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Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing

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The essential guide for all writers. With over 700 examples of original and edited sentences, this book provides information about editing techniques, grammar, and usage for every writer from the student to the published author.

219 pages, Paperback

First published September 11, 1985

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Claire Kehrwald Cook

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5 stars
106 (29%)
4 stars
132 (36%)
3 stars
91 (25%)
2 stars
27 (7%)
1 star
5 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews
Profile Image for Meg.
301 reviews16 followers
November 4, 2009
Useful examples and very comprehensive...to a fault at times. I appreciated the level of detail, but I couldn't read more than one or two sections at a time before feeling overwhelmed. Still, it's practical and has plenty of tips on how to make your writing easier to understand.

Consider using it as a tip of the day book that you jump into every morning, though. It's certainly not something you can read cover to cover in a sitting.
Profile Image for Timons Esaias.
Author 43 books50 followers
February 25, 2017
Beyond Strunk & White, there are few classic references for the basic copyediting that so many authors are ill-equipped to do. Line by Line is one of the classics, and it's something one should read through every four or five years. (I say that having only poked around in it, previously. This is my first time going cover to cover.) Just as I do, for instance, with Strunk & White.

It addresses the very basics of effective rhetoric at the word and sentence level (alas, it does not rise to the paragraph): how to tighten sentences; how to conjoin parts of a sentence; how to keep parallel parts of a sentence parallel; how to police errors in number and reference; and how to master problems of punctuation. There are two vital appendices, which go beyond dictionaries, but which take up less space than full grammars or usage manuals: one on the parts of a sentence, and how they work; one on problems of usage.

What I admire about this book is that it is based in the practical work of copyediting, and the actual problems that come up. It talks about the debates among experts, and historical trends, and about context. Cook is not too quick to insist on a rule, but isn't afraid to point out that it's better to be safe than shame-faced. Neither a rules-Nazi nor a linguistic anarchist, she.

The book can be dry, but it's darned efficient. 205 pages covers a universe of sins, so it's worth sticking with it. I wouldn't advise reading more than one chapter at a time, though. The brain needs rest.

The reason I'm only giving this four stars has nothing to do with initial quality, but with the passage of time. This book is 32 years old, at this writing, and usage, especially, is a moving target. Note that she relies heavily on the Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler's Modern English Usage, which are both fine works, but which are both about British English. Eighteen years after this book, we finally got a reliable American usage manual, Garner's, and despite its historical gems, Americans should put their Fowler'ses aside.

Which means, I think, that it's time for a Line by Line update.
Profile Image for Jay Cruz.
109 reviews12 followers
January 13, 2010
For a book on editing your own writing, I found it a very difficult read. It can be a useful reference -it has more than enough examples- but its dense pace, again, for a book about editing, is inexcusable. Here's one example so you can see what I mean:

"Although the correlative conjunctions must precede parallel parts of the sentence, the terms that make up these pairs do not invariably function together. Each can operate alone. In particular, you can use not only without necessarily going on to but also or but. Not only always promises more to come, but the rules of rhetoric allow alternative ways of keeping that promise"

If those words weren't in italic the paragraph would be incomprehensible, but the book is filled with back to back paragraphs like these. It really was a drag to go through. I felt more like I was reading a book about How to Edit Your Own Writing Like a Grammarian
1 review
July 22, 2011
Here comes the contrarian review: this book is one of the best on style that you will find--and trust me, I've read many. The only stipulation, which others have rightly pointed out, is that this book is often tough going. The negative reviews are understandable given the difficulty of this "introductory" book, but so long as you have a modicum of grammatical competence, you'll discover Cook's advice to be of greater depth than that found in most other style books. Simply put, this book gets straight to the point and makes no concessions to those uninitiated in, at the very least, high school level grammar. If you've forgotten said grammar or if you want a more accessible but less technical analysis of style, then stick with Joseph M. Williams's book, equally excellent and more widely used than Cook's. If, however, you can handle the constant parsing of sentences, then you might find Line By Line to be well worth a look.

The appendix on usage is also very useful.

Profile Image for Madly Jane.
603 reviews124 followers
April 8, 2021
Working with the newest edition that is not listed. Essential reading for working writers. I started reading this in early February, marking the pages that I would use a lot. This is essential for editors, but writers should buy it and learn to use it, examining each line of their novels, no matter what genre. Lots to learn. Will use it forever. This is maybe a difficult book for new writers or for people who have never paid attention to grammar or style books. But this is my favorite. It's the one I have used for years. My version is an updated one from the one I had previously.

I consider this an essential book for working writers.
Profile Image for Jae Jae.
Author 102 books2,672 followers
August 24, 2011
"Line by Line" teaches you how to (copy)edit your own work--or that of others. It covers tightening wordy sentences, turning weak verbs into strong ones, achieving parallel structure, and making sure subject/verb and pronoun/antecedent match. The book also has a chapter on punctuation, an explanation of sentence parts, and a list of words that are often misused.

It's a good book on copyediting and grammar. Not always easy to read, but it provides plenty of examples, most of them taken from nonfiction books.
Profile Image for Steven.
269 reviews3 followers
September 20, 2012
As another in a long line of writing advice books, it's simply OK. The aim of this book, as it more or less relates to the writer, is one of phrasing and word choice for the purpose of meaning. If you're writing essays or collegial papers this book will be relevant in the advice that it offers. I would not recommend this for anyone attempting fiction writing, as style and approach are different ball games.

Good enough to hold on to as a reference guide to double check certain issues your grammar check might flag.
Profile Image for Quiver.
951 reviews1,331 followers
June 28, 2016
A good guide to fixing syntactical issues in prose. Sorted according to issue, comes with examples and explanations. Not overly heavy on grammatical terminology, although there is an Appendix that summarises the basics.

A bit too fond of analysing its own writing, that is, of referring to a sentence two lines up as an example of the phenomenon that sentence discusses. It saves space, but feels like molasses on the wings of an agile reader.

Even though useful to read once, I'm not convinced it will be a good reference book. A shame.
Profile Image for Vanessa Ricci-Thode.
Author 10 books58 followers
June 17, 2015
I honestly couldn't finish reading this. It's dull and outdated and nitpicky. A lot of the grammar rules in here have changed, and while it's got an abundance of good examples, you're probably better off finding a more recent grammar book, or a new edition of a style guide. For a writer, it's probably not terrible, but as an editor, there was absolutely nothing new here that I haven't learned in much more interesting books.
Profile Image for Rheea.
2 reviews
April 28, 2019
I will never look at sentences the old way after reading this book. A must book for everyone and anyone who wants to get better at parsing and editing.

Like swimming and running, editing can be hard work, but "it's fun to work hard at what you like doing."

"Trim sentences, like trim bodies, usually require far more effort than flabby ones. Shaping an attractive sentence from a formless mass of words is a copy editor's high."
Profile Image for Debra.
316 reviews2 followers
May 13, 2012
Highly recommended for those who are never sure what the grammar checker is flagging. The glossary of word usage is a nice addition.
Profile Image for Powersamurai.
231 reviews
April 22, 2013
An invaluable book for all translators for editing their own work and knowing what traps to avoid while translating to cut back on editing time later.
Profile Image for Joey Gamble.
87 reviews9 followers
August 15, 2014
An excellent guide and desk reference, one which judiciously points the writer toward a more subtle and precise relationship with his or her own writing.
Profile Image for Michael Jarvie.
Author 7 books5 followers
December 16, 2016
This is a hard-core MLA-approved guide that will test your grammatical knowledge. An indispensable resource book for the serious writer.
Profile Image for Mark.
260 reviews8 followers
June 2, 2017
Not a great book to read as far as enjoyment goes, but super in what it sets out to do. Although dated, still a great reference and good read.
Profile Image for Kati.
83 reviews14 followers
September 7, 2019
Even in writing this, I’m thinking about what the book advised for editing your own writing. So while it was supremely boring, the book does improve your review skills.
Profile Image for Jb.
260 reviews3 followers
November 24, 2018
The topic is dry and so are some passages of this book.
But the benefits are immense for a non-native speaker like myself.
The most important lesson is: Be careful and review a lot.
Chapter on punctuation is hard to read but very valuable nonetheless. First time being told the exact rules governing those pesky semicolons and dashes.
Profile Image for Sally Duros.
16 reviews1 follower
December 7, 2019
This was my go-to book when I was starting out as an editor and then through my years of developing as a writer and editor. These days as a college instructor I recommend it to my business students along with Strunk & White. These two books should be life-long bookshelf companions to any communicator who is serious about the journey of becoming adept at writing.
Profile Image for Krystol.
Author 8 books54 followers
May 8, 2017
I thought this book was really good. It was easy to understand and I was able to see my own mistakes with writing. I would recommend this book to all writers and college students.
Profile Image for Peter Greenwell.
622 reviews10 followers
March 22, 2023
A useful text for sure, but this is incredibly dry reading for an admittedly dry subject. As another reviewer mentioned, reading more than a small section at a time simply does your head in.
Profile Image for Karen.
557 reviews
July 22, 2016
I really just skimmed this, so the stars should be taken with a grain of salt. It looks like a fine book, but didn't appear to be adding anything to the collection of copyediting/style books I've been reading, so I'm going to pass. I've mostly just marked it read and assigned middling stars so I'll remember that I did look at this one, and not keep repeatedly adding it to my "to read" list every time I come across the reference.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,004 reviews218 followers
August 13, 2016
Useful. MLA style. I appreciated the logic and "wordiness." Intended audience: scholars submitting nonfiction manuscripts to university presses. I'll return to the Glossary of Questionable Usage when I have usage questions.
Profile Image for Michelle.
140 reviews10 followers
March 7, 2014
A good point of reference, I'm not sure reading it straight through like I did was especially helpful (and indeed I stopped about halfway through; for me it would serve a better reference for specific purposes I might look up).
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews

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