Archive for the ‘Typing and Keyboarding’ Category

The QWERTY Keyboard Sham: Taking Inefficiency to New Heights

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

By:  Christopher Dunn

Did you ever wonder how the ubiquitous qwerty keyboard configuration came into being?  For those not familiar with the term, Q-W-E-R-T-Y refers to the six alpha keys on the left side of the top lettered row of the standard keyboard. Coincidentally, these keys spell “QWERTY”, which, of course, has no specific meaning other than what has become a favorite reference to this specific keyboard layout. Over the years the term QWERTY has evolved into a shorthand descriptor of the most popular international keyboard layout of all time.

If you’re like most people, you undoubtedly assume that sometime in the distant past, a group of highly paid efficiency experts were corralled into a room and forced to come up with the most brilliant and efficient keyboard arrangement possible.  Surely the individuals would have been charged with the task of developing a keyboard configuration for the ages – one that would promise to yield absolutely the fastest keystrokes with the minimum amount of stress.

Guess again.  The qwerty keyboard design was actually a far less noble effort and has a much more insidious history than that.

A Short History of the Mechanical Typewriter

The mechanical typewriter certainly represented one of the most important inventions of its time.  It played a key role in ushering in a new and unrivaled age of enlightenment and information sharing.  Nevertheless, the invention of the manual mechanical typewriter in 1868 came with its own unique set of problems and challenges. Among the most notable of these problems related to the propensity of the mechanical character arms to frequently jam.

The earliest versions of the mechanical typewriter had characters which were mounted on metal arms. As the typewriter keys were depressed, the downward force of the typist’s fingers would cause the metal arms to swing forward and strike the back of an ink ribbon and impress the characters onto a sheet of paper which was inserted firmly into a mechanical roller.

The jamming problem was exacerbated when two or more keys were struck in rapid succession.  Unfortunately, the fastest typists tended to get ahead of the swinging action of the arms causing frequent jams and resulting in errors that were difficult and time consuming to fix. In fact, the fastest typists ended up spending most of their time untangling metal swing arms and fixing errors resulting from mechanical mistypes.  It just didn’t pay to type too rapidly.

Development of the QWERTY Solution

Consequently, the QWERTY keyboard arrangement was designed specifically to solve this jamming problem.  The QWERTY keyboard was designed by Christopher Latham Sholes in the 1870’s – just a few short years after the first mechanical typewriters came off the production line. The final version of the Qwerty keyboard came about through a great deal of trial and error in an attempt to overcome what was the most pressing problem of the new typing device: the jamming problem.  It was discovered that by arranging the keys in such a way as to reduce the possibility of typing keys in rapid succession, enough inefficiency could be created in the typing process to circumvent the problem of tangling the metal mechanical character arms. Problem solved. Unfortunately, the burden of inefficiency rested squarely on the shoulders of typists who suffered a tremendous loss of productivity, incurred measurable additional stress, and were plagued by serious physical maladies such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

QWERTY:  The Most Inefficient Keyboard Layout Possible

1.  The ten most frequently typed letters in English language literature are in order: E, T, A, O, I, N, S, H, R, and D.   Of the eight home keys of a traditional QWERTY keyboard – that is, the keys where the fingers rest and spend most of their time – only three of the top ten letters are represented:  A, S, and D.  The other seven of the top ten most common letters require a reach up or down from the home keys to strike the key.

2.  What is more, the three “common” letters (A,S, and D) that are found on the home row of keys are located to the far left side of the keyboard. That is to say, they must be typed by the middle, ring, and little (pinky) fingers of the LEFT hand.  Most people are right handed. By forcing typists to type the most commonly encountered letters by either reaching or by using the least dexterous fingers of their weakest hand, the QWERTY keyboard all but guarantees the most painful, tedious and slow typing experience possible.

Hope for Change?

