Is Touch-Typing an Obsolete Skill?

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.

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

243 comments

  1. @Louise: As much as people argue that other methods work for them, I cannot imagine life wo touch-typing, just too painful, at least for me. So, like many things, it’s a learned behavior 🙂

    Love my ergonomic keyboard, when I travel and have to use my laptop keyboard, I suffer. So, I’m w you on both points.

  2. This topic came up at our Elementary school PTA meeting last week. the consensus was kids in 4th and 5th grade should be learning to touch type. We spend so long teaching them how to write neatly and in the workplace how likely are they to need that skill versus typing.

    One thing to watch though is the rise of voice, I see some people starting to dictate emails to their phones now. It has limited use for me, because I mumble or have a funny accent or something, but I keep trying because this is a huge time saver, especially for #walkingmeetings

  3. @David: I do like the Android voice services, usually saves time, but even so, I think good touch-typing is faster and more accurate.

  4. I don’t get this at all. The natural way I type is neither hunt and peck or touch typing — it’s called freestyle — and I type at 115 WPM without ever having to learn how to touch type. Touch typing is very irrelevant as a skill. Free typing uses every finger but your hands dynamically move about the keyboard as you type.

  5. @mmstick: That’s very good, but can you look away from the keyboard as you type to check what you’re typing, or to read what you have to type next?

  6. I type in a similar way to mmstick, I have been typing like this since I was very young, so I can achieve 110 WPM with 0 errors. I can look away and even carry on conversations when typing, this style of typing is very efficient and allows you to multitask very effectively.

  7. Tristan, if you can type without looking then I’d call you a touch typist, even if you don’t do it the conventional way.

    But I’m curious how you can hit the right keys consistently if you don’t use the home keys to “re home” your hands. Maybe you’ve just got unusually good muscle memory or something. Do you always use the same fingers for the same letters? If not, do you always use the same fingers for the same words?

    I used to type with my own “style”, with all my fingers. I was very quick with common combinations of letters like “er” and “ing”, etc, but was never able to type for more than a second or two without looking at the keyboard. I bit the bullet and learned the standard method.

  8. My occupation for 50 years was a typist. I am now typing this on a tablet and am looking for a laptop with a keyboard with raised keys like a typewriter. The keys that I have seen so far look flat and close together like piano keys. I know that I couldn’t get up any speed on those. Does anyone know of a laptop with raised keys that I can purchase. ? Thanks

  9. I don’t know of a laptop with better keys than you’ve seen, but do you know you can plug a normal keyboard into a laptop and use that instead?

    You can also use a Bluetooth external keyboard with a lot of tablets.

  10. I’ve got a scenario for some of these so-called fast HNPers. Try transcribing someone’s handwritten notes and lets see if you can achieve your super fast WPM speeds. Yeah! You miss the ability to look at the keyboard or the monitor as you type… you the actually see the value of the little nubs and home key position. I don’t care what you say about being able to type fast as a HNPer. You would be much more efficient if you would take the time to touch type properly.

  11. I agree Rob, but you seem to be defining “HNPers” as anyone who doesn’t touch type the standard way. There are people who have self taught themselves the keyboard layout and can type without looking at it. Some of them are blindingly fast.

    My own experience is that I had learned the layout to the point where my fingers headed for the approximate location, but I had to look to be sure. I wouldn’t call that hunt and peck because I didn’t have to hunt. But it certainly wasn’t touch typing, so I’m now learning the proper way.

    Even if you’re slow, being able to do it without looking is a much faster way when you’re transcribing.

  12. A couple of things I’ve tried recently that have helped me progress towards full touch typing without looking, while still remaining productive:
    – I printed out a picture of a keyboard with the same layout as mine, and taped it to the bottom of my monitor. Then when I’m tempted to look down to find a key I can’t remember the location of, I look at that instead of the keyboard, and find it by touch.
    – I put tiny pieces of Blu-tack on the 4, 7 and End keys. These extra “home” keys had me touch typing the number row and navigation keys quickly. Don’t know why these keys don’t come with bumps already.

