Line editing is a stage in the editing process in which a manuscript is edited for tone, style, and consistency. This stage of editing is extremely important for documents of all types and lengths, and a good line editor is a crucial individual in news rooms, publishing houses, and other organizations which produce printed material. Line editors can also be found working as freelancers, taking in work on a case by case basis.
As the term “line editing” implies, a line editor literally goes through a written piece line by line, taking the time to be extremely thorough and meticulous. Line editors may read a piece several times to ensure that it has been thoroughly edited, often starting with a rough pass to look for basic issues like spelling and grammar problems and then digging in deeper with each successive pass.
A variety of environments can be used for line editing, with individual editors having different work habits and preferred environments for work. Many line editors prefer quiet, because it allows them to focus, and while they may listen to music, they often choose music without vocals, so that the words are not distracting. The written material is typically printed so that the editor can go over it with a pen, although it is also possible to line edit on the screen, and line editors use a specific markup language to communicate about issues with the piece.
In addition to checking basic spelling and grammar, line editing also involves editing for style and consistency. In organizations with a style guide, the line editor makes sure that the guide is followed, and checks for common stylistic errors, like non-conventional spellings of words, failure to spell out weights and measurements properly, and so forth. A line editing session also involves a check for formatting errors, which are especially common when documents are passed between multiple computers.
Finally, line editing is also about tone. Line editors keep a close eye on word usage, looking out for mis-used words, overused words, words used as crutches, and words which do not belong. Many authors tend to rely on specific words, using them over and over again, and a line editor seeks those words out and eradicates them or recommends replacements. Line editors also read for flow and tone, thinking about how a piece reads and editing to keep it smooth and enjoyable.
While line editors are not fact checkers, the line editing process may also involve an eye to citations and the information discussed in the piece. If information seems unlikely or exaggerated, a line editor may suggest that the author confirm the information and provide a citation. Likewise, a line editor will tone down hyperbole and add emphasis where it seems merited.
After line editing, a document should be much tighter and smoother, and it can progress to editors who edit the actual content, looking for errors and other issues.