The Key To Faster Writing

Media, Reading & Writing


The QWERTY keyboard was designed to slow you down. Created for manual typewriters in the 1870s, it stopped the keys from becoming entangled as you typed. My mother’s ancient Remington had keys you had to hit so hard it sounded like someone hammering nails into a wall.

Then touch typing was invented, but the QWERTY layout stayed. Let’s let Dvorak fan Randy Cassingham take up the story;

‘The new layout took about 12 years to perfect, and included extensive study of languages using the Roman alphabet, the physiology of the hand and practical studies. Dr. Dvorak (Univ. of Washington, Seattle; b.1894, d.1975) used his research to design two other keyboards specifically for people with only one hand (one each for the right and left), which allow people with the use of just one hand to type very easily and efficiently – at speeds up to 50 wpm.

The Dvorak has the most-used consonants on the right side of the home row, and the vowels on the left side of the home row. Among other design features, it is set up to facilitate keying in a back-and-forth motion. When the same hand has to be used for more than one letter in a row it is designed not only to use different fingers when possible to make keying quicker and easier, but also to progress from the outer fingers to the inner fingers – it’s easier to drum your fingers this way. The back-and-forth flow makes typing quicker and easier: try typing the word “minimum” on the Qwerty keyboard, then look how you’d type it on Dvorak. The design puts fully 70 percent of all English keystrokes on the home row (only 32 percent of Qwerty’s are on the home row), making Dvorak much easier, faster, and probably (no formal studies have been done as yet) less likely to result in carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion injuries.’

It’s also easy to learn, and apparently you can master it in two to three weeks. I’ve been writing for thirty years and still use the ‘hunt and peck’ style of typing. So why hasn’t it been taken up for the computer age?

Of course, we know that new ideas are almost impossible to sell in if there’s an existing model that has already been heavily invested in. I can see that the Dvorak system is probably much, much more suited to the touch keyboards of the present, but now there’s a new reason why it isn’t likely to catch on.

We move between devices. I write on my phone, my home computer, my laptop and my partner’s iPad. All those would have to be switched over because it would be disastrous trying to switch between two memorised layouts. The QWERTY layout is burned deep into my subconscious. If you asked me to draw the keyboard I wouldn’t be able to, but I could find all the keys without thinking.

And there’s anything question; do I prefer the slower mode anyway because it allows me thinking time? Trying it out, I wish it had caught on say forty years ago. We’d probably all be fast typists now. There’s a good article on switching here.

11 comments on “The Key To Faster Writing”

  1. Alan Morgan says:

    I learned to type on a clunky typewriter as young lad of about 13. I was heavily involved in fanzines through Much Bigger Boys in the early 80s. It was not a common skill of course. So (like many here I suspect) thirty years have burned it deep into the brain. I have to write each day and as ever with my keyboards the current one has long since worn the symbols from the keys. It serves my needs well enough, and it still seems fast when I remember having to disentangle the things all those years ago.

    Mind you scratching the tip-ex off my monitor is a constant chore.

  2. Amy says:

    Noooo! I took a typing class when I was fourteen-years-old. I learned how to use the QWERTY keyboard. With all the advances in technology that already make my head spin, I do not also want to re-learn something so basic that I already know. *Pouts. Kicks floor like a five-year-old.* Rant over. :)

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    I, too, learned to hunt and peck early, but then took a touch-typing course the first year at university. (As the only male in the class, and the only one you did all the homework – the girls hissed at me for that – I earned an “A” in typing.) BUT because I was far faster at my hunt and peck and had so many papers to write for other classes, I was forced to continue to use h & p. What did it all get me? A zebra-stripe style of typing – a neither this nor that approach which is half looking at the screen and half at the keyboard. No new system for me, I’m afraid.

  4. Gretta says:

    The creator saying to compare how ‘minimum’ would be typed is all very well, but how often would people type that word? And following his logic, why are the comma and full stop not on the main line?

    I’m used to QWERTY, and I use a variance of H+P and touch-typing. It’s not without its faults, of course. It’s almost impossible not to type gurads insteads of guards, for instance.

  5. snowy says:

    Oh no I’m back.

