The keyboard is perhaps one of the most important human inventions in the field of written text since the printing press. Starting its journey as the typewriter, the keyboard has progressed to be the most ubiquitous of accessories with computers today. Being able to use the keyboard efficiently to write (type) quickly and accurately was once an incredibly valuable skill. In reality, demand hasn’t diminished, even with the relentless onslaught of advanced technology such as voice recognition software. Additionally, as our interaction with the digital world increases, so does our need to use the keyboard and the necessity to use it efficiently.
“Necessity is the mother of invention” and it is the necessity for fast and efficient typing that led to the invention of touch typing. Touch typing refers to the skill of using all fingers and thumbs, of both hands, to identify the keys on the keyboard by the sense of touch rather than physically looking or actively searching for the keys to press. This ability of not needing to look at the keyboard between key strokes allows for greatly improved speed and accuracy. Experienced touch typists are known to reach speeds in excess of 120 words per minute. If you are a writer, student, programmer, a working professional using a computer on a regular basis then touch typing is an essential and invaluable skill to master.
With proper instruction, a little effort and determination, skills are amplified with touch typing practice over time.
As is human nature, the need to write even faster, with more efficiency, will always remain. Researchers have always returned to the physical aspect of the keyboard itself: the layout. Over the course of history, people have tried various different designs and arrangements of keys with varying levels of success. Even today, there are remnants of both successful and obsolete keyboards and layouts.
Different keyboard layouts suit different styles and tastes. We are all individuals, so it is hardly surprising that we each have our own views or perhaps just the desire to stand out from the crowd! However what is true is that the majority of us will base our choice on availability and ease of purchase, whilst only some of us will base our choice on research. In an ideal world and to truly master touch typing, we should all take the time to understand the different types of keyboards available, especially true, if we are to venture outside of the ‘industry standard’.
The QWERTY layout is the most commonly available and widely used keyboard layout, worldwide. Used for Latin script based alphabets / languages, its name is derived from the first six letters beginning on the left on the top row of the keyboard. Designed and created by Christopher Latham Sholes in 1873 for the Sholes and Glidden typewriter. The layout achieved immense popularity with the hugely successful Remington No. 2 in 1878 and has acquired universal recognition ever since. Almost all commercially available keyboards since have followed the QWERTY layout, with keyboards today using a slightly modified version of the original Sholes design.
The alphabet is arranged across three rows. The top or upper row, the middle (home) row and the bottom (lower) row. As a touch typist, the home row is where you should rest your fingers, when not pressing any keys. Since the layout was designed for typewriters, non-character keys were added to make it the universal design we see today.
Keyboards also come in various guises; black letters on white keys, white letters on black keys, large/small keys and sometimes with inbuilt colour coded keys!
Fun fact: The characters of “TYPEWRITER” are all located on the top row of the QWERTY layout.
Designed and patented after extensive research by August Dvorak and William Dealy in 1936, the Dvorak keyboard is widely considered to be more ergonomic and easier to use than the more conventional QWERTY layout. It purportedly leads to faster, easier typing as well as reducing the risk of RSI. Proponents of Dvorak thus claim it to be better than QWERTY and even though these claims are controversial, the ergonomics and ease of typing using this layout is undeniable. This is especially true for touch typists as far less complicated finger placements are used as opposed to the QWERTY layout.
Dvorak never replaced QWERTY but is popular enough to have typing support in all major operating systems and keyboards. It has it’s own ‘cult’ following and is popular amongst particular groups of typists.
The Colemak keyboard layout is a very recent invention. Built in 2006 by Shai Coleman, the Colemak keyboard layout was designed to retain the best of both QWERTY and Dvorak layouts. The layout is designed scientifically to type fast in English, with the most commonly used letters placed on the home row. The Colemak layout is claimed to be more than twice as fast as the QWERTY layout.
The QWERTZ keyboard layout is used in central Europe, mainly in Germany and differs from the QWERTY layout with the position of the Y and Z letters inter-changed. This enables the ease of typing in German as the Z is far more common than Y. Additionally, the letters T and Z often appear together in German orthography.
The AZERTY layout was designed in the late 19th century. It was primarily intended for the French language as a replacement for the QWERTY layout and follows the same naming convention. Variants of AZERTY are also quite common and to prevent confusion, the French government standardised the AZERTY layout to the one we see in use today.
The HCESAR keyboard layout was created by a decree in 1937 under the then prime minister of Portugal, Antonio Salazar. Although designed to make it easier to type in Portuguese, it was not particularly user friendly and was soon replaced by the regular QWERTY layout. Today it is sadly obsolete.
These are just some of the most popular variants of the standard keyboard layout. You may be more suited to one or other depending on your language and / or location but learning time aside, all will require regular practice in mastering the skill of touch typing!
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