So why are we still clinging to a keyboard arrangement that is hopelessly outdated, completely irrelevant, and in every way counterproductive to speed and efficiency in an age of computers and high speed printers?  Could it be the same reason the United States refuses to embrace the more efficient and intuitive metric system?  Perhaps we are simply too entrenched and invested in an inferior system.  Maybe we perceive that a change of this magnitude would be too costly or chaotic. Possibly we simply lack the foresight or the will to change.  Whatever the reasons, it appears the QWERTY keyboard will be with us for the duration. As they say, it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks…

Keyboarding Introduction

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Many, if not most of us, spend a significant amount of time in front of a keyboard. Some of us rely on our typing skills (to one degree or another) to generate a living. And while point and click technology has made speed typing less of a requirement than it was a few decades ago, good communication increasingly demands solid typing skills.

A computer keyboard may seem like a simple and relatively unimportant tool, but the reality is that the keyboard interface has allowed information to be created and replicated in a way that has transformed the world. Think about it. What would a computer be without a keyboard? Certainly, the mouse and other innovations have reduced keystrokes. But there is simply no shortcut to entering vast quantities of raw information into a computer system. And like it or not, virtually every sentence, every word, every syllable, and every letter has had to be pounded out by a typist. It turns out that the lowly keyboard is one of the most important tools mankind has ever devised.

Standardized Keyboard Arrangement: The Key to Typing Productivity

The standard keyboard arrangement in Western countries is often referred to as QWERTY. Take a look at the top row of letters on a standard keyboard – moving from left to right – and you will understand why. All keyboards have a common placement of letters to ensure that any skilled typist can move seamlessly from one keyboard to another without losing anything in productivity. The current computer keyboard configuration may not seem all that intuitive at first glance, but it is elegantly designed to result in maximum typing speed and efficiency.

Most standard keyboards manufactured today have 101 keys. Increasingly, additional symbols and specialized applications are generating a lot of keyboard variations. However, the fundamental arrangement of the standard letters and numbers is generally never changed. This allows individuals to move from one keyboard to another without trying to figure out a new keyboard arrangement every time they type. Over time key positioning can be memorized and fingers can be trained to type keys without searching or even looking down at the keyboard. This is much the same concept as we see with the piano keyboard. Piano keys are arranged in a standard fashion, allowing play by touch rather than by sight. Of course, like sight reading on a piano, touch typing on a keyboard requires a lot of practice. With dedication, however, typing can become second nature and speed and efficiency can increase dramatically.

Increase Your Typing Speed and Efficiency

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Typing speed and efficiency is one of the most crucial aspects of many careers such as medical transcription – where every keystroke counts – literally.  It turns out that typing form can be one of the most important determinants of ultimate typing speed and efficiency. Most of us are aware that the most effective method of typing is referred to as “touch” typing. With touch typing, the hands are placed over the keyboard with the fingers in a specific formation. The position of each key on the keyboard is memorized and typing occurs fluidly and without the requirement to continuously look at the keyboard. Typing keyboards have become standardized so that the keys are always organized in a specific way – arguably allowing for maximum efficiency. I say arguably because there are schools of thought that insist that there are actually more efficient ways of organizing a keyboard. Nevertheless, these schools of thought have not prevailed and the current keyboard arrangement that you see on almost all keyboards today in one variation or another has taken hold and become a ubiquitous standard.

Standardization has occurred for a very important reason. Consider the vast amount of information available in books, libraries and on the internet. All of that information has been hand typed by an army of skilled typists. Standardized computer keyboards have allowed a mechanization of the typing process resulting in incredible advances in typing speed and efficiency.

Touch Typing Technique

The old method of typing (and sadly, a method still in widespread use) is the “hunt and peck” methodology of keyboarding. This is an extremely tedious and inefficient method of typing. People who use this style of typing are either incapable, unwilling, or possibly have just never considered that it was worth their time to memorize the position of the keys on a keyboard and to adopt standard finger positioning techniques. Unless you are a person who truly only interacts with a keyboard once or twice a year you will profit from the efficiency that can be generated through keyboard memorization and touch typing techniques.

Speed Typing Checklist

In addition to learning to “touch” type, many people find that they can incrementally increase their typing speed through a combination of:

1. Maintaining a correct typing posture: this means sitting erect with elbows to your sides and fingers neither hovering above nor pressing down, but rather resting gently on the keys in a standard finger position – more about this below.

