🌳 QWERTY is fine actually

or why Dvorak is not the solution to anything. Dvorak is not particularly faster, and typing speed is not that important.

The case for Dvorak

QWERTY is designed to avoid typewriters jamming by placing keys that are frequently pressed after each other far away from each other thus slowing you down - although the evidence for this is not as strong as you might like. Dvorak is designed to improve on the shortcomings of QWERTY to increase typing speed and comfortability.

Typing speed

Looking at the record holders for speed typing on QWERTY and Dvorak, it's not clear that Dvorak is faster

  • Peak speeds
  • Average speeds:

So QWERTY might actually be faster than Dvorak. What a plot twist!

But you might say that those are the extreme. "Normal people will generally type faster on Dvorak than QWERTY" to which I would like to remind you that almost everyone is writing on QWERTY keyboards, and have never even heard of Dvorak, so will undoubtedly be faster on a QWERTY keyboard. I'm sure Dvorak users are especially gifted Dvorak typists, but I hope you can grant me that the speed improvements are incremental at best.

Repetitive stress injury

Another commonly touted benefit of the dvorak layout is that it reduces finger movements, and thereby decreasing the risk of developing and alleviating the symptoms of RSI.

Dvorak is unfortunately not widespread enough to have been studied for the risk of RSI, but a 2008 review looking at the evidence for the risk of developing RSI with the QWERTY layout concludes that the evidence is insufficient to establish a link, so it appears that it shouldn't be that much of a concern.

That is not to say that if you have developed an RSI, and you feel and an improvement from using Dvorak, like these people, that your experience isn't valid, and that you should switch back to QWERTY. Continue to do you!

If you care about speed, designing a better layout is not the right direction

China has been laughing at anglo-centric language typing speeds for decades. For those uninitiated, after a brief stunt with keyboards with thousands of keys, China settled on the ISO QWERTY layout, and use pinyin which is a standard mapping between the Latin script and Chinese characters; like a phonetic alphabet. So far so good, but they take it much further.

Pinyin computer input methods have something similar to coding autocomplete, but for everything! They've had it since the mid 70'ies and early 80'ies while English and anglo-centric languages are just beginning to get autocomplete on computers with transformer models, but it's still nowhere near as advanced as what China has had for decades.

And this translates into typing speed! The fastest pinyin typists are significantly faster than Dvorak typists. While it's difficult to find English language sources for Chinese speed typing, some person was able to achieve 242 WPM which is significantly faster than the fastest QWERTY and Dvorak typists.

In the special case that you care specifically about audio-transcription, the stenotype reign supreme where the world record is 360 WPM which is why it's used to transcribe among other things court cases.

Typing speed is the wrong metric

But does typing speed actually matter?

When writing, if you type at any reasonably fast speed, you're nearly always limited by the speed of thought, not the typing speed. And if you are interested in speed typing, you are probably typing at a reasonably fast speed.

For most writing tasks: coding, creative writing, even writing a social media post, or any writing where you have to come up with the words to use, coming up with the words, is going to be the bottleneck, not typing out the words.

There are exceptions where typing speed can be the limiting factor. For example, if you're transcribing something, but the days of humans transcription of sound or documents are limited. If you're transcribing documents, OCR is increasingly becoming more accurate and is faster than any human could ever hope to be, and we already have pretty accurate realtime captions, and while stenographs can also do realtime audio transcription, and might have an accuracy advantage for now, computer audio transcription is becoming ever more accurate, and does not require a human to do work.

In general, if you have a writing task where typing speed matters, manual typing is the wrong tool for that task.

Conclusion

In summary:

  • QWERTY is not as bad as Dvorak advocates tend to claim.
  • If you care about typing speed, you should sooner look towards fuzzy autocomplete techniques as what they have had in China since the 80ies, than optimize the keyboard layout.
  • It seems typing speed is not the bottleneck in most tasks, and the tasks where typing speed could conceivably be a bottleneck, there are better tools, and they're becoming better by the day.

To be clear, I'm not saying that you shouldn't learn or use Dvorak if you think that is fun and interesting. I'm not much better myself using a keyboard layout differing from the common one in my area leading me having to switch the layout whenever someone wants to type on my computer, and making it difficult for me to type on other people's computer. But I am saying that if you're learning Dvorak because you want to type faster, I encourage you to consider if it's the right solution, or even the right problem.

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