What is Line Editing? Definition & Examples (With Checklist)

You have crafted your story chapter by chapter, ensuring that you have a strong plot with interesting characters. But have you checked if the lines are stringing next to each other? This task is called line editing.

It’s the most tedious part of editing, in my opinion, and takes a special skill because you can’t let yourself get too lost in the story.

But what is a line edit? I’ll show you everything you need to know about line editing. Learn its definition, the writing components it covers, and an example of how to line edit. I also provided a checklist of everything to review when line editing.

What is a Line Edit?

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The definition of line edits is already on its name. It’s an editing phase where the editor checks manuscripts line by line. Instead of looking at the main idea of the entire content or the chapter level, the line editing stage looks at every sentence for issues.

In this editing service, the editor looks for issues in the writer’s sentence structure, writing style, or storytelling flow. A professional line edit requires sharp attention to detail to give readers an excellent reading experience.

The professional line editor should have high-quality language skills and knowledge of a wide range of style guides. They examine the author’s word choice and syntax, contributing to the tone.

What Does Line Editing Include?

I would never release a piece of writing in any form to the world without a proper line edit. To me, it’s a crucial step in writing and publishing. Let’s find out which aspects of writing are included in line editing.

Syntax

Line editing directs the professional editor to read the selection and check if each sentence makes sense. This type of editing will differentiate good prose from bad one. It’s also one of the edits that require the editor to address questions in language rules.

For example, the editor should see to it that every sentence has a subject and a verb to express a complete thought. They also check if the English word order follows the correct sequence.

This editing process also looks at basic errors in grammar, like incorrect verb tenses. They may also check if the use of pronouns is consistent and if complex sentence structures are understandable.

You may use an editing software for grammar check in this type of editing. However, you shouldn’t rely entirely on these tools because they cannot understand the context of your writing. Use your human judgment to ensure 100% syntax accuracy.

Word Choice

In non-fiction books and other academic writing pieces, word choice involves avoiding jargon and unwanted connotations. Make sure to use simple words and phrases, so the writer keeps their intent while preventing clarity issues.

In fiction novels, word choice involves editing mistakes like unnatural dialogue. The editor gives advice for writers to reveal the character’s personalities through their words. Dialogue must do what excellent scenes do in stories.

A beta reader may help you with these aspects of editing. They’ll let you know which words are vague and hard to understand so you can replace them. I love my beta readers; they’re invaluable.

Conciseness

Line editing does not check the big-picture issues of the piece of writing. But it uses editing marks to look at every line and ensure shorter sentences. They may use an editing tool like Hemingway or Grammarly to edit for conciseness.

Line editing is one of the phases of editing that changes the passive into active voice. Doing so avoids awkward sentences and emphasizes the doer of the action. Eliminate redundant pairs, delete unnecessary qualifiers, and replace long phrases with a word.

Another tip to making a piece of writing concise is to identify the negatives and change them to affirmatives. For instance, instead of saying “never not going to cheer for you,” say “always going to cheer for you.”

Flow

This stage of editing checks sentence by sentence for the appropriate flow. I know when writing fiction, keeping your flow consistent and concise can be hard. A bad flow in writing during the book editing process uses poor transitional devices. You can avoid this by using elements of overlap and sentence structure matches.

Proper flow also helps the writer set the mood in the story. But non-fiction books also require a good flow to keep the main idea and supporting details organized.

Checking for emotional flow on the paragraph level is different. This phase is usually part of substantive editing and not the line editor’s job.

Tone and Voice

A consistent voice shouldn’t only be present in dialogue passages. It should be observed throughout the writing to produce a compelling chapter. It’s an editing skill that every line editor should have.

This phase of editing is responsible for the component of writing that shows attitude toward the reader and the subject. To avoid confusing sentences, the editor should show concrete actions, dialogues, and descriptions of joy, humor, sadness, and other moods.

They should also decide from the very start if the writing is formal or informal. If you’re editing academic papers, the finished manuscript should have an authorial voice that is impersonal and professional.

For example, you should remove contractions and casual words. Formal writing might require you to use the passive voice or an adverbial clause instead of a pronoun when addressing the audience.

How Do You Line Edit?

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Here are some editing tips that will enhance your line-editing skills. I use these when performing self-editing, but it’s just to make things as easy as possible for my actual editor. If you can, always hire a professional editor, but it never hurts to learn the skills yourself.

Set the Manuscript Around for a Few Days

This tip is essential if you will self-edit your piece of writing. After the earlier editing stages looking for blatant plot holes, wait for a while before the actual line editing process.