2. Ensuring that the keyboard is at the proper height. Most desks and keyboard trays are set at a standard height. Be aware that if you are shorter or taller than average you will need to adjust your chair to establish comfortable positioning.  Speaking of chairs, if you make your living interfacing with a keyboard as medical transcriptionists, data entry specialists and computer programmers do, then a chair is simply not a place to skimp.  You  need a chair that will provide excellent support and facilitate a healthy typing posture. Additionally, your chair selection should consider the maneuverability – both in terms of vertical adjustment to set the chair to the exact height and the ability to move from side to side or swivel depending on the need.  Further, you should not forget about comfort and circulation. I have personally had seats that restrict the flow of blood to my legs because of the way they were designed.  You need to be careful and pay attention to the chair you select. Realize that it can have a measurable and long term impact on your health.  If you type a lot, you need to care for your spine, your arms,wrists, and fingers, and pay attention to ensure that you get adequate circulation through your legs.

3. Typing with finesse – type fluidly with fingers resting gently on the keyboard.  Every ounce of extra effort will add up. Poor technique can contribute to carpal tunnel and other repetitive injuries.

4. Refraining from overworking yourself. Take periodic respites from your typing routine. Gluing yourself to a keyboard for hours of uninterrupted typing will lead to problems and fatigue and render you less productive in the long run.  It will also jeopardize your health, possibly taking you permanently from your career.

5. Monitoring your typing speed and accuracy by returning frequently to the free speed typing test available at can motivate you toward higher levels of speed and accuracy as you see the results of your efforts.

6.  Making proper and generous use of macros and keyboard efficiency tools.  With a modest amount of setup and a relatively minor investment, you can increase your typing speed, efficiency and productivity substantially by taking advantage of productivity software.  Macros basically allow you to substitute words, word strings, or even entire repetitive paragraphs with a few keystrokes.  Again, even if you feel that the typing macros don’t speed up your typing significantly, it may still make sense to utilize them as much as possible to minimize the volume of repetitive physical keystroke activity you are subjecting your body to on a daily basis. At the very least it will result in less repetitive stress on your fingers and wrists.

7.  Fixing typing errors in real time.  Taking the time to stop and correct each mistake at the moment that you notice it is one of the biggest time drags on your overall keyboarding speed and efficiency.  By continuing past a mistake even when you realize you have made it you will maintain a continuous uninterrupted typing rhythm, yielding huge benefits over the course of a typing session.  Correcting errors at the conclusion of a completed report with the assistance of automated spell and grammar check software will in the long run be far more efficient.  Don’t underestimate the need for a final proof read to catch mistakes that are not caught by spell check software, which is notorious for missing obvious contextual problems.

8.  Determining the proper auto-correct setting for your circumstances.  Depending on the sophistication of your auto-correct software capability, you may want to avail yourself of an auto-correct feature, which basically corrects problems as they happen. However, this can also become  your worst productivity nightmare as auto-correct programs are notorious for thinking they have you outsmarted and correcting a lot of things that do not need correcting – requiring you to go back and fix the problems.  What is worse, these problems will not be caught by spell check and will have to be discovered manually.  The right option for your specific circumstance will likely be discovered after one or two typing sessions.Often out of sheer frustration you will turn the silly feature off after a paragraph or two.  Use your judgment on this one.

9.  Practicing short bursts of high-speed typing.  By typing as fast as you can for relatively short periods of time you will begin to acclimate your fingers and your mind to the notion that you can type faster than you believed possible.  This is important and will eventually result in a higher rate of average typing speed for most people. Your brain and fingers will typically cooperate to allow you to type at a comfort level rate of typing speed.  Most people are capable of typing much faster than this comfort level rate.  It requires practice and effort and a basic mind adjustment to accomplish it – but it will pay big dividends if you keep after it.

With proper attention to some of these details you will be surprised at how quickly you can improve your typing speed and efficiency.  The speed typing test will allow you to monitor your typing speed and efficiency and measure your progress toward your goals.