Tia Ross | Editor | Coach

Differences Between Developmental, Line and Copy Editing

Developmental editing, line editing, and copyediting are three different types of editing, each serving a distinct purpose in refining a written work.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing, also known as substantive editing, focuses on the overall structure and content of a manuscript with a goal of improving its coherence, clarity, and effectiveness. Developmental editing is typically done at an early stage in the writing process, before line editing or copyediting, and can be particularly useful for longer works such as novels, memoirs, or nonfiction books.

A fiction developmental editor will evaluate the manuscript as a whole, looking at elements such as plot, character development, pacing, voice, and themes. They may make suggestions for restructuring the work, developing characters more fully, improving the pacing and flow, or clarifying the themes or message of the work.

A nonfiction developmental editor may provide feedback on the organization and structure of the work, making suggestions for reordering chapters or sections to improve the flow of information to produce a high-quality nonfiction work that is engaging, informative, and effective in achieving its purpose.

Developmental editing can be a collaborative process, with the editor working closely with the author to help them achieve their vision for the work. The editor may provide feedback in the form of comments or notes or make direct changes to the manuscript, depending on the needs and preferences of the author. Most developmental editors do not also perform copyediting for numerous reasons.

Tip: If you work with a developmental editor who claims to be able to copyedit as well, be sure to request a sample copyedit from him/her along with sample edits on the same material by specialized copyeditors to compare against. It can be quite difficult for a developmental editor to spot errors in content they’ve scrutinized for months or weeks at a time, and it is far more effective to have a skilled copyeditor with fresh eyes review your and the developmental editor’s work.

If developmental editing is what you’re needing, I recommend these editors:

Line Editing

Line editing is done early in the editorial process—after developmental editing, if needed, but before copyediting—and is more intensive than copyediting. Line editing focuses on the overall structure, style, and tone of the writing. The line editor pays close attention to sentence structure, word choice, repetition, grammar, dialogue, and other elements of style. It can involve rewording sentences to improve flow, readability, clarity, coherence, and flow and suggesting improvements to character development, plot, or thematic consistency.


Copyediting is the final stage of editing, performed after line editing, once the structure and content of the work have been finalized. It is more focused on the technical aspects of the writing, such as grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, treatment of numbers, abbreviations, and overall formatting of special elements such as footnotes, endnotes, headings, and subheadings. A copyeditor will check for consistency in style, usage, and syntax and may also fact-check and ensure that citations and references are properly formatted pursuant to guidelines as outlined in a particular style guide. Popular style guides include Chicago, Associate Press, APA, and MLA. A copyeditor may also use a house style guide provided by a corporation or publisher.

While each type of editing is important when finalizing a manuscript for publication, remember it’s equally critical to work with an editor who specializes in the particular type of editing you require. Experience in your genre is imperative as well.

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