What is a Line Editor?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

There are two definitions for line editor. Early computer programs used a program with this name that evaluated the lines and caught mistakes. Typically, however, the term refers to a copy editor who very specifically reads a text line by line.

Newspapers frequently hire line editors.
Newspapers frequently hire line editors.

Being a line editor is just one of the many jobs editors can hold. This type of editing requires word for word reading of a text, and a very good sense of proper grammar and usage. He or she may make comments or actual changes to the text to improve readability and change any grammatical mistakes or spelling errors.

A line editor reads through a manuscript looking for consistency errors.
A line editor reads through a manuscript looking for consistency errors.

The line editor is more frequently called a copy editor, since directly reading and editing copy is the most important function. As well as examining a text for any grammatical mistakes and cleaning up poor wording, the editor must also evaluate the text for consistency. For example, he or she might evaluate the dates in a text to be certain that all are consistent. The line editor might also research and check the facts in a document to be certain that all facts are accurate.

Line editors may work on a freelance basis on projects from home.
Line editors may work on a freelance basis on projects from home.

Long manuscripts can be somewhat laborious for a line editor, yet exceptionally important to edit. Most avid readers are familiar with the classic Alexandre Dumas mistake in The Three Musketeers where he actually makes D’Artagnan a musketeer on two separate occasions. A line editor would of course check the work for mistakes. Many newer translations of Dumas’ work fix the dates and make D’Artagnan a musketeer only once.

A line editor may also look for inconsistencies of characterizations in long manuscripts or short stories. If a character seems to be acting inconsistently with former statements, the editor will query the author. On the author’s advice, he or she will then make appropriate changes.

A good and rather fun example of this form of query is in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, which is a fictional translation of a fictional work by a fictional author. In italics, Goldman captures his editor’s reaction to huge inconsistencies in the work. The editor nearly throws in the towel after being unable to reconcile the problems. For editors of all kinds, this inventive dialogue is a lovely example of the problems editors encounter.

A line editor may be employed in many different ways. Newspapers and magazines frequently hire these editors, as do publishing companies. Many work independently of a company as a freelancer. Depending on experience and the people for whom the editor works, these positions can be lucrative, or financially unrewarding.

A line editor may work for a publishing company.
A line editor may work for a publishing company.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


My husband's aunt and uncle are freelance editors, and they make so much money! They edit things like medical journals, though, and this is something that not every editor knows how to do.

My best friend edits articles for a website, but she is on the low end of the payscale. The actual website makes more money off of her edits than she does.

However, she is doing this mainly for the experience. It will give her something good to include on her resume when she goes after the better paying jobs.


I've been doing some freelance work as an editor for a publishing company. They send me manuscripts from authors who have requested an editor, and I mark up all the changes and send them back.

Some people are good writers in the sense of coming up with good subject material and expressing it colorfully, yet they don't have very good grammar skills. It's amazing that these two traits can coexist, but I see this all the time.

In fact, I'm currently editing a manuscript that is thoroughly entertaining, and the author is intelligent. However, he has a lot of issues with subject-verb agreement and shifting tenses in the middle of a sentence. He also includes a ton of sentence fragments and doesn't punctuate correctly.


@Perdido – I see a lot of mistakes in the newspaper that I subscribe to, as well. I know that editors are often in a rush to meet the deadline, so I think it would be nice if each newspaper had at least two editors.

They have let some pretty big mistakes through, and some of them have been in big headlines. I believe that they should either slow down or hire more help.


I worked for years as a graphic designer at a newspaper. I always read the articles, even though they had nothing to do with my work, and I often wished that I could be a line text editor instead of a designer.

There were so many mistakes that the line editor did not catch, and I saw at least one every day. Of course, I only could view them after the paper had already been published, so it was too late to point them out.

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