Is Touch-Typing an Obsolete Skill?

December 16th, 2010 179 Comments

I can touch type.

If you don’t know what I mean, you probably don’t touch type, and if you don’t touch type, you hunt-and-peck.

I didn’t make up the terms so don’t get mad at me if you don’t like them. I’ve seen impossibly fast hunt-and-peck typing on a keyboard, and perhaps the greatest hnp typists are texters, whose thumbs can fly across their keypads.

I would compare their words-per-minute output, but as we all know, texting involves “words” that would make my typing instructor lulz.

Photo by Lainey Powell from Flickr used under Creative Commons

Touch-typing is a lost skill, and I wonder why, given its utility to people like me who use a keyboard all the live-long day. I’ve met developers who pound out millions of characters each week without touch-typing. It seems horribly inefficient.

Didn’t they ever stop to wonder why the “F” and “J” keys have nubbies on them?

It would seem odd that touch-typing classes have not become a prerequisite of computer science courses, if only to help the students become more productive. I don’t know if they are, but somehow I doubt it.

Why?

Because through texting and computers at home, children are exposed to keyboards much earlier now, and it’s supremely tough to break ingrained habits like hnp typing. So what’s the point of a touch-typing class?

In addition, I doubt anyone finds real utility in a typing class now, since the touch-typing hallmark statistic of words-per-minute no longer seems valid or useful to getting a job.

The benefits of learning to touch-type vs. hnp typing are too hard to quantify, and thus, “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy yellow dog” is now just a sentence no one uses anymore.

So, am I right? Can anyone touch-type anymore?

Find the comments.


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179 Responses to “Is Touch-Typing an Obsolete Skill?”

  1. Doreen Says:

    Well Gummy, I’ve never tried typing lying on a bed. Doesn’t sound very comfortable but I have seen some people type in strange positions.

    It seems you are happy with your style of typing even though it doesn’t sound like touch typing as it is known and taught. Old habits are quite hard to change. But with determination they can be changed if the end result is seen to be a better one to aim for.

    I think your style of typing would be confusing to me. Over to you I think.

  2. Jahbari Says:

    I saw someone say something about freestyle typing. I’m 16, and I type like that too. I use almost all of my fingers, and never have to look at the keyboard. I literally NEVER have to look at the keyboard for typing. If I’m playing a game and have to press an odd button somewhere on a far end of the keyboard, I might have to look, however. My typing speed coasts at 67wpm, overclocking at around 75wpm and I never fully learned touch typing because it’s useless. I find that it slows me down trying to learn someone else’s system for something as simple as typing. If I can type around 3 to 4 times the speed with my own style, why would I want to waste my time learning somebody else’s?

  3. Jahbari Says:

    I saw someone say something about freestyle typing. I’m 16, and I type like that too. I use almost all of my fingers, and never have to look at the keyboard. I literally NEVER have to look at the keyboard for typing. If I’m playing a game and have to press an odd button somewhere on a far end of the keyboard, I might have to look, however. My typing speed coasts at 67wpm, overclocking at around 75wpm and I never fully learned touch typing because it’s useless. I find that it slows me down trying to learn someone else’s system for something as simple as typing. If I can type around 3 to 4 times the speed with my own style, why would I want to waste my time learning somebody else’s? It makes no sense. 😮

  4. Doreen Says:

    Jahbari, I’ve seen several people type really fast with a few or all fingers but not true Touch Typing. They have developed their own style and are happy with it which is better than not typing at all. I just wonder how long it will be before those using just one or two fingers with each hand, start getting RSI which is Repetitive Strain Injury, pain and stiffness in fingers or wrists.

    I’ve watched one person who types a lot every day, using just the long finger of each hand and few errors. I tried it and it feels so uncomfortable for me but I’ve been Touch Typing for over 70 years and am glad I was taught that way. enjoy your typing. I feel more comfortable and to me it is less tiring than having my hands and arms move round so much.

    You have many years left to type assignments and personal stuff. Over to you to use the style you feel comfortable with and with good accuracy.

  5. P Says:

    Jahbari, you must have very good muscle memory or something to develop your own style.

    I’m curious to know how you developed it. Did you have to practise it, or did it just develop? Do you use your thumbs for the spacebar? Little fingers for Shift and Enter? Which fingers don’t you use? Are you able to touchtype the number row? Navigation keys?

