Ask LH: Should I Learn Touch Typing On The Dvorak Keyboard?

Ask LH: Should I Learn Touch Typing On The Dvorak Keyboard?

Dear Lifehacker, As I near the end of my university degree and prepare to enter the corporate workforce, I am acutely aware of my lack of touch-typing skills. I know I should have learnt at some point, but laziness and the heady lifestyle of university got in the way. I’ve recently been reading about the Dvorak keyboard, and its supposed benefits when compared to the traditional QWERTY layout. Should I learn to type on the Dvorak in a bid to reach higher speeds faster? Or should I stick with the slower, yet universally used, QWERTY? Thanks, Incompetent Typist

Typewriter picture from Shutterstock

Dear IT,

Sorry, Dvorak lovers, but this is an easy one; teach yourself with a standard QWERTY keyboard.

Unless you want to take bring-your-own-device to the point where you supply your own keyboard, the machines you end up using in the workplace will be equipped with QWERTY layouts. While you can switch to a Dvorak layout in most desktop operating systems, that isn’t always the case on mobile devices. Frankly, it isn’t worth the trouble.

Realistically, unless you’re planning to take a job in transcription, the speeds you’ll be able to achieve with a conventional QWERTY keyboard will be more than adequate. Indeed, the speeds you’ll manage with two-finger typing will probably be enough in a lot of circumstances.

Improving your speeds by learning proper touch typing will definitely help you stand out from other candidates, but adding a footnote that says “I can only achieve those speeds on a Dvorak keyboard” will make you seem like a weirdo. QWERTY isn’t logical, but it’s what’s used in the real world of work.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Also, and aside – if you read websites that are not made by people trying to sell you DVORAK keyboards, you will find:
    a. There is very little scientific research that supports the assertion that the average typist will achieve better typing speeds with a DVORAK keyboard.
    b. Once you start using the keyboard for day-to-day functions like programming, cutting and pasting etc. (rather than english essay-writing) it is harder to use because common shortcuts aren’t as convenient as with QWERTY.
    c. The actual speed increase you can expect is marginal (at best).

    The real reason people use a DVORAK keyboard, is because they like to be different for the sake of it, and it makes it much harder for someone else to use your computer (it’s always a laugh, especially if you learn to touch type so you don’t have DVORAK key labels and people keep pressing keys and wonder why the letters are so different).

  • I would agree with the above advice, with one exception:
    the speeds you’ll manage with two-finger typing will probably be enough in a lot of circumstances.

    This is not good advice. It is not good enough to ‘hunt and peck’ any more. Even if you are in your 50s and didn’t grow up with computers, typing with two fingers makes you look incredibly unprofessional. Imagine how you would feel if you walked into your boss’ office and saw him taking off a clip-on tie.

    There are countless free and simple websites which can teach you touch typing. 50 words per minute is manageable for anyone unless you have an injury, and will get you through most situations.

    • Actually, it’s now easier to get away with hunt-and-peck than it was a few years ago, thanks to moderately-accurate voice recognition on phones.

      Where I work, some of the 5wpm 50-year-olds have taken to dictating documents into their phone, emailing it to themselves, and then just doing corrections on the desktop. I’d have said it’s a bad idea…but some of them have seriously increased output and low error rates as a result.

  • If you don’t know how to touch type, you should definitely learn QWERTY.
    I use DVORAK on a day-to-day basis, and much prefer it to QWERTY (which I learned first) because of the pattern of typically alternating from one hand to the other very comfortable.
    However, if you already know how to touch-type in QWERTY but really wanted to learn another keyboard layout, then learn DVORAK for one hand. One handed touch typing = awesome. It isn’t fast by comparison to two-hand typing, but it is a whole lot faster than one handed non-touch-typing.

  • xpx, I was with you right up till your last statement, which is based on less fact than everything else you wrote.

    The search for a more efficient keyboard layout has been happening for years. QWERTY wasn’t designed for efficiency, but rather to stop typewriter bars from smashing against each other on the very old upstrike typewriters. This became obsolete by the end of the 1800’s but the keyboard layout has stuck.

    Frankly, the lack of typing education that students are given today is appalling. I’m surprised by how much the generation following mine can’t actually type, despite the constant insistence that they are far more ‘tech savvy’.

    Learn to touch type. Please. And do it on a QWERTY. And here’s an experienced reason why:-
    QWERTY keyboards are ubiquitous. No matter what you do in life, you will invariably find yourself in front of a QWERTY keyboard, and frequently.

    If you learned to touch-type on a DVORAK keyboard you will have transitioning problems. I often use a german keyboard at home (QWERTZ) and often switch back to a QWERTY keyboard. Although I can transition between both keyboards reasonably well, I often find myself stumbling on expected characters that aren’t where they were ‘supposed’ to be. Whereas on the german keyboard it is only two letters, imagine trying to manage an entire keyboard that has a different layout. You would simply have to train your brain to use both.

    This is a lot of work for something that has pretty much nil practical gain. As pointed out before DVORAK keyboards often offer only a very marginal increase to skilled typists. Really, your time would be better spent learning a keyboard that is going to be in common use in any work environment you will find yourself in.

    PS. I think Lifehacker are taking the piss a bit with that photo. That is a keyboard to a typewriter made by a company called ‘Typo’.

    • @Scottk – Couldn’t agree more with everything you said.

      Sorry for the last paragraph/statement – that was my personal opinion (and the reason I learned DVORAK for a while) – not actually based on any research. I’ll be more careful to point that out / transition next time 🙂

  • A 60 year old friend who is a professional author swears by voice rec. It doesn’t work well for me, though.

  • It’s a simple choice.
    At work, you’ll be given a QWERTY keyboard, everyone around you will have a QWERTY keyboard.
    If on the first day of your new job, you’re sitting there with your car keys pulling out the keys on your keyboard to make them Dvorak, everyone will think you’re insane.

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