Editing for Indie Writers: Copyediting Checklist Part 3 (Line edits)

The indie editing series continues (starts here but the collective posts are here).

The line-editing saga continues!  Remember: use your style sheet, follow the five (or six) Cs, and the author’s vision supersedes other considerations.  If you’re not sure what the actual rules of any given point are, look them up;  if you disagree, note it on your style sheet.

Check that:


  • Sentences contain verbs in correct tense, person, and number (look up irregular verbs).
  • Transitive verbs take an object and intransitive verbs don’t.
  • Linking verbs (seem, look, feel) don’t outweigh active verbs
  • Phrasal verbs (get up, run off) are replaced with active verbs (if necessary)
  • Auxiliary verb phrases are kept as short as possible (“it will have been necessary to have seen it” to “we needed to see it”); this often goes with unnecessary passive verb phrasing.
  • Passive verb phrasing is not used unnecessarily.
  • Incorrect participials (words/phrases that look like verbs but act like adjectives/adverbs) are used correctly, especially ones that act like misplaced modifiers (“running around the yard, Grandpa watched the chicken from his rocker”).
  • Excessive participials aren’t -inging and -eding every couple of sentences.
  • Gerunds (words that look like verbs but act like nouns, like “my favorite activity is reading,” which does not mean that my favorite activity has just opened up a good book) are used correctly.
  • The subjunctive mood is used correctly, if used at all.
  • Note: Leave split infinitives alone except in places where it would be out of character not to do so (e.g., a grammarian of the old school wouldn’t split their infinitives).


  • Excessive adverbs are trimmed, especially where they replace the use of more descriptive verbs (“ran quickly” vs. “raced”), describe dialogue unnecessarily (‘@#$%^&*()@#$ %^&*()!@,’ he said foully”), or stack up (“really, truly, and very, very big”).
  • Adjectives aren’t used in place of adverbs (“he runs funny”); however, note that it may be in character to do so.
  • Adverbs of degree (“good, better, best”) are used correctly.  The superlative degree is only for the most impressive item being compared, and requires at least three things to compare (“the best of the three”).  Otherwise, use the comparative (“the better of the two”).
  • Uncomparable adverbs, like “perfect” aren’t compared — there is no “perfecter” or “more perfect,” except in paradoxes.
  • Adverbs are as close to the word they modify as possible.


  • Only one preposition is used in a phrase, if possible (e.g., change “take it off of the shelf” to “take it off the shelf”).
  • Prepositional phrases are as close to the word they modify as possible to prevent misplaced modifiers.
  • If you end up repeating a word twice due to a preposition (“he goes in in the morning”), then rephrase (i.e., don’t add a comma between the two or ignore it).
  • Prepositional phrases aren’t stacked (“we went into the house on the hill with the gravel road in the middle of the woods by the stream,” etc.).
  • Note: Leave sentences ending with prepositions alone unless required.


  • Coordinating and correlative conjunctions (and/but/etc.) coordinate equivalent things (“It was neither here nor there”).  Each equivalent element should be phrased as similarly as possible.
  • Final conjunctions (consequently, for, hence, so, thus, therefore, etc.) show causation (“I was lost; hence, I asked for directions”).
  • Note: It’s fine to begin a sentence with a conjunction.  But it must join the current sentence to the previous one in the same manner as it would if both sentences were clauses in a single sentence.


  • Interjections are set off by commas or are in separate sentences (“What were you thinking, you idiot?” or “What were you thinking?  You idiot!”).
  • Names are set off if they are being used as interjections (“DeAnna, what were you thinking?” or “DeAnna!  What were you thinking?”).

Word Usage

  • Word usage (e.g., is it “lie” or “lay”? “A lot” or “alot”?) is correct.  I recommend scanning through a list of commonly misused words (such as one in your style guide or Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words).  You will probably be surprised what you didn’t know.  I was, and I like this stuff.

Right.  Next up:  Punctuation checklists…

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