05 August 2013

What is line editing?

As a follow-up to my post "What is developmental editing?" I want to talk today about line editing--what it is, whether it's necessary, and why someone would pay for it.

What is line editing?
Line editing is cutting, rearranging, and/or rewriting for clarity, flow, and consistency of tone. It requires the editor to be able to understand the connections between the big picture and the details and to use her or his analytical and creative skills to determine how best to convey the writer's meaning in a style consistent with the writer's voice.

There's a little bit of overlap with developmental editing in that they may both involve some rearranging and suggestions about what to add, but whereas developmental editing looks at the work as a whole, when I line edit I go section by section (or chapter by chapter). The rearranging I do in line editing is within a paragraph or a chapter, and the suggestions for additions are along the lines of "I suggest a sentence here that tells us how she feels about what he just said."

Line editing can include (but is not limited to):
  • Removing redundant content
  • Smoothing out awkward phrasing
  • Eradicating unintentional, distracting repetition of words or phrases
  • Cutting back on adjectives and adverbs and using more descriptive nouns and verbs
  • Rewriting in the active rather than passive voice
  • Rephrasing to make the tone more consistent or to make the language more appropriate for a particular audience
  • Rearranging sentences within a paragraph for more emotional impact or logical flow
  • Changing paragraphing breaks
  • Changing chapter/section breaks to keep reader engaged
  • Increasing sentence variety
  • Breaking sentences apart for clarity, flow, and/or ease of reading
  • Smooshing (technical term) sentences together for conciseness, clarity and/or flow

Because of what it can involve, line editing has the greatest potential to alter the style of writing, which can (understandably) feel intrusive to the writer. I don't approach line editing with a one-size-fits-all mentality; rather, my aim is to retain the writer's voice while removing barriers to smooth reading. And I always work in Word with track changes so that the writer can see what I've changed and make his or her own decisions about whether to accept the changes or try to tackle the issue in a different way.

Do I really need it?
You know when you get to a sentence or a paragraph and think, "I wonder if people will get what I'm trying to say here"? Or when you're not quite sure whether it's more effective to end the chapter here or a few paragraphs sooner? Have you ever had a friend say to you, "Do you realize you used the word handy, like, five times in these two sentences?" Ever tried rewriting something fifteen different ways and can't get it to sound quite right? Do you sometimes find yourself tinkering endlessly with one word, switching it back and forth every time you make another pass because you're not sure which word is clearer and more consistent with your tone? Or get the impression that you're taking too long to say something, given its relative importance in the story/article/whatever you're working on?

No? Then you probably don't need line editing.

Is it really worth paying for?
Again, only you can be the judge of that.

But if you're curious, then I encourage you to contact me for a manuscript evaluation. If I think your manuscript would benefit significantly from line editing, I'll include a small sample so you can see for yourself how line editing might help bring your work to the next level. And in the end, the decision will still be up to you.

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