Is Touch-Typing an Obsolete Skill?

December 16th, 2010 204 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, sinceΒ 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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204 Responses to “Is Touch-Typing an Obsolete Skill?”

  1. Jake Says:

    Another point rolled in there, keyboard shortcuts are specifically designed for touch-typists, which makes you even more efficient. I always try to learn the shortcuts in applications where I do a lot of composition.

    I suspect keyboard shortcuts will soon be a thing of the past though, given the rise of the touch interface.

  2. Jake Says:

    Agreed, it’s a key skill that’s been pushed aside for computer skills classes, ironically. People don’t generally do a good job factoring efficiency into their investments. Can you get by hunt/pecking, sure. Is it more efficient, no way.

  3. Paul Salerno Says:

    my ten year old son can touch type 79wpm 100 accuracy

  4. Jake Says:

    Excellent. Good investment.

  5. Billy Says:

    Haha i don’t know what hunt and peck is, But I can type perfectly well without ever looking down ( Other than once in a while to “Get my bearings”) But other than that, I just learnt from using a keyboard for a very long time. And my hands certainly do not rest on any specific “Home keys”.

  6. Jake Says:

    Nice, sounds like you have your own system, good on ya.

  7. joel garry Says:

    I am a parent and my kids are both top of their class. Conscientious does not mean helicopter and does not mean doing their work for them (in fact, the latter is quite counter-productive).

    I do admit, had to go to Barnes & Noble in two different cities to get a forgot-I-needed-it-by-Monday The Great Gatsby last night. But that is an exception with a great amount of appreciation given as a result. The kid’s taking four AP/IB classes, keeping up a ridiculous GPA, I’ll do what I can to help, including not doing as much as possible. That is where self-reliance and the ability to fulfill potential comes from.

    Though I admit, I wish I could convey to them the usefulness of touch typing. Maybe it won’t matter by the time they are employed.

  8. Jake Says:

    We’ll all be using our minds as I/O bridges then πŸ™‚

  9. Odie Raqvak Says:

    You could argue that touch typing is bad for your health, because looking at the keyboard hurts your eyes less than looking at the screen for 3 hours.

  10. Jake Says:

    I like your style πŸ™‚ Pretty sure the difference would be minimal for most people though, and if you compose that much, you’d probably rather be more productive.

  11. Underboss Says:

    And I can break 100 with a touch-typing/hunt-and-peck hybrid. Your point? I am a software engineer. I have been doing this method of typing for over 12 years.

  12. Cloop Says:

    In elementary school they tried to teach me to touch type. It was absolutely worthless and a waste of time. I really don’t see how touch typing classes are worth anything. Either way elementary school is WAY too young to try to teach kids to touch type. I was an hnp typist until sometime in high school when it became necessary that I type a lot. At that time I taught myself. I don’t think I’m special, I think anybody who put their mind to it could. It is simply of putting your hands on the little “nubbies”, as the article puts it, and trying to type a word you know while looking only at the screen. When you get it wrong you try again. I didn’t even realize that it was something specially. For a long while I did a combination of hnp and touch typing while I was learning. I just kept at it, which I had to because I had classes that required typing, and eventually I got it. I think that knowing how to touch type is very important to me, and for anybody who needs to type anything more than a few sentences.

  13. Jake Says:

    @Cloop: Elementary school is way too young, agreed.

  14. Denise Says:

    nubs on f and j and #5 on keypad

    HOME KEYS!!!

    I took 3 years typing in highschool as prerequisite to accounting major.

    Yes, I’m very glad I did. I laugh at hnp who take forever to type an email, and send it with errors.

  15. Jake Says:

    @Denise: Wow, three years must make you a smoking fast typist, kudos. Nubs is more fun than home keys πŸ™‚

  16. BOTR Says:

    I don’t touch type but I don’t hunt and peck either (hnp is something my mother would do since she hasn’t done any typing since high school). I know where the keys are on the keyboard and I use more than two fingers to type; I just find having your fingers on the home keys in order to type to be something that’s not for me.

