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Pearls from Beryl: proofreading and editing 

Pearls from Beryl: proofreading and editing 

Writer Beryl Bainbridge lived in a terraced house in Camden Town, London. She liked to start roughing out ideas in her kitchen, moving to her sitting room to write out full drafts and type them up on a manual typewriter.  She then took the full drafts up to the attic and put them on a computer. At night, Beryl read the printout aloud to herself in bed to hear if it sounded right. As she moved from room to room, she took her bin with her, discarding writing that did not work. The contents of the bin were not disposed of until the book was published.    

Beryl’s writing routine was personal to her. She edited and proofread as she went, and her bin was her back-up. What can we learn from Beryl?     

Where and when  

Having a routine gets things done.     

  • Think about where you like to do different tasks. Is a library the best place for you to review text? Could you reserve some types of writing tasks for other spaces?    
  • Think about when you like to do different tasks. Do you prefer to proofread in the evening and edit your work the following morning?  Scheduling specific times in the day or week for reviewing your work makes sure it is not left too close to a deadline.    
  • Leave a gap of at least a few hours between writing and editing – it allows for a little forgetting.   

Rough ideas and structuring   

  • Rough ideas can be written up in bits before you finalise your structure.   
  • Play with your overall structure. Using sticky notes can help – write topics on them and group them in sections. Then, decide what order these might go in.     
  • Stand back and revisit your structure. Have you got the best order? Does the order you started with fit the line of reasoning you are constructing?   
  • Look closely at the structure of key passages, and even the order within sentences, to sharpen your argument.    

Switch between electronic and hard copies   

It can be difficult to see your own mistakes on the screen as you get too familiar with the text.      

  • Printing out your work and proofreading using a pen or pencil can catch more mistakes.    
  • Reading aloud can make you aware of where you need to amend the punctuation or split a sentence. You can also use Text Help software (see below).    
  • Checking your own past work can highlight any mistakes in grammar and spelling you have not noticed before. Does feedback say anything you should be checking for?   
  • An online dictionary or grammar website can clarify common mistakes (see below).    


  • Make sure your word processing software is set to UK English and spellchecking is on. Add specialist words to the dictionary so that it is useful to you.   
  • Do not delete chunks of writing. Put them in a separate document in case you want to use them (like Beryl’s bin).    
  • Back-up your drafts in case your computer dies, so you can retrieve ideas you ditched.    

Useful links   

Lexico is a collaboration between and Oxford University Press (OUP) providing help with grammar, spelling and punctuation as well as a dictionary. Make sure it is set to UK English.     

Text Help Read and Write reads text aloud and supports spelling and grammar checking. Available on all public access PCs (e.g. in the Main Library).     



Barber, L. (2001) ‘Beryl’s Perils.’ The Observer. Available at: [Accessed on 5th March, 2021].    

Boylan, C. (1993) The Agony and the Ego: The art and strategy of fiction writing explored. Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN: 014016975X.    

Watts, J. (2010) ‘Dame Beryl Bainbridge obituary.’ The Guardian. Available at: [Accessed on 5th March, 2021].    



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