  13. I’m a touch typist, and computers just made me a whole lot faster at it. The issue is that kids are on keyboards very young, so hey need to be taught keyboarding much younger than we took typing, but they don’t want to cooperate with all the rules. They want to hit the keys with whichever finger gets there. Typing is much like piano in that if you don’t learn simple finger placement early on and develop good habits, you’ll form your own bad habits that are hard to break. The computers allow them to cheat the rules with no consequences like greatly diminished time or accuracy.

  14. I can’t really say as far as the aspect of people who specialize in the field of computers, but I personally still think touch typing is a good skill to have. It doesn’t take that much time to learn, & even if a kid is exposed to a keyboard at a young age & can hunt & peck really fast, judging on the grammar & spelling I see on social media, I highly, highly doubt they could type as efficiently as me, or anyone else who can touch type. They may be able to get an idea or sentence out with some speed, but it’ll probably have a lot of mistakes. It’s rarely as efficient as someone who can actually look at the screen rather than their hands, & type without even thinking about where the letters are or what your hands are doing. The hunting and pecking, even if it’s a hard habit to break is one that can be broken if they’re taught.

  15. I’ve been able to touch type (approx 90wpm) since it was taught one semester when we were 13. I was probably only one of the two or three who really took it seriously and it has benefited me my entire life. Not just for school, but personal communication and work as well. I’m doing my second masters degree now and I really feel sorry for my peers who are clearly struggling along tap tap tapping so slowly. It probably helped that I play the piano so the two are definitely inter-twined when it comes to whatever section of your brain looks after that!

  16. Hello guys !

    i am going to University, and I will take the lessons on a computer. Do you think I have to learn how to touch-type ?
    I made some tests on Internet, and with my good ol’ hnp I am going at a speed of 56 wpm (with caps and all, so I go even faster if just typing without all this), while I can see on Wiki that the average when thouch-typing is 33 wpm…
    Do you guys think I could find any advantage of learning touch-typing ?

  17. Yes, Tinassiug, it’s worth learning. Even though you can type quickly now, can you still do that if you’re transcribing from hand written notes and can’t look at the keyboard?

    A compromise is to just learn to type with the right fingers. After a while you’ll be semi-touch typing anyway, and even hnp will be faster.

  18. My fingers are partially webbed and I can’t really move them independently of each other so I personally hated learning to touch type in school. However, years of Hunt and Peck typing has made me very fast and even though I only use two fingers to type, I don’t usually look at the keyboard anymore unless I’m really tired or something.

  19. Touch typing is a very important skill as it will help you greatly when you have to type extended periods of things later on in life.

  20. I have just read through your many comments here and found it very interesting. Yes, although I’ve been a touch typist since age 13 and have taught on typewriters then computers for over 40 years, recently to seniors, and seen some people type quite fast and accurate with varying hnp methods I still think touch typing is the best way. There are many who could end up with RSI from their hnp styles.

    Personally, I found that having to use a mouse was a real nuisance and touch pads a pain. I use keyboard shortcuts instead of all this moving of the hands off and on the keyboard. Being able to touch type means I can watch what I type and spot errors as I go or keep my eyes on a page I am typing from.

    I developed my own courses resulting in my http://www.learntying.org which is FREE for anyone to use on line. It is based on touch typing with correct key and finger charts for guidance. I do feel that young people should learn to touch type accurately because many classes require their assignments to be handed in as typed copies.

    Being able to concentrate on what you are typing and letting the fingers do their thing is the best way. But of course, not needed for those who only use the smaller hand held equipment

  21. I notice several of the remarks on your site mentioned that their speed dropped dramatically when they first changed from hnp to touch typing. That was a good point to make. Hopefully those who read that will not get discouraged or give up if that happens while they are aiming to change their habits. Patience is required.

  22. I found this a very interesting article being a touch typist myself. I learned how to touch type in 1st grade and I clock in at around 97 wpm, but I’ve always thought that everybody was a touch typist. All my friends would touch type and some of them could clock in at 120 words per minute.

  23. Why are there bumps only on the F and the J keys? I think it would be helpful if there were also bumps on, say, 4, 7, Z and /. Maybe also on the Delete key.

    I think these extra bumps would make learning to touch type faster, and would make people more productive while they’re learning.

  24. Yes, typing is still a.useful skill because voice recognition hasn’t been perