Is Touch-Typing an Obsolete Skill?

December 16th, 2010 200 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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200 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.

  30. David Says:

    I am a freestyle typer, who started out as a hunt and peck typer, I use mostly only my 2 index fingers, q-t, a-g, and z-v are 99% of the time with my left index, and y-p h-;, b-. are with my right index, I use either thumb equally for the space, and my pinky or ring on either side for shift and enter, and other ancillary tasks. Through sheer memorization of the keyboard I touch type hundreds of papers, and those notches in the f and j are often my friends, when I habitually rub the pad of my search finger whenever I need to reorient my hands to their native position.

  31. David Says:

    I am a freestyle typer, who started out as a hunt and peck typer, I use mostly only my 2 index fingers, q-t, a-g, and z-v are 99% of the time with my left index, and y-p h-;, b-. are with my right index, I use either thumb equally for the space, and my pinky or ring on either side for shift and enter, and other ancillary tasks. Through sheer memorization of the keyboard I touch type hundreds of papers, and those notches in the f and j are often my friends, when I habitually rub the pad of my search finger whenever I need to reorient my hands to their native position. I type almost 100 words per minute if I needed to prove a point, but easily get around 75 in a mostly error free, and stress free manner.

  32. Bradley Says:

    I never learnt how to touch properly however I kinda have my own style to it. I used to be really bad, my WPM very low and I had to look at the keyboard, I still mostly used the correct fingers for the right keys (I do use all 10 fingers for typing) However in the past 3-4 years of working in IT and using computers and typing all day for those 4 years I have developed the skill to type without looking at the keyboard and type much faster. I also use a mechanical keyboard, and I swear that has helped my a lot (cherry MX blue switches).

  33. J Says:

    Firstly, a warning for a possibly really big wall of text.

    You’ve been warned.

    I was sent to a touch typing class for about a week when I was 8.
    Don’t remember how I did at that time.
    But I didn’t really take it seriously.

    Fast forward 4 years later, on some long-dead local-to-my-location gaming message board (that would be sometime ), we had someone who could type at 90WPM, so me and one of my long lost friend started competing against each other to break this person’s record.
    We compared our typing speed every night.
    We used this one particular website, which is still alive today called TyperA (current link is http://typera.net/ , at that time it was typera.tk) to gauge our speeds and compared with each other.
    I remembered doing this for a few weeks and was able to hit 102 WPM, as did my friend, when we stopped comparing.

    Right now, I still touch type daily, and last I checked, I managed to score around 60 WPM just casually typing lazily.

    But I agree, touchtyping seems to be losing it’s place nowadays. Not many people I know can touchtype, and many feel it’s too much of a hassle to try.

    And also, touchtyping I believe is more important for things like Customer Service, Public Relations or Technical Support through Live Chat, when compared to writing codes as a Software Developer, though as someone who writes code myself, I would say being able to touchtype helps a lot.

    Heck, I actually can’t imagine how people can handle hnp typing so slow on their daily computer tasks.

  34. Doreen Says:

    J, there are lots of good comments in your paragraphs. Lots of ideas for others to encourage them to make more of their typing skills and make the effort to change them to something better. Good for you. I like the idea of how you and your friend challenged each other as you pushed yourselves to improve.

    I don’t think touch typing will go completely out of date for a long time yet.

  35. Dave Says:

    I am currently learning to touch type. I think it’s a lost skill and should be taught to everyone at a very early age. Especially these days, where keyboards are as commonplace as pen and ink, if not more so.

    I hunted and pecked for many years and could average about 20 wpm which isn’t bad for that method of typing. When I began learning, my speed went right down to around 10-15 wpm. This is to be expected as your brain is trying to learn a whole new way of navigating the keyboard.

    After around 20 hours of practice using an online learning tool I was up to about 30wpm. Now I type at around 55wpm after around 50 hours of practice.

    Looking at how much more productive I am now during times when I am typing (which is a lot), I think it’s an invaluable skill. I have over doubled my productivity for time spent completing typing tasks. Over a working lifetime and all the hours spend on other applications using a keyboard, the amount of time I will save far outweighs the amount of time it has taken me to learn the skill.

  36. Doreen Says:

    That’s all positive Dave and more people should follow it. Yes, people don’t realise that removing and old style and working to replace it can at first reduce their production speed, but that all gets caught up in the end. We need patience.

    And yes, I reckon keyboards will be around for many years yet, but so many of a young age are just pecking at it any way when they should be getting some real instruction.

  37. Alexa Says:

    I have been in typing classes throughout school and it’s really hard to learn for me. I currently type with three or four fingers on each hand and I can type without looking at the keyboard. I wouldn’t call it hunt and peck but more of a freestyle typing method.

  38. Lee Says:

    I recently started with a new accountant. When he started hnp typing I had a pang of panic shoot through my chest. Does this guy know what he’s doing? And then today I was at the optometrist and the Tech putting my info into the system was hnp typing. At first I thought she might be a doctor, but the hunt-and-pecking told me otherwise. My point is that it’s hard to look like a competent professional if you’re typing with just your index finger. To Alexa, you’ve got to train yourself not to look at the keys, not to search. Take it slow. It’s like playing an instrument. It’s all about muscle memory.