  6. Adele Says:

    I touch type, but I didn’t learn in a class, it was kind of a natural progression, from ‘hunt and peck’. I was a hunt and peck way back and then gradually it changed from two keys until I can now touch type relatively quickly. I can’t actually pin-point the actual changeover as it were, but I know that people who are my age and have been exposed to computers the same as me can’t touch type, so I it always makes me curious as to know why some can and some can’t!

  7. Doreen Says:

    It’s mainly because they have got into that habit of just using a few fingers and can’t be bothered, or won’t believe it’s worthwhile trying to use all fingers and actually touch type which in the end is so mu easier and uses less energy.

  8. John Says:

    I tried touch typing and it making me slower than I already am!I went from 34 WPM to 15!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s less than half my original!

  9. Doreen Says:

    John that’s a natural thing to happen when aiming to undo an old habit and replace it with a new one but I can assure you that many people have told me they have succeeded and wished they’d done it sooner.

    However, I agree that there are many people who have typed a lot, even typed a book or content for websites using only two fingers, either the two pointer fingers or some the longest finger.

    I watched a man do that yesterday and to me it looked so untidy and uncomfortable and I told him he was using far too much energy and may one day develop RSI – Repetitive Strain Injury.

    But, you can either persevere or keep to your own style.

  10. Brett Says:

    I have never been able to touch type using the “common” homerow method. However, I can get up to speeds of around 40 words per minute by using my own “word by word” method where I type each word as fluidly as possible and I almost never use the same finger twice in a row, which improves speed slightly.

  11. Doreen Says:

    Brett, you seem to have a good method of typing which seems to suit you well. I like your description – “word by word” method – and that you don’t stick to repeating the same finger over and over.

    There are so many great common letter groupings on the keyboard where next-door fingers can type so easily and quickly. eg. re we de gh lo and some close same-finger letter keys used frequently with just a vowel between,like fv in ‘five’ and ‘favour’ and mn in ‘men’ ‘man’ ‘many’.

  12. Keith Says:

    I’ve been a web designer/developer for about 14 years now and I still can’t touch type, but I don’t necessarily hunt and peck.
    I’ve tried a number of games and trainers to try to learn but it just won’t stick.

    I can type with all my fingers pretty well and quickly but I have to be looking at the keyboard to do it. I think I have moments of a couple of seconds where I am touch typing but as soon as I realise I have to look again.

  13. P Says:

    Keith, I had similar trouble (after about 30 years in IT) trying to change over. I ended up forcing myself to use the correct fingers, but still looking at the keyboard. I practised that for a few days over a Christmas break so I wouldn’t be too slow back at work. It was a bit slower for about a week, then ended up at about similar speed.

    After a year or so, I started trying to return to the home keys regularly, and found I was touch typing some keys without trying. Several years later, I’m almost fully touch typing. A bit faster than before, but much more accurate, and I spot errors before it’s too late to backspace to fix them.

    Recently I progressed to the number row, which is an enormous help in my work. I added “home key bumps” with Blu-tack on the 4 and 7 for a while.

    A very round about way of learning to touch type, but going cold turkey just isn’t practical for someone already working with computers and reliant on their typing.

  14. Doreen Says:

    Keith, you will be doing lots of typing in you web work and I encourage you to have another go at real Touch Typing. It saves energy and helps avoid losing your place and focus by keeping looking at the keyboard as you say you often have to do.

    Read through some of my answers above your message to know my thoughts about this.

    I encourage you to – with determination – try my http://www.learntyping.org which many have found useful to get them into a new habit of easy touch typing.

    It won’t be easy at first because old habits are hard to give up but it’s worth a try. You might like to try my ebook advertised on the learntyping site.

  15. Doreen Says:

    P, I like your answer and advice to Keith. Actually your answer came in to my mail JUST AFTER

  16. Doreen Says:

    Woops, that went by accident before I’d finished.

    P your answer actually came into my mail just after I’d submitted mine.

    It’s a great answer which should give encouragement to those who have been typing with bad habits, by showing them that with the determination you had, and persevering over a long time – you reached your goal.

    Good for you.

  17. P Says:

    Doreen, I think people seem to put way too much emphasis on typing without looking, and not enough on the benefits of just using the right fingers.

    To be able to do both is great, but one’s really hard to learn, and the other is fairly easy, but still has a lot of benefits. The other can come later.

  18. Doreen Says:

    P, what you say here does make sense because to make typing easy by using less energy and bringing better accuracy and speed, first we need to know the location of each key and which finger is nearest to it, which of course means we automatically use the best finger for each key.

