The typical typing keyboard is called a QWERTY keyboard. The QWERTY layout was designed in the time of mechanical typewriters to slow the typists down so as to prevent the mechanical arms of the typewriter from jamming. Unfortunately, many people who type for a living have found the awkward QWERTY layout has given them Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in their hands and forearms.
My husband Mike writes for a living. He types for a good part of his day. In 2007 he developed RSI in his left hand and forearm. He read about another keyboard layout, called Dvorak, that is kinder to the typist than the standard QWERTY layout. After an online study on the Dvorak layout, Mike read that:
a) some people have been able to make the transition within 4-8 weeks
b) If you could type 50 words per minute on QWERTY you could double that on Dvorak.
c) some people found that the transition eliminated the RSI they were experiencing under QWERTY due to less intensive typing movements. ( If a QWERTY typist’s fingers move 16 miles, a Dvorak typist could type exactly the same thing and their fingers would move one mile!)
When Mike typed QWERTY he could:
a) interview someone across a table, look them in the eye, and pretty much type word for word what they were saying, and the essence of the conversation;
b) attend a conference and live blog what was being said by the speaker … and take notes so quickly that he could even capture the Q&A, and press “publish” while the applause was still going on; and
c) type completely “mindlessly” … the mechanics of typing were completely ingrained that he didn’t need to think about what he was doing.
After touch typing the QWERTY keyboard for 17 years Mike wondered what the change to Dvorak would be like. At first Mike could only type five words a minute. By the end of each day the front of his head was very painful but he persevered, realizing that another 35 years of RSI would not make him very productive. After five months of Dvorak he could type about 45 words a minute. It took him 18 months to get back to the competence he had with QWERTY. Much to our delight the RSI totally cleared up!
Mike believes it is important for young people to learn to touch type. By ‘touch typing’ he means using all the fingers for typing and being able to type without looking at the keyboard. One step further is to do it using the Dvorak layout to ensure that typist RSI won’t plague your life and career. As a result of this belief, Mike has encouraged our children to touch-type Dvorak.
Our oldest son David (17) starting learning typing before he was eight. He used the QWERTY keyboard layout and learned with the Mavis Beacon program. He got up to about 45 words per minute on QWERTY. At age 13 years he switched to the Dvorak layout but still used a QWERTY labeled keyboard. He put a picture of the Dvorak keyboard on the corner of his screen. He forced himself to use it. It took 3 weeks to master it and now he’s typing at 102 words/min (peak speed doing copywork).
Matthew (15) is touch typing Dvorak too. He had a keyboard that the keys could be taken off and rearranged to the Dvorak configuration. This enabled him to learn where the letters were. Now he can touch-type fast without looking at the keyboard which is very useful as he is a prolific writer.
Philip (14) has just switched to Dvorak and touch-typing also. The switch was very quick for him. He used a picture of the Dvorak keyboard on the corner of the screen like David had.
Daniel (13) has begun to learn Dvorak as a result of me writing this article! We had an agreement – if you learn I’ll learn. (I am getting better)
Timothy (11) is using a free online Dvorak course to practice his typing. It looks similar to the Mavis Beacon one David used years ago. We found it at http://learn.dvorak.nl/
You can change your computer so it becomes a Dvorak keyboard layout using a regular QWERTY keyboard.
On a Mac:
-Go to System Preferences
-Click on ‘Language & Text’ (first row)
-Click on the tab ‘Input Sources’
-After this is done you can go up to the little US flag at top right-hand corner of home screen, click it and you can select Dvorak
On a PC: These are instructions for Windows 7. I guess other Windows Operating Systems would be similar.
-Click on ‘Clock, Region and Language’
-Click on ‘Region and Language’
-Click on ‘Keyboards and Languages’
-Click on ‘Change Keyboards’
-Click on ‘Add’
-Click ‘United States-Dvorak’
We live in a world where computers form the fabric of many jobs. Not being able to touch type is a significant disadvantage. Make the effort while you’re young – because it is the easiest time to learn. Learn to touch type well, and for best results, learn Dvorak.
Update 2016: I can touch type faster than I can handwrite now. It was worth the two year effort. Daniel found another keyboard layout called Colemak that is easier to learn than Dvorak as it has many letters the same as the QWERTY layout so there are less new ones to learn.