Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Tangled Fingers And Jumbled Keys
By Allison Starkweather
2003, Allison Starkweather

or over a century typists have used the Qwerty style keyboard layout that is familiar to most of us today. Although this is the most widely-used and well-known keyboard layout, it is not the only option available. For many people, and especially writers, who often spend hours at a time typing on their computers, it is possibly not even the best option. A less well-known, but possibly better-designed, layout is the Dvorak keyboard.

The Qwerty layout was named for the first six letters at the left side of the top-most row on that keyboard configuration. The Dvorak keyboard, on the other hand, was named for the man who created the layout, Dr. August Dvorak. Its name has nothing to do with the layout of the keys. The first five letters of the home row in Dvorak are "A-O-E-U-I".

Here are pictures of a Qwerty and a Dvorak key layout:


 

What's so great about Dvorak? Is Qwerty wrong?

No, Qwerty is not the "wrong" way to type. There's no wrong way, as long as whatever you're using works for you. Neither Qwerty nor Dvorak are "proper"; they're just different. Both have distinct advantages. Qwerty is far more popular, and you will always be able to find a keyboard in the Qwerty layout.  It is also the layout used by most businesses. Dvorak is harder to find and less well-known, but in general is considered better for you physically. Use what works for you and your needs.

Dvorak has been gaining popularity for several reasons. First, it generally increases your typing speed by up to 20wpm. The Qwerty keyboard was developed for the first manual typewriters. At that time people could type faster than the machines could handle, and the keys became jammed. Because of that, the keyboard layout was rearranged, putting the most commonly used keys farther apart, and forcing typists to slow down. The Dvorak layout, on the other hand, puts the most commonly used keys on the home row, which means your fingers have to travel less distance to get to the keys they use most often. This helps speed up typing, and reduces repetitive motion, which in turn helps with wrist and arm injuries caused by repetitive typing.

I can type fast; does that mean I'm typing Dvorak?

No, Dvorak is not a style of typing, like hunt-and-peck or touch-typing. Dvorak is merely the name given to a specific format of key arrangement. For computer users, it is a relatively simple task to switch to a Dvorak layout. All you really need is the keyboard driver, the desire to make the switch, and the perseverance to keep going when it seems like it would be easier to continue with your high speeds on Qwerty, rather than work to improve your at-first low speeds on Dvorak. If you wish, though, you can buy a keyboard that's already set up in Dvorak. Also, keep in mind that it is never too late to make the switch. Learning to touch-type Dvorak is no more difficult than learning to touch-type Qwerty, with the caveat that if you already know how to touch-type in Qwerty, you don't just have to program your fingers--you have to reprogram them. Although it is possible to switch to Dvorak and still retain your Qwerty skills, it is more difficult and takes more practice than making the switch cold-turkey. Learning curves when switching from Qwerty to Dvorak vary; when I switched, it took me about two days for my fingers to forget Qwerty, three days to learn the keyboard, and about three weeks to get up to 60wpm. My fastest speeds with Qwerty had been in the 90s, but for everyday purposes, 60wpm allowed me to get along just fine. Now, approximately two months after switching, my average typing speed has increased, my writing speed has more than doubled, and my maximum recorded speed is currently 110wpm.

If you'd like more information about Dvorak, or support in making the switch, feel free to stop by the Forward Motion Dvorak Typists' Support Group at http://www.hollylisle.com/community/dc/dcboard.php?az=show_topics&forum=66

Qwerty to Dvorak is not a well-known path, but it has been traveled before, and we're always happy to help you along the way.