    And I agree that many do this while still looking at the keyboard, but I’m sure you would agree that if you are looking at the keyboard while typing you can spot any error quickly, but over time an experienced typist can usually actually realise right away when they’ve made an error and stop to correct it.

    I think the advantage of being able to type without looking at the keyboard is most helpful when typing from a printed copy, because it helps you keep your eyes on that copy and not loose your place.

    But each must weigh up all these things and in the end type the way it suits them to get the work done in good time with a minimum on correcting needed.

    Good on you for mastering the number keys and marking the 4 and 7 as you have done will be a helpful hint for others.

  19. P Says:

    Yes, the benefits of being able to type without looking are enormous. But when people think of the task of learning to touch type, they see it as an near impossible do or die effort, so they don’t try.

    What I meant was that just changing to using the right fingers is something anyone can try with not too much effort.

  20. Doreen Says:

    P, you have put it in straight words, the important facts. Good to dialogue with you.

  21. Vishal Says:

    i learned to to touch type at the age of eight, it makes school work a lot easier. i have practiced my skill for five years so am thirteen now and i believe it to be one of best decisions i have ever made in my life, i haven’t and will not regret it.i seriously recommend it; try bbc dancemat online!

  22. Doreen Says:

    Good for you Vistal. This is what I love to hear. I’m sure you will find your touch typing skills very useful in your senior school years for taking notes and typing assignments and on to a career.

  23. Doreen Says:

    Well Vistal, I had a look at bbc dancemat on line and, well, it’s different, cute, uses good drills before it introduces new keys and words after. Moves bit slowly and often stalls but some will like it.

  24. Naomi Says:

    I’ve been reading these responses for over a year now and it occurs to me that the title of the post is off-base. Of course touch typing is not an obsolete skill. Skills don’t become obsolete; the devices to which they apply may, however. Some devices can’t make use of it (think thumbs on PDAs), but it will never be obsolete when it comes to a full qwerty keyboard.

  25. Doreen Says:

    Naomi, how right you are. I’ve often wondered how this site started but I guess there are many people these days who have perhaps started their technical skills using the smaller hand held equipment and never learned to type so wondered why so many started talking about keeping touch typing alive.

    I’m sure it will be many years before they stop making and using the standard type of keyboard that can be typed on in the normal way. Hopefully not for many years.

  26. Hayes Says:

    Similar to Jahbari, I never have to look at my keyboard but my fingers instantly know where everything that i need to type is, even though my brain doesn’t. If i think about it long enough, I can think about where the letters are. I use computers every day and play a lot of games with friends. I type so much that my hands just know where to go. I took a wpm test just now and got 68 on my first try. I had to take a class in elementary school on touch typing, but I didn’t learn much from it.

  27. Doreen Says:

    Hayes, it seems you’ve got it right whichever way you worked to get there – yes, if the fingers automatically seem to know where the keys are then your brain has stored that away for you to just ‘type without having to think too much about it’. You are doing well.

  28. Kreog Pastapog Says:

    About touch typing in computer science, the thing is coding is not a matter of typing speed.

    I watched the best ranked coder of Topcoders competitions a while earlier, and his writing speed was around 30-50 wpm. But he was constantly writing at that speed, never pausing to think. He was just doing both at the same time.

    And most coders will tell you that their most productive days are rarely the days where they coded the most lines. Hard problems are more about design and conception than long lines of code.

    Anyway, just started learning touch typing for fun, i’m at 90-110 wpm with two fingers, i really hope i’ll get a boost from this. I can’t find any data on the gain i should expect though.

  29. Doreen Says:

    Kreog, that seems quite fast for somebody who has just started Touch Typing, especially with just two fingers, because with that method it is necessary to keep moving the hands around the keyboard.

    But true Touch Typing is typing without looking at all at the keyboard but keeping your eyes on the screen and keeping your hands still over the Home Keys, asdf with the left hand and jkl; with the right hand, and just stretching the nearest finger from its Home Key position to the upper or lower or center keys then back to its place on the Home Key row.

    Does your typing at 90-110 minutes give you absolute accuracy or are there errors to be corrected. When counting wpm you take off one word for every error typed over that minute, so 90 wpm with 8 errors is really 82 wpm.

    About data about expected gain on speed, it depends a lot on your experience, age, and flexibility of your fingers, and eye/hand co-ordination.

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