What is the difference between line editing vs developmental editing?

Line editing vs developmental editing are different types of editing that can help elevate a manuscript into a book. Developmental editing is usually the first editorial intervention in the text. It diagnoses issues with structure, clarity, tone and flow across the entire text. In turn, line editing usually takes place after developmental editing. It addresses problems with clarity, tone and vocabulary but works on the sentence and paragraph levels. However, these general descriptions do not consider several differences between the two services concerning the purpose, focus, level of editorial intervention, feedback and author’s and editor’s involvement.

Professional editors offer developmental editing and line editing services. Understanding the difference between the two types of editing can help authors choose the service appropriate for their text. In turn, this will benefit their budget and publishing timeline to avoid unnecessary costs and delays. However, the need for editing applies not only to the self-publishing writers. For instance, authors wishing to publish with traditional publishers should also take care of the presentation of their storytelling. This is because traditional publishers accept only 1–2% of received manuscripts annually, and 95% of the manuscripts are rejected. The rejections often concern for not meeting the publishing standards, which may include messy language (lack of line editing) or incoherent plot/argument (need for developmental editing). So, whichever publishing route you choose, read this post to understand the difference between line editing vs developmental editing to help you determine which works best for your manuscript.

Line editing vs developmental editing: Differences


  • The primary purpose of line editing is to enhance the quality and clarity of the writing at the sentence and paragraph level. It focuses on improving the flow, coherence and readability of the text.
  • Developmental editing aims to improve the manuscript’s overall structure, content, and storytelling. Moreover, it addresses big-picture elements and ensures that the plot, characters, and themes are well-developed and engaging in fiction. In non-fiction, developmental editing pertains to the utilisation of evidence and hierarchy of the arguments.


  • Line editing focuses on the language and style of the writing. Editors check for repetitions, redundancies, inconsistencies, digressions, bias and jargon.
  • Developmental editing focuses on the manuscript’s content and structure. Editors evaluate the argument, evidence, plot, pacing, character development, dialogue, setting, and thematic coherence.


  • Line editors provide suggestions to improve individual sentences and paragraphs when analysing the text line-by-line. Line editors usually place their feedback in the comments in the text.
  • Developmental editors give comprehensive feedback on the overall manuscript. Developmental editors enclose their notes in an editorial report.

Editor’s involvement

  • Line editing is a more hands-on, detailed process as the editor delves into each sentence and fine-tunes the writing.
  • Developmental editors are deeply involved in the conceptual and creative aspects of the manuscript, working closely with the author to shape and refine the story.

Author’s involvement

  • With line editing, the author’s involvement may be less hands-on, as the focus is primarily on the language and style of the writing. The author usually reviews the editor’s suggestions after they deliver the edited manuscript.
  • Authors often work more collaboratively with developmental editors. This is because they may need to make significant changes to the manuscript based on the editor’s suggestions.

Timing in the publishing process

  • Line editing comes after developmental editing and typically after revisions have been made based on developmental feedback.
  • Developmental editing is usually done in the early stages of the writing process when the manuscript is still being developed.

Line editing vs developmental editing: Conclusion

Understanding the distinction between line editing vs developmental editing is crucial in determining which service is best addresses the manuscript’s needs. Line editing focuses on refining the clarity, tone, and vocabulary on a sentence and paragraph level. It aims to bring out your authentic authorial voice while ensuring effective communication with the target readers.

On the other hand, developmental editing takes a broader perspective, examining the big-picture elements such as plot structure, character development, flow, and overall coherence. It ensures that your manuscript meets its objectives, aligns with the genre and resonates with the intended readers.

In sum, only by carefully evaluating areas needing improvement in your manuscript, can self-publishing authors make an informed decision about which editing service is the most suitable. Based on this knowledge, they may choose the editing service that aligns with the manuscript’s requirements and embark on the journey towards creating a polished and compelling self-published book. 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.