Manuscript Preparation, Copyediting, and Proofreading

Q. A lot of people, including me, are confused about the different types of editors. Especially the difference between a copyeditor and a line editor. Is there a list anywhere that defines these terms? Thank you for your help.

A. What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing, edited by Peter Ginna, is a good place to start. It includes a chapter about line editing by George Witte and another on copyediting by Carol Saller; these chapters give detailed overviews of what these levels entail and who is responsible for them. There’s also a glossary at the back of the book that briefly defines the two levels as follows:

line editing. Detailed editing of a manuscript—line by line, as the term suggests—but not necessarily correcting all fine points of grammar, punctuation, or style, which is the task of copyediting.

copyediting. Usually the final editorial stage of preparing a manuscript for publication—a meticulous read for technical errors, style, and internal consistency, along with marking or electronically coding the text to be ready for typesetting.

Chapter 2 in CMOS uses the term “manuscript editing,” which can include both line editing and copyediting. But the advice in that chapter applies mainly to book manuscripts after they’ve been turned over to a publisher’s editing and production staff. At that stage, a manuscript will usually get a thorough copyedit. And though a copyedit will typically involve some line editing also—for example, to fix an awkward sentence—a thorough line edit is best done as a separate step at an earlier stage.