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Touch typing (also called touch type or touch keyboarding) is typing without using the sense of sight to find the keys. Specifically, a touch typist will know their location on the keyboard through muscle memory. Touch typing typically involves placing the eight fingers in a horizontal row along the middle of the keyboard (the home row) and having them reach for other keys. Both two-handed touch typing and one-handed touch typing are possible.
Frank Edward McGurrin, a court stenographer from Salt Lake City, Utah who taught typing classes, reportedly invented touch typing in 1888. On a standard keyboard for English speakers the home row keys are: "ASDF" for the left hand and "JKL;" for the right hand. The keyboard is called a QWERTY keyboard because these are the first six letters on the keyboard. Most modern computer keyboards have a raised dot or bar on the home keys for the index fingers to help touch typists maintain and rediscover the correct position on the keyboard quickly with no need to look at the keys. More recently, the ability to touch type on touchscreen phones has been made possible with the use of specialized virtual keyboard software for touch typing.
Original layouts for the first few mechanical typewriters were in alphabetical order (ABCDE etc.) but the frequent jams suffered by experienced typists forced the manufacturers to change the layout of the letters, placing keys that are often pressed in a sequence as far as possible from each other. This allows engaging the second printing bar of the typewriter before the first falls down, increasing the speed of the mechanism. Equal distribution of the load over most of fingers also increased the speed as the keys of the mechanical typewriter are more difficult to press.
The calculations for keyboard layout were based on the language being typed and this meant different keyboard layouts would be needed for each language. In English speaking countries for example the first row is QWERTY, but in French speaking countries it is AZERTY. Though mechanical typewriters are now rarely used, moves to change the layout to increase speed have been largely ignored or resisted due to familiarity with the existing layout among touch typists.
On July 25, 1888, McGurrin, who was reportedly the only person using touch typing at the time, won a decisive victory over Louis Traub (operating Caligraph with eight-finger method) in a typing contest held in Cincinnati. The results were displayed on the front pages of many newspapers. McGurrin won US$500 (equivalent to $12,580 in 2012 USD) and popularized the new typing method.
Whether McGurrin was actually the first person to touch type or simply the first to be popularly noticed, is disputed. Speeds attained by other typists in other typing competitions at the time suggest that they must have been using similar systems.
To learn to write by touch, that is, with only an occasional glance at the key-board, sit directly in front of the machine. Keep the hands as nearly as possible in one position over the key-board.
The most common other form of typing is search and peck typing (or two-fingered typing). This method is slower than touch typing because instead of relying on the memorized position of keys, the typist is required to find each key by sight and move fingers a greater distance. Many idiosyncratic styles in between those two exist — for example, many people will type blindly, but using only two to five fingers and not always in a systematic way.
Touch type training can improve any individual's typing speed and accuracy dramatically. The accepted average typing speed is 41 WPM (words per minute), and professional career typists can exceed 100 WPM repeatedly and continuously (secretarial, data entry, etc.). Every individual learns at a different pace, and routine practice is required to maintain a high typing speed and accuracy.
Reduced switching of attention
A touch typist does not need to move the sight between the keyboard (that is obscured with fingers and may be poorly lit) and other areas that require attention. This increases productivity and reduces the number of errors.
Disputes over advantages
There are many idiosyncratic typing styles in between novice-style "hunt and peck" and touch typing. For example, many "hunt and peck" typists have the keyboard layout memorized and are able to type while focusing their gaze on the screen. One study examining 30 subjects, of varying different styles and expertise, has found minimal difference in typing speed between touch typists and self-taught hybrid typists.
According to the study, "The number of fingers does not determine typing speed... People using self-taught typing strategies were found to be as fast as trained typists... instead of the number of fingers, there are other factors that predict typing speed... fast typists... keep their hands fixed on one position, instead of moving them over the keyboard, and more consistently use the same finger to type a certain letter." To quote doctoral candidate Anna Feit: "We were surprised to observe that people who took a typing course, performed at similar average speed and accuracy, as those that taught typing to themselves and only used 6 fingers on average"
A touch typist starts by placing their fingers on the "start position" in the middle row and knows which finger to move and how much to move it for reaching any required key. Learning typically includes first printing exercises containing only letters on or near the standard position and then gradually mastering other rows. It is important to learn placing fingers into the start position blindly as the hands are frequently raised from the keyboard to operate the line feed lever (in the past) or (more recently) the computer mouse. The keys F and J frequently contain some surface features that allow the typist to recognize them by touch alone, thus removing the need to look down at the keys to reset the fingers at the home row.
The typing speed can be increased gradually and speeds of 60 WPM or higher can be achieved. The rate of speed increase varies between individuals. Many websites and software products are available to learn touch typing and many of these are free. Learning touch typing can be stressful both to the fingers as well as the mind in the beginning, but once it is learned to a decent level, it exerts minimal stress on the fingers. For individuals with past typing experience, learning to touch type is particularly difficult due to motivational reasons: the initial performance level in touch typing is far lower than in visually guided typing; therefore it does not initially seem worthwhile to study touch typing.
Typing speed generally improves with practice. While practicing, it is important to ensure that there are no weak keys. Typing speed is typically determined by how slow these weak keys are typed rather than how fast the remaining keys are typed. If a stage is reached where irrespective of the amount of practice, typing speed is not increasing, it is advisable to let some time pass and continue serious practice thereafter as typing speeds typically tend to increase with time even when no serious practice is done.
The "home row" is the center row of keys on a typewriter or computer keyboard. On the most common type of English language keyboard, the QWERTY layout, "A S D F J K L ;" are the home keys on the home row.
Some keyboards have a small bump on certain keys of the home row. This helps returning the fingers to the home row for touch typing.
For instance, to type the word poll on a QWERTY keyboard, one would place all of one's fingers on the home row. (The right hand should be covering "J K L ;" with the thumb on the space bar while the left hand covers "A S D F".) The typist will then use their little finger to reach for the "P" key located just above the semicolon and then return the pinky back to the semicolon key from which it originated. The ring finger, located on the "L" key will be moved directly upwards to press the "O" key and then back. Finally, the same ring finger will remain on the "L" key and press it twice. Experienced typists can do this at speeds of over 100 words per minute, but the method is that they always return their fingers to the home row when they are not in use. This provides for quick, easy access to all of the keys on the keyboard.
Repetitive stress injuries
A method taught since the 1960s (and perhaps earlier): The left little finger is used for the keys 1 2, the ring finger for 3, the middle — 4, the left index finger is responsible for 5 and 6. On the right side of the keyboard: index — 7 and 8, middle — 9, ring — 0 and the little — all other keys on the right side of the upper row. Probably these two methods reflect the layout of the typewriters from early days when some of them had no 0 and/or 1 keys.
There exist special ergonomic keyboards designed for both typing methods. The keyboard is split between the keys 5 and 6 or 6 and 7.
Some specialized high-end computer keyboards are designed for touch typists. For example, many manufacturers provide blank mechanical keyboards. A trained touch typist should not mind using a blank keyboard. This kind of keyboard may force hunt and peck users to type without looking, similar to Braille keyboards used by the visually impaired.
- Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, an alternative English keyboard layout, optimised for comfort and speed
- Colemak, a new keyboard layout more efficient than Dvorak and QWERTY, designed as an improvement over the QWERTY layout
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Qwerty's effect, by reducing those annoying clashes, was to speed up typing rather than slow it down.
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