    Grab a hot or cold beverage of your choice and settle down, for I have a tale to unfold.

    We go back into the mists of time. (cue wavy screen effect)

    There were typing lessons available at school, but only as a part of one particular course. We were strongly “encouraged” not to take that course. Instead we were shepherded towards the department concerned with filing perfectly useful pieces of square metal into perfectly useless pieces of round metal. Well I say useless, if you give 30+ hormonal and slightly bored teenagers a 1” round steel ball each its not going to end well. I mean a game of marbles is fairly benign, and even re-enacting scenes from “Rollerball” wasn’t too bad. I think it was the moment, like the scene in 2001 when the ape picks up the stick, when somebody, I can’t recall who, remembered they were wearing a tie. And if he removed his tie, he could emulate David, of Goliath fame. Chaos ensued, and all participants that were caught and given amongst other things a severe “bollocking”, to go with the perfectly spherical bruises on our backsides. I believe the bold experiment of filing square things round, has never been repeated at the school since.

    A few short years later the first home computers arrive, and the first models all had membrane keyboards. These were disparaging described as being “thump sensitive” and this would lead to the infamous “ram pack wobble”. Just a the point you had laboriously typed in all the instructions for a game, the whole thing would flex disconnecting the memory pack just long enough to erase all your hard work. There were various magazines published at the time containing the programmes and reviewing various add-ons. Its was in one of these specialist magazine I spotted my object of desire.
    It was called a “Microwriter” the worlds first portable word processor, It was developed by the director of Hell Drivers and Zulu, Cy Endfield. OK so what has any of this to do with our gracious hosts original article about keyboards, well despite being about the size of a video cassette, it had a keyboard. Only six buttons mind, but with those buttons you could type all the alphabet, numbers, math(s) symbols and punctuation with ONE hand. Did I lust after one, yes and a few other things I shan’t mention here, could I have ever afforded one, never in a million years.

    Having to search around to try and find the name of the thing to put on here, has taught me that is properly referred to as a chord keyboard, and on finding that you can buy modern versions has absolutely made my weekend. Mr F. you are a gentleman and scholar, and I raise both my hat and my glass to you. Thank you.

    (No I’m not drunk)

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    Excellent point Gretta. I’ll remember “gurads” the next time I type something that looks like three apes on one machine have had an alphabet fight.
    Lordy, I love those comment boxes that say: would you care to review your comment before you post it? Instead of “Are you feeling lucky?”
    By the way, isn’t Gnit Guards the title of a Terry Prachett novel? If it is, then Sooh Labck may be a novel Admin wrote?

  7. Dan Terrell says:

    Nuts! I wanted to type: Ghnit Gurads.
    Try to type it correctly and foul it up, try to type it incorrectly foul it up. Will I every get off this danged Mobius strip, or is it “band” in British usage.

  8. Gretta says:

    heh heh And you were kind of right, Dan. There was Gurads Gurads, and there was also a Gniht Wahct. :)

    This chord keyboardy thing intrigues me. Further investigation is warranted, I feel.

  9. snowy says:

    And for the fully keyboard phobic, there was the Graffiti input system. Which used a stylus, I got upto about 20 wpm with that.

  10. Susan Shepard says:

    I’m with Amy. I learned on a manual Royal typewriter and eventually graduated to electric, then came the IBM Selectric when I was in college (thought that was just the coolest), but my speed and accuracy really increased with the advent of the word processor, largely because, I think, I wasn’t as worried about having to laboriously correct mistakes. Love the ease of correcting and the ability to drop in different words or phrases that occur to me after the fact.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    I am definitely with you, Susan. Since I was in the ‘academic’ stream typing classes were almost impossible for me to take. Just lovely when the university profs all wanted typed essays. I did h and p for a number of years but finally took a night school course where the instructor taught us the fingering but didn’t cover the keyboard diagrams. The result is that I watch the keyboard but can do it pretty fast. Dvorak looks like the way to go and I wonder how long it would take me to switch since I’m not completely switching anyway. That photo makes me want to take the cover off my mother’s typewriter just to feel the pressure needed to hit those keys – and it wasn’t just fingers that moved using one of those, it was the whole hand.

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