  39. Doreen Says:

    Good advise there in your reply Lee. There are so many professional places where we see this untidy style of pecking at the keys,

    And Alexa, at least you are not just pecking with one finger each hand. You are making a better effort than that.

    How about checking out my http://www.learntyping.org FREE course which many people have found very helpful not just as beginners, but long term typists (!) who have used it to tidy up their typing technique, style-accuracy-speed.

  40. P Says:

    Don’t forget that it’s not so long ago that professionals didn’t do their own typing. They dictated it, and a typist typed it up. I assume most of those people have started doing their own typing now, but they had to learn it on the job, and some learned it better than others.

  41. Doreen Says:

    That’s a good point P. I’ve had some respond after using my learntyping.org that they were embarrassed to let anybody see them typing in their hnp style as more and more professional people are as you say, doing their own typing.

    that’s really what Lee is pointing out in his comments above.

  42. kalpesh Says:

    Thank you J,P and Doreen; I was actually looking for inspiration if anyone ever succeeded touch typing when their fingers have already developed (bad)muscle memory. I have been using computers from 17 years(when I was 12, i am 29 now.) but never learned to touch type. I started to learn and practiced on software but I find it very challenging to change my muscle memory, actually my right index finger hurts now. I just wanted ‘hope’ that someone else had done it and I too can reprogram my brain and fingers. I found this post and I am rewarded! Thank you so much P for sharing your experience and thank you J keeping comments open even after 5 yrs.

  43. Doreen Says:

    Good to read your response Kalpesh, and yes, this is a good site with a great variety of ideas presented. I find it a very interesting site.

    The fact that your right index finger hurts may mean that you could be ‘hitting’ the key with it when with today’s keyboards only a light tap.

    Or maybe you are not sitting straight at your keyboard, your hand may be a bit twisted as you type. Or maybe it’s some arthritis coming in. that can start at any age.

    Maybe it would help if you start each typing session with a little ‘finger warm up’. Some light tapping on the front of the desk or on your knee or some stretching then clenching of your fingers now and then.

    You could have a try with the Beginner Typing Lessons on my learntyping.org to see if they help.

  44. P Says:

    I agree with checking how you’re sitting. When I first tried using the correct fingering, some fingers just couldn’t reach the keys properly, so they ached. I eventually realised I had my elbows out, so my hands were angled in.

  45. James Jordan Says:

    Am I on crazy pills right now? Everybody I know can “touch type” on a keyboard. If anything, this blog should say, “Hunt-and-pecking is an obsolete habit”.

    Either you are all still in Middle School or very uneducated.

  46. Doreen Says:

    Interesting comment James Jordan. Oh that everyone would think the same way.

    Touch typing is so tidy and uses so much less energy and once you really know how to do it you never forget and your fingers can type each letter key as you read it or think it out and can expect your tying to be accurate.

  47. Naomi Says:

    “Touch type” was most likely the original nomenclature that defined proper finger placement on a keyboard without looking at it. The whole point of this thread is that “hunt and peck” is unfortunately far from obsolete, and was once much rarer. Before the advent of computers, the only people who needed to type were secretaries, and they were properly trained in what they called touch typing. Now everyone on earth needs to learn and there simply isn’t enough training to go around. My daughter got it in school, but when she comes home at night she’s so engrossed in sending out messages on games as quickly as possible that her training all goes out the window. She has an odd crippled looking technique. She even holds down a finger on her right hand so her index finger is left to punch out the characters more efficiently.

  48. Doreen Says:

    Naomi, that just about paints the picture of typing styles. I used to teach touch typing in secondary schools and polytechs and most students did well in their typing exams. Recently I rang round some of the secondary schools in the city where I live and only one was offering typing classes BUT they expect all assignments, English or whatever, to be handed in typed with good accuracy and display.

    These days, as you are really saying, the young ones get into their texting and FaceBook type messaging and do it any way they choose, various versions of hunt and peck methods. They would all do so much better if they were taught to touch type. The same happens of course when seniors start using computers.

  49. Typenonymous Says:

    I learned touch typing starting in Middle school in the ’90s, and continued learning that skill with a “Business Keyboarding” class in high school. Both skills I’m glad I picked up, but probably by far the most common use of my typing is communicating via chat in online games. Don’t get me wrong, I work in IT, so I use touch typing constantly at work. I also recently bought a nice cherry MX brown keyboard(DasKeyboard brand), and I’m glad I did.

  50. Aqua Says:

    I’ve been typing since I was young (Perhaps eight-ish) and I never got into touch typing. I found it slow and clunky. I used to just peck but I’ve developed my own style (Mainly use the index and middle finger) and I find I can reach much faster speeds than my classmates (Averaged around 400 CPM)

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