Set it aside and let your language be new again. You also want to mentally prepare because you will edit a few chapters.

During this time, try creating a plan on how to tackle your line editing. Practice consistency throughout the stages, focusing on one or two areas simultaneously.

For example, you should only look for hard-to-read sentences and passive voice at a time. Don’t try correcting the word choice, tone, and voice simultaneously.

Understand What You’re Looking For

The beginning stage is always the most challenging. It’s essential to understand what aspects you will be editing.

You won’t be examining the character arcs and technical aspects like misspellings and formatting issues. Instead, you will look for concise language, clear word choice, and engaging sentences. You will also look at consistency errors in tone and voice.

Use a Thesaurus

Unlike a developmental edit which looks for broader issues, a line edit focuses on every sentence. One common question among editors is whether they can use a thesaurus or not.

A line editor helps clients with issues in word choice by consulting reputable reference materials. Don’t be afraid to use a thesaurus to look for synonyms. Use different words to avoid repeating them and boring readers.

Don’t Remove the Author’s Voice

As an editor, you need to correct errors in writing committed by the author, but you must not remove their original voice and tone. Their writing process has been challenging, so don’t take away their efforts.

Ask the writer about their voice before editing. Take a break between each step of line editing and keep consulting them. Remember that people will buy the book because of the author’s writing style; make sure they have an enjoyable reading experience.

If you’re an author performing self-edits, the same rules apply but in a more direct way. You need a firm grasp on what your voice is and the style your readers have come to expect from you.

Eliminate Cliches

Everyone’s craft of writing is unique. But the use of cliches, especially in fiction books, is inevitable. Be a careful reader of the writer’s works and try replacing overused phrases one by one.

Some examples of cliches to avoid include “the wrong side of the bed,” “beating a dead horse,” and “in the nick of time.”

One tip for getting rid of cliches is to use a dictionary or thesaurus. Identify synonyms that can replace the word or phrase that is cliche.

Get Help Online

Instead of self-editing, why not try to hire a professional editor who can help you with everything? Aside from line editing, some editors offer extra services for plot development and effective language use. They have excellent skills that will surpass reader expectations.

Line Editing vs. Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is one of the types of editing that is concerned with the bigger picture issues. Professional developmental editors thoroughly evaluate the book’s plot, characters, dialogues, and sentence phrasing.

This type of manuscript critique also addresses the genre. What kind of story are you writing? What elements are the readers expecting from the writer?

What incident shows the climax and resolution? Are these scenes interesting enough? These are just some of the questions that a developmental editor will address.

It can be hard transitioning from developmental editing to line editing. Make sure to take a break between the editing stages so you can prepare for the next step.

Line Editing vs. Copy Editing

Line editing and copy editing are two forms of editing you should have for future manuscripts. While line editing looks at every sentence for clarity, conciseness, and structural issues, copy editing looks at technical issues.

A copy editor’s job is to correct spelling mistakes, typos, grammatical slip-ups, and factual errors. They may also perform stylistic editing by ensuring that the piece of writing follows a specific style manual. Some copy editors also correct sentence structures like line editors.

Line Editing vs. Substantive Editing

Whereas line editing concentrates on every line of the manuscript, substantive or structural editing focuses on the paragraphs. It ensures that the writing has clear content, presentation, and organization, from title to ending.

Substantive editors ask the writer about their goals. Then, the editor shapes the manuscript according to them. Some experts consider substantive editing and developmental editing the same.

Line Editing Examples

Now that you know the definition of line editing, here’s an example you can try.

Richard was on his way to the jewelry shop when he saw Rory being talked to by Lilian. She was wearing a peculiar piece of clothing with her hair up in a bun. Richard approached Rory and greeted her, “How do you do?”

Here are some issues with the passage:

  • The first sentence is too long and consists of a passive voice in the end.
  • The second sentence uses vague descriptions of the “piece of clothing.”
  • The third sentence shows unnatural dialogue.

Below is a sample edit of the passage.

On the way to the jewelry shop, Richard saw Rory talking to Lilian. She was wearing a poncho over a neon green dress with her hair up in a bun. Richard approached Rory and greeted her, “Hey, Rory!”

Line Editing Checklist

Here’s a checklist of guide questions to help you complete the line editing task.

GRAMMARIST CHECKLIST 1
GRAMMARIST CHECKLIST 2

Line Editing Summary

If you’ve reached this part of the post, then you should already know what line editing means and what it covers. The definition of line editing is a form of editing that checks every line for clarity, conciseness, tone, and voice.

Remember to check only one aspect at a time. Take breaks in between editing stages, and take time reading the manuscript.