  17. Jake Says:

    @BOTR: Interesting method, like a hybrid of hnp and touch-typing. Would be interesting to study all the non-touch-typing methods to design a new keyboard. Although, I wonder how well it would work, since everyone has developed those methods around a QWERTY keyboard.

  18. CL Tran Says:

    When I read the word touch typing and that people don’t know how to do it, I thought it was some kind of special skill and I automatically wanted to learn it.
    Then I googled it and saw that it’s typing without looking…..
    Isn’t that just typing?!
    that’s not a special skill
    It should not require classes.
    Tell someone to get an instant messaging service and have conversations with someone for like a week. Then bam! you can “touch type”.
    I can understand hunt and peck is common for those who use smart phones without a physical qwerty keyboard, which is why people need to start making phones with them again, but what kind of person wouldn’t look at the screen while they type to make sure that they haven’t typed anything wrong or that they didn’t click out of the text box and are actually typing.
    I understand that there are a lot of people who didn’t grow up with a computer and learning a new skill is difficult, but if a person has to use a computer frequently, everyone should be able to pick it up easily.

  19. Emily Says:

    My daughter, who is now 16, took a touch typing class in middle school. Acccording to her, she is very glad she took it because it is a lot faster touch typing an essay than otherwise, she also said most of her classmates touch type although it may vary between school districts, based on what they think is important.

  20. Jake Says:

    @ CL Tran: Touch-typing is a specific system for typing; it’s not just typing wo looking at the keys. It originates from the days before computers were common when people typed w type-writers, transcribing hand-written notes.

    Classically, touch-typing refers to the ability to type without looking at the keys or the screen or paper in a typewriter. The best touch-typists can look at writing and type it accurately and quickly just by muscle memory.

    It’s a skill you learn, maybe not a difficult one, but a skill nonetheless.

    @Emily: I’m surprised it’s still taught in schools, but glad to hear it.

  21. J. Rodriguez Says:

    Once upon a time typing WAS an absolute necessity for a college degree.
    As a useful skill, given the present trends, how can it NOT help out?
    I’ve three youngsters, each will learn typing skills, college or not. Typing engages the mind with levels of print and understanding that texting could never do. Yet, its obsolescence is merely a matter of time. A definite bummer, but not for my kids. It IS a worthwhile pursuit.

  22. Jake Says:

    @J. Rodriguez: Good point. I’m w you on the value, but I don’t know that primary education curriculum includes touch-typing anymore, although it does include computer skills of all kinds.

    FWIW I think it’s odd to teach computer skills wo teaching a fast input mechanism.

    One new barrier is texting, i.e. many kids come to the keyboard w a predisposition to type in a specific way, which is bound to make learning touch-typing even more difficult, mentally and physically.

    Touch interfaces also throw a wrench into learning the old school method.

  23. Brad the touch typer Says:

    Please do not hesitate to ridicule anyone hunting and pecking or worse, only using one hand (provide they have two). Please suggest to them to learn at all costs or suffer a life of concealed laughter and pity by people like me who have MORE than half a brain. Typing should be taught or attempted at the earliest age possible before bad habits take hold. Maybe there should be (is there?) a child sized usb keyboard for little fingers. I made some mistakes writing this, but I also know where the backspace key is.

  24. Jake Says:

    @Brad the touch typer: Funny, a bit harsh, but I’m with you on the overall point πŸ™‚

  25. P Says:

    The quick brown fox jumps, not jumped.

    I’ve recently taught myself to touch type, after 25 years as an IT professional. It’s harder when you have to type every day because you can’t afford the initial slowdown. I started by just using the right fingers and that alone, still looking at the keys, quickly made me a faster typist. Still not quite there, but mostly not looking now.

  26. Jake Says:

    @P: Wow, that’s true dedication. I can’t imagine learning now and how painful it would be to erase decades of muscle memory. Good for you.

