How the Dvorak keyboard can make typing easier
Are you a two finger typist? Do you peer down at the keys to decide which one to jab next? Have you failed to master touch typing despite spending hours typing meaningless groups of letters?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, don’t blame yourself, your fingers or your typing tutor. The problem lies in your keyboard. Its traditional QWERTY layout was designed more than a hundred years ago when the first typewriters came on the market. Those early machines jammed easily if the keys were struck too quickly, letters were spread around the board to slow down the typist. It did the job so efficiently that it’s still slowing you and me down long after the jamming problem has disappeared.
But there's an alternative keyboard layout designed specifically with touch typing in mind – a layout that easy to learn and easy to use. When I switched to it, I found I could touch type with confidence after just a few hours practice. My writing improved too because I could concentrate on the words on the screen while my fingers found their own way around.
Named after its inventor, August Dvorak, this keyboard has all the vowels and the most common consonants in the middle row. Should I ever need to tell the world that the sun shone on Aunt Susan as she ate her toast. I can do so without even taking my fingers of the home keys. The other letters are arranged to minimise awkward reaches and to split the effort of typing evenly between both hands. The resulting ease-of-use offers hope for RSI sufferers, and I personally find my fingers no longer ache after a long session at the keyboard.
Amazingly, it costs nothing at all to change to this improved layout because any popular computer can be set up so that a standard QWERTY keyboard acts like a Dvorak one. The necessary software is built into both the Windows and Mac operating systems so you don’t have to download anything.
Once you’ve switched keyboard layout, the symbols on most of the keys will be completely different to the symbols they produce when pressed. To solve this problem, you can buy inexpensive labels to stick on the keys. But, if you want to learn to touch type, you might not want to use them at first as not having them will help you abandon your old habit of peering at the keyboard. Just print out a layout instead and prop it near your monitor.
Your first attempts at typing will be slow and awkward, but don’t let that put you off. I was amazed how quickly I improved and learned the position of the keys by heart – something I never managed to do during my 10 year struggle with QWERTY. I used an excellent, free typing tutor called ABCD and thoroughly recommend it. It quickly has you typing real words and sentences instead of meaningless groups of letters. Perhaps this is why the Dvorak layout is so easy to learn.
Although the Dvorak keyboard sounds revolutionary, it isn’t new. It’s been around for more than 60 years, but so far has failed to oust its more awkward competitor. With so many QWERTY keyboards and trained QWERTY typists already in existence, there has always been a strong resistance to change. Typewriter manufacturers didn’t want to alter their designs, and those who had already learned to contort their hands across the keys were reluctant to retrain.
That resistance is far less important now that we all have the option of using the Dvorak keyboard if we want to. Why not give its user-friendly layout a try and abandon to two finger typing forever. It may make using your computer a more pleasurable and productive experience