Line editing vs developmental editing: Choosing the right editorial service for self-publishing writers

Line editing vs developmental editing are types of substantive editing that take place early in the publishing process. Developmental editing is usually the first editorial intervention in the text. It diagnoses issues with structure, clarity, tone and flow comprehensively across the entire text. Line editing takes place after developmental editing. It addresses problems in similar categories, such as clarity, tone and vocabulary but works on the sentence and paragraph levels.

Hiring a professional editor to prepare your manuscript for publishing is a good investment to improve its readability and chances of success. To maximise your budget and save time, you should hire an editor to perform the editing service most appropriate for the needs of your manuscript. 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: Understanding line editing

Line editing involves an editor working line by line through your manuscript. Discovering the words and rhythm that effectively tell the story and bring out the 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 essential aspects of every sentence in your text addressed during line editing are clarity, tone and vocabulary. In other words, line editing assesses whether the perspective, voice and style are conveyed in the best possible way for the 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 because the line editor needs to gain an in-depth understanding of the author’s intended voice, message and 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. 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 usually does not involve creating a style sheet because most of the decisions recorded in the style sheet concern aspects of the language addressed during copyediting and proofreading. These aspects can include preferences and conventions concerning, among others, capitalisation, spelling and punctuation applied in the text.

An editorial report, also known as manuscript critique, is also not included in the line editing service. The editor writes the report at the end of developmental editing.

Line editing vs developmental editing: Understanding developmental editing

Developmental editing checks argumentation/plotline, whether the core message is clearly formulated, and if the analysis of the evidence supports every argument. Moreover, it considers the flow and sequence of the sections and whether they support the arguments and conclusions. It also addresses issues with gaps or repetitions.

What is included in the developmental editing?

Developmental editing diagnoses the ‘big-picture’ issues, such as structure, clarity, tone and flow. It also considers if the manuscript meets its objectives, for instance, if:

  • it aligns with the genre of choice,
  • the elements typical for the genre are presented in a way that is engaging for the reader,
  • it will meet the expectations of readers familiar with this topic/genre,
  • it is structured appropriately to convey the argument or message,
  • it communicates the argument or message clearly, and the supporting ideas are organised in a logical sequence,
  • the theme is clearly outlined throughout the book,
  • the style, voice and point of view are consistent throughout the book and effectively convey your points,
  • there are any obvious gaps or any sections that repeat each other,
  • there are any elements may not resonate with the intended reader, such as jargon or slang.

Editorial report

A final deliverable of the developmental editing is an editorial report containing the editor’s notes, comments and suggestions. It is a comprehensive and structured document provided by a developmental editor. It typically focuses on analysing and assessing a manuscript’s overall strengths and weaknesses. The report may include feedback on plot structure, character development, pacing, narrative voice, themes and other elements. It often provides specific recommendations and suggestions for improvement, examples and explanations. An editorial report aims to guide the author in revising and refining the manuscript.

An editorial report is referred to as a manuscript critique sometimes. On the other hand, manuscript critique is a more concise and informal evaluation of the manuscript.

The report may include:

  • a summary of the text, its aims, central argument and target reader according to the editor,
  • what is working well in the text,
  • the essential points that the author needs to address before the manuscript can be considered fit for publishing or go through the following editing stages,
  • detailed feedback of all chapters, their overall flow, organisation and any areas for improvement.

What is not included in developmental editing?

Developmental editing looks at the problems holistically in the text and does not address issues in individual sentences such as spelling, punctuation or grammar. In contrast to other editing services, which usually provide a style sheet, no style sheet is produced during developmental editing. Instead, an editorial report is generally written at the end of the developmental editing process.

Moreover, before engaging a copyeditor or proofreader, you can expect to receive a sample edit, which most often determines if the editor is a good fit for your text. This is not possible in the case of developmental editing because it pinpoints problems with the text on a big-picture level rather than working on clarity, correctness and consistency of the language of the text.

Line editing vs developmental editing: Similarities and differences


Both services, line editing and developmental editing, require the editor to work closely with the author. The editor needs to understand what they want to convey and does the manuscript reflect these targets. Neither service provides a style sheet, which records the presentation aspects, including consistent capitalisation, punctuation and spelling.


Although there may be some overlap, developmental editing and line editing perform two different functions. Developmental editing focuses on the big-picture elements, such as argument, sequencing, gaps, repetitions, structure, genre and reader’s expectations. In contrast, line editing tightens the paragraphs and sentences, paying more attention to their flow, clarity and vocabulary.

Line editing vs developmental editing: What does your text need?

When choosing line editing vs developmental editing, you need to determine what level of editorial intervention would benefit your manuscript the most. Are the problems with the storyline/argument that need addressing? Or does the text need more work on consistent and relevant voice and tone?

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 you will find questions that will help 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?10

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

Developmental editing

Are there any gaps or repetitions in the argument/plotline?10
Has the author provided enough context information to support the argument and make it relevant?01
Are there any areas where the manuscript needs more clarity or could benefit from additional explanation or development?10
Do all parts of the text support the argument/plotline clearly, without confusing the reader?01
Does the language and message of the text reflect the knowledge and interests of the target reader01
Does the manuscript effectively convey the intended themes or messages?01

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

Line editing vs copyediting: Importance of professional editing

You do not need to know how to address the issues raised in these questions. An experienced editor can help with this. There are also other benefits of working with a professional editor who will perform line editing or developmental editing.

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, engaging the prose and aligning it with the author’s intended tone.

Refining plot or argument

Developmental editing diagnoses any issues with the argument/storyline and the supporting elements, which are the foundation and premise of the book.)


Understanding the distinction between line editing and developmental editing is crucial in determining which service is best suited to address your manuscript’s specific 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 your 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 your intended readers.

By carefully evaluating the specific areas in need of improvement in your manuscript, you can make an informed decision about whether line editing or developmental editing is the most suitable service for you. Based on this, you can choose the editing service that aligns with your 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.