10 Things To Look Out For When Line Editing by Adriana Bielkova

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Adriana Bielkova

This is one of our most popular posts, but, as our archive is so huge, we know articles can get lost – so here are some vital tips for anyone intending to submit work or to self publish!

You know the drill: revise the structure; look at plot flow; do more work on this or that character; check grammar and spelling; proofread. Hang on a second… you forgot to line edit! Line editing makes your sentences the best they can be. That means removing all the unnecessary words; making sure the word usage is correct and that the writing flows seamlessly. A professional line editor will do this for you, but it’s a useful skill to master if you can. Below are ten things to look out for that’ll make the most out of your line edit.

 1. Make sure your sentences make sense

Read your work as a reader with a fresh pair of eyes – this might mean putting the work aside for a few weeks and doing something else. Look out for clunky wordings, wrong tenses and misused metaphors.

 2. Syntax should be easy to follow and understand

Look at the following sentence: “by agreement he called me up, and though it was very foul, windy, and rainy morning, yet down to the waterside we went, but no boat could go, the storm continued so.” The order of words and clauses is hard to follow. Let’s simplify it by rephrasing and dividing it up into several shorter sentences: “He called me up as promised. Although it was a foul, windy, and rainy morning, we went down to the waterside. The storm continued as we watched the boats unable to leave.” Punctuation is your best friend, use it well!

3. Eliminate any words that lessen the impact

A lot of line editing involves thinking about whether the composition of words in a sentence is the best possible one. To do this, try changing the way the sentence is constructed. Often you’ll have to get rid of words which we tend to use often, but are unnecessary. For example: “my offer should actually really be considered.” A simple line edit makes this sentence more straightforward and effective: “you should consider my offer.”

4. Hold your reader’s attention

If you’re having trouble with the previous point, try asking yourself this question: “does this sentence or paragraph hold my attention?”. If a sentence or a paragraph is long-winded and unnecessary, however much time you spent over it and however much you like it, it has to go.

5. Get rid of any terms or phrases that convey an unintended meaning

It’s good practice to think about your work with your readers in mind. Of course, it’s not possible to please everyone, but you should be aware of projecting bias or prejudice through the choice of words, even if they are unintentional. For example, instead of saying “physical handicap”, it’s better to talk about “physical impairment”.

6. Use a thesaurus

Do away with your scruples (if you have any) and get friendly with a thesaurus. I don’t mean change every word to an obscure one, but it’s a useful tool to avoid repeating words. For example, if you find you’re talking about your hero’s ‘sparkling blue eyes’ too often, use a thesaurus to change some of these to glinting or glittering.

 7. Don’t edit out your voice

Be careful not to over-edit and lose your tone in the process. If you’re paying a professional line editor, make sure they understand your voice. If you are line editing yourself, it’s sometimes helpful to take a break between editing stages and remind yourself of the main attributes of your voice that makes it unique. Don’t lose it.

8. Eliminate Cliches

Pick any phrases you’ve heard and read too many times and get rid of them. If conveying the meaning is crucial to your text, there are other ways of doing so. Come up with your own metaphor or nail a new phrase. Consider the following sentence: “needless to say, he wasn’t up for joining a vicious circle of ‘eat, work and sleep’.” Make your writing your own: “he loved life. He couldn’t sacrifice it for toiling away at a job that didn’t satisfy him.”

9. Double check the words and facts you aren’t sure about

It never hurts to double check. It’s common to use a word or a fact you’re not too sure about and then forget about it. Always, always check for its meaning – if not when you are writing, at least when you are line editing.

10. Get help online

My last tip is optional, but may work for those of you who are still in the ‘training stage’ of line editing. Hemingway is an online app – you paste in the text and Hemingway automatically highlights problems in your writing. Alternatively, there’s the online editing course Get Your Book Fit on Udemy which contains plenty of useful tips on all stages of editing.

Lastly, don’t let line editing overwhelm you. It’s an important skill that helps you tighten the screws with your writing, and doesn’t have to be a chore. Get your pen at the ready, cut yourself a slice of cake and make it fun anyway you can.

(c) Adriana Bielkova

About the author

Adriana Bielkova is part of the Communications team at Completely Novel, a friendly publishing platform and author community specialising in print-on-demand. You can find more about editing in our Get Your Book Fit course, featuring advice from top editors, agents and authors.

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