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Learning Dvorak

Two-handed Dvorak keyboard layout

I have devoted all of my time learning the two handed Dvorak keyboard layout. Why? Definitely after my post just a couple of days ago about the convenience of the QWERTY layout with respect to PHP and navigating a non-Windows machine?!? Because I sit at a keyboard all day long (as most of us programmers do), and I have been suffering from RSI (repetitive stress injury). Being a piano player, I know all about carpal tunnel and proper technique when sitting at the keyboard, and typing is no different.

The benefits of Dvorak are amazing. Speed can be increased to over 75% faster versus QWERTY, RSI is significantly reduced (although it isn't a cure-all), accuracy can been increased ten-fold and it is much more comfortable to type with as it has been adapted to the English language better than QWERTY.

The layout is very different. In fact, there are 3 main layouts of Dvorak: two-handed, right handed and left handed. Of course, there are minor variations in each of the 3 layouts as with QWERTY, but they are only with punctuation as numbers and letters are the same. The idea behind the Dvorak layout is ths:

  • Each hand alternates when typing. This was a common idea behind QWERTY, but with QWERTY the idea was to keep the keys that were adjacent to another on a typewriter from getting stuck. The idea behind Dvorak is increase the comfort level of the typist.
  • All the vowels are placed on the home row under the left hand, the the most commonly used consonants on the home row under the right hand. With this home row combination, thousands upon thousands of English words can be typed just on the home row. I have a list of over 5,000 words that can be typed on the home row alone, if you're interested. This means in typing class you could've easily been typing real English words on the home row rather than the "jjj kkk fff ddd" nonsense.
  • Your fingers move up a row more easily then down a row, so the next most common used letters and punctuation are found on the row above home with the highest frequency of letters hit with the index and middle fingers.
  • Finally, the least used letters and punctuation found in the English language are sitting on the bottom row out of the way. Less than 5% of your typing will require you to type keys below the home row. Dvorak really had comfort in mind when he disigned this layout.

If you are interested in the history behind Dvorak or further details, including great tutorials and typing software, there are a number of good sites if you just Google it.

Unfortuantely, because of the lack of popularity, Dvorak keyboards just are not manufactured on a large scale. This provides no hiccup however, as there are a number of different options availalble. First, your operating system. Linux, Mac and Windows all support typing with the Dvorak layout. Check your OS for instructions on how you would do this. Next, you can move the keys around or purchase overlays for looking at what you are typing. I just printed off a layout, and taped it to my monitor to help me.
I have been typing Dvorak now for a couple of days, and already I have seen the improvements. Give me another week or two, and I should be up to par with my typical QWERTY speed. Hopefully, in a month or so, I will have surpassed my QWERTY skills.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Joey Day | January 16, 2006 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Aaron, I don't know if you know this or not, but I'm a Dvorak typist myself. In fact, I did a study on Dvorak and wrote a research paper about it for a college writing class back in 2002. Unfortunately, my research concluded that many of the claims made by Dvorak proponents are exaggerated. I actually checked out a copy of Dvorak's book, and it reads like an infomercial! The studies that went into the design of his keyboard were certainly scientific and I believe it's a superior design, but many of the case studies Dvorak did to assess the benefits of his keyboard weren't very scientific at all, but were designed to make his keyboard come out ahead.

    In fact, my own typing speed increased by only about 5 WPM after the switch. It's a fun conversation piece, and I certainly don't want to discourage you from making the switch, but I would caution you against expecting a substantial speed increase. When it comes to typing, I believe the real speed happens between your brain and your fingers, not between your fingers and the keyboard. Thus, even the most superiorly designed keyboard doesn't do much to increase typing speed.

  2. Aaron | January 16, 2006 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Ahh. Good call. I figured that a great majority of the stats were skewed, but I reported them nonetheless. Making the conversion has been quite painful actually as my typing in Dvorak only sits around 10-15 words per minute thus far, and I have a massive headache. Normally on QWERTY, I can type around 70-75 wpm, so we will have to see. Maybe I should report my progress on the blog.

    I don't necessarily think that Dvorak was just trying to promote his keyboard to come out ahead. The layout of the keyboard can have a profound effect on your speed. By placing the letters in the positions that they are on the Dvorak keyboard, you naturally provide a number of benifits such as finger rolls, alternations, reduced trasversing across rows and high frequency impact. Thus, a great deal of your speed does infact happen between your fingers and the keyboard. But ultimately, as with anything, the speed will depend on your willingness and determination.

  3. Darin | February 17, 2006 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    You stated: "I have a list of over 5,000 words that can be typed on the home row alone, if you’re interested. "
    I would like a copy of that list, please.

  4. ron velzeboer | September 12, 2007 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    This is one of my first texts writen in dvorak on my TypeMatrix keyboard. You should check this one out!

  5. ben kruger | December 4, 2009 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    QWERTY: You have a finger resting on a semi-colon, but you have to reach for the "E" (the most commonly used letter in the English language.

    'Nuff said.

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  1. [...] It’s been almost a year since I decided to begin learning the Dvorak layout, and just over six months since switching entirely. I thought I would post one last update about my progress and observations on typing with the Dvorak layout. [...]

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