  27. P Says:

    It was only slow for the first few days. After that, it was pain to keep it up, but at least my speed was similar to before. The trick was to spend a couple of days of my holidays practising, especially the words I typed the most, like my username and password, and the editing keys – delete, backspace, cursor keys.

    I was at least already in the habit of using my thumbs for the spacebar, the only remnant of a 5 minute typing lesson from mum.

    The inspiration to try it came from the sudden realisation that I had almost learned without trying to touchtype with my thumbs on my Blackberry.

    The temptation to relapse soon passed because I never really had a system for which fingers to use for which keys. I used about 6 fingers and my thumbs, but just used whichever happened to be closest at the time.

  28. P Says:

    Question: why are there no bumps on the 4 and the 7 keys? Two rows up from the home row, I find it difficult to home my fingers there without sliding them across the qwerty row to make sure I’m not misaligned.

  29. Jake Says:

    @P: I’ve never typed numbers without looking πŸ™‚ I guess the answer is get an external keyboard w a number pad. I can use that one wo looking.

  30. P Says:

    @Jake: I can use the number pad without looking, it’s the shifted punctuation in the top row that I really need to learn. I do a lot of programming, so I use them a lot.

  31. Jake Says:

    @P: Ah, yeah, I usually have to look for those characters πŸ™‚

  32. Marco Says:

    I might not be objective, since I run a touch typing website, but I don’t think that still today, after 3 years from this article, touch-typing skills are obsolete.
    There are plenty of websites out there that are still being used to learn and master touch typing: see http://www.typingarena.com, http://www.typingweb.com, or http://www.10fastfingers.com
    And what I have found, in my experience, is that people like touch-typing because it’s funny and is a sort of game.

  33. Jake Says:

    @Marco: The skill seems to have faded into niches, i.e. it’s no longer a common part of school curriculum of any sort, whereas in the past at least vocational schools and summer programs offered it.

    Bit ironic really. I think it should make a comeback, and I plan to teach my daughter.

  34. J. Rodriguez Says:

    Marco, excellent for and your daughter! I’ve three youngsters, none of them being exposed to keyboard skills despite a ridiculous emphasis on technology. My son, rather reluctantly, has progressed in his typing though none of his classmates have clue. His reading and CONCENTRATION skills are demonstrably improved….Now if we can just get his math skills up to par…

    Typing Instructor has worked well for us. Having been a public schools teacher, eliminating this skill is simply another oversight that robs our kids. Somewhere down the road the birdbrains MAY realize the value of typing should be returned to the classroom….

  35. Jake Says:

    @J. Rodriguez: I wonder if the touchscreen will force a hybrid method, e.g. something like Swype, the stock Android OS version or another finger-dragging convention based on the QWERTY keyboard.

    The irony of touch-typing is that it doesn’t translate very well to a touch-only keyboard bc you lose the tactile nature of the keys.

    Thumbs have become much more used thanks to texting and smaller devices and keyboards.

    Interface changes and adaptations may evolve into a new method for input. The problem remains though, i.e. there has to be a faster input mechanism than HNP.

  36. Ryan Says:

    I learned to touch type when I was 9 years old, I think it’s because I started gaming since 6 years old (Tomb Raider, Return to Castle Wolfenstein anyone?).

    Anyways… this skill has been invaluable to me in secondary school doing coursework especially if I was behind. 84wpm I think my speeds about…. Doesn’t transfer well with these new touchscreen tablets though.

  37. Jake Says:

    @Ryan: Seems like gamers are more likely to explore touch typing if only to find the fastest way to interact w a computer. Everything is a game, right πŸ™‚

  38. Austin Says:

    Jake,

    I learned to type through playing computer games.

    I had an issue with this statement:
    “It’s funny bc even the best of hnp typists can’t compete with even a below average touch-typist. Weird.”

    Like I said I learned through immersion, no classes and I would venture to say I can hunt and peck faster than almost anyone you know can touch type.

    I use my index fingers for all the letters, my right pinkey for shift, and thumb for space and I can sustain 90 wpm over a long period of time and peak around 120wpm for a shorter period of time.

    I know a few other people who can hunt and peck above 60 wpm and I think as long as you can get around 40-50+ wpm it shouldn’t matter how you do it.

  39. Jake Says:

    @Austin: You’re probably right that speeds above 50 wpm are pretty much moot. That’s a very productive speed.

    I guess the different styles are more differentiated at the slow end, i.e. the slow hnp typists vs. the slow touch-typists.

    Anyway, you showed me πŸ™‚ Good on ya.

  40. P Says:

    @Austin: Although you can type very quickly, much quicker than most touch typists, are you accurate? If you can look at the screen while you type then you probably are. If not, how much time do you lose fixing the occasional mistake? Do you ever find you hit capslock by mistake, and the last three lines are the opposite case they’re supposed to be?

    If that doesn’t happen then you’re an exception, and that’s good, but maybe you’d be even faster if you touch typed.

  41. Mikel Says:

    I’m a sort of hnp typer, mostly using my index fingers unless one of my other fingers are closer to the key. I hit 70 wpm using this so no, the best of hnp typists are not as fast as below-average touch-typists. My dad, whos a programmer uses hnp and he hits 90 wpm.

  42. Jake Says:

    @P: Accuracy is always the killer for any really fast typist.

    @Mikel: Sure. Practice has made you and your dad very fast, and probably accurate.

  43. Laura Says:

    I learned to touch type in school, probably unsurprisingly. We started learning it from around 11, but I used to cheat and slack off until I was 14. One day in class I just decided I wanted to learn how to touch type properly (not really too sure why to be completely honest!) and from there on in I challenged myself during those classes.

    12 years later and it’s seriously helped me immensely. I noticed one commenter said something along the lines of touch typing being irrelevant unless you’re transcribing from a dicta phone etc. I disagree! I’m a writer and the fact that I don’t have to think about where I’m putting my fingers on the keyboard while I’m creating something, or writing an article, is fucking fabulous. I can type faster than I can write normally, and almost faster than I can speak.

    And this skill translate to my iphone keyboard as well. Although accuracy in that is obvs a lot lower…

    And for anyone wondering, I had to take a test recently for a recruitment agency and I tested 86WPM with 99% accuracy.

  44. Jake Says:

    @Laura: Good story, thanks for contributing it. The productivity gained from not thinking about typing is enormous.

  45. Brigham Says:

    Touch typing is very useful but strenuous on the left hand, due to it not fitting the way the left hand is directed. I’ve been HNP (approximately 63 WPM) typing for years now and only recently switching to touch-typing. I find this to be a much more comfortable way of typing.
    http://www.onehandkeyboard.org/standard-qwerty-finger-placement/

  46. Jake Says:

    @Brigham: I notice that on standard keyboards, e.g. my laptop’s, which is why I’ve used an ergonomic one for years when it’s docked.

  47. Dean Says:

    The phrase is:

    The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

    Not jumped (as that would not require an ‘s’ to be pressed).
    No yellow (as all the letters in the word yellow are already encompassed in the phrase).

    Thus, it’s not just a sentence that no-one uses any more; it’s a sentence no-one used in the first place.

    πŸ™‚

  48. Jake Says:

    @Dean: Thanks for correcting me.

  49. Louise Says:

    Can you touch type? I was taught how to touch type at Secretarial College 13 years ago & it has been invaluable to me in my career. In fact only the other day my colleagues and I carried out an experiment to see how many wpm we could type using our own individual techniques. I was the only touch typist in the ‘experiment’ & could type a lot more wpm (89) than the hnp’s of the team. Maybe it’s different now in colleges but I would certainly encourage it to be taught.

  50. Louise Says:

    Sorry Jake – can see that you do touch type! Ergonomic keyboards are a god send btw, I find it quite difficult to adapt to your typical standard keyboard now.

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