part of an editorial process called translation editing.

What is included in copyediting?

Copyediting focuses on the consistency, clarity and correctness of each sentence in your text. To achieve its objectives, copyediting includes the following tasks:

  • correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation,
  • removing sentence-level redundancies,
  • ensuring adherence to the language localisation conventions (e.g. British English vs American English spelling),
  • ensuring proper sentence structure and accurate word order,
  • creating an edited version (with tracked changes and comments) and a clean copy,
  • ensuring conforming to a style guide (e.g. Chicago, APA) or other references (e.g. Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors),
  • checking names, dates and titles,
  • ensuring styling and language consistency,
  • flagging biased or insensitive language or jargon,
  • checking figures, tables and images against the text.

Furthermore, a text that has undergone copyediting should return to you as a marked-up manuscript with tracked changes and comments from the editor accompanied by a style sheet.

What is not included in copyediting?

Because copyediting diagnoses issues of a sentence level, more overarching changes or suggestions are outside its scope. Line editing and developmental editing usually address these elements, which may include:

  • removing chapter-level redundancies,
  • making suggestions for improvement, deletions or additions,
  • improving overall flow, tone or structure.

Line editing vs copyediting: Similarities and differences


Copyediting and line editing both work with sentences and paragraphs. However, copyediting is more granular, checking for consistency and correctness of language. In contrast, line editing takes place on a larger scale, ensuring that an author’s voice speaks clearly to their target reader.

Additionally, the two services contribute to creating a style sheet. A style sheet holds complete record of the language and styling decisions taken by the author and editor to ensure clarity and consistency of the text. It may include categories such as choices of spelling, capitalisation, punctuation and treatment of abbreviations, but also the point of view or narration.


Line editing and copyediting perform different functions in the publishing process. Line editing aims at communicating your message and story so they are clear and relevant to your target reader. Copyediting ensures that the language that conveys these elements is clear, consistent and correct.

Line editing and copyediting are usually performed at different stages of the publishing process. Copyediting takes place after line editing.

Line editing vs copyediting: What does your text need?

When choosing line editing vs copyediting, you need to determine what level of editorial intervention would benefit your manuscript the most. Is the higher-level editing that will bring out unbiased, consistent and relevant voice and tone? Or, is it a more cosmetic need that will prepare the presentation of your manuscript for publishing?

Narrowing down the areas that need further work and will merit from the editor’s experience, expertise and fresh perspective will be crucial in deciding which editing service you should choose. Below I listed some questions that you could use to evaluate your manuscript.

Line editing

Is the plot structure cohesive and engaging, with well-developed story arcs and satisfying resolutions?01
Do the characters have dimensionality and depth and are relatable, with clear motivations and consistent behaviour throughout the story?01
Does the dialogue flow naturally and effectively convey each character’s voice and personality?01
Are there any paragraphs that feel repetitive or unnecessary? Could they benefit from trimming or restructuring?10
Is the pacing appropriate for the genre and structure?01
Are there inconsistent or confusing point-of-view shifts that need to be resolved?01
Are the concepts and arguments presented in a clear and coherent manner, supported by evidence and examples where necessary?01

The more points you got in this exercise, the more likely your manuscript would benefit from line editing.


Does the manuscript present a logical and well-organized flow of ideas, effectively addressing the intended purpose or argument?01
Is the language used in the manuscript clear, concise, and appropriate for the intended audience?01
Are there instances of language that can be considered biased or not inclusive?10
Is the language used in the manuscript precise and efficient, avoiding unnecessary jargon or vague terminology?01
Does the manuscript demonstrate strong language skills, including proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling, enhancing the credibility and professionalism of the content?01
Are all the facts, statistics, and references accurate and properly cited, with no errors or inconsistencies?01

The more points you got in this exercise, the more likely your manuscript would benefit from copyediting.

Line editing vs copyediting: Importance of professional editing

It does not matter if you do not know how to address the issues raised in these questions; an experienced editor can help. There are many benefits of working with a professional editor who will perform line editing or copyediting of your manuscript.

Objectivity and fresh perspective

Editors provide unbiased feedback and insights, helping authors identify weaknesses and areas for improvement in their manuscripts.

Expertise and experience

Professional editors understand storytelling, writing techniques, grammar rules and industry standards, ensuring a higher quality end product.

Polishing the writing style

Line editing refines sentence structure, word choice, and flow, making the prose engaging and aligned with the author’s intended tone.

Ensuring professionalism and accuracy

Copyediting eliminates errors and inconsistencies in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and formatting, enhancing the manuscript’s credibility.

Saving time and effort

Hiring an editor allows authors to focus on other aspects of their writing or publishing journey while benefiting from the editor’s expertise.

Meeting reader’s expectations

Professional editing ensures a high-quality reading experience, meeting reader expectations and increasing chances of success in the competitive self-publishing industry.


Understanding the distinction between line editing and copyediting is crucial for self-publishing authors preparing their manuscripts for publication. Line editing focuses on refining the plot, clarity, tone, and vocabulary, ensuring effective communication with the target reader. On the other hand, copyediting polishes the language, addressing grammar, spelling, and consistency issues to enhance readability and correctness.

By recognising needs of their manuscripts and working with a professional editor, you can add value to their books, improve marketability, and increase the chances of success. Professional editing brings objectivity, expertise and a fresh perspective while meeting reader expectations for a polished and professional reading experience.

Contact me for a free sample edit if you want a professional pair of eyes to help you declutter your text (and remember to use my early bird discount). If you want to hear more from me, including self-editing and writing tips, follow me on MastodonTwitter, Facebook and LinkedIn or join my newsletter.

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I am an editor, indexer and a lifelong lover of literature with a PhD in literary history. I am an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, a student member of the Society of Indexers and a vetted partner of the Alliance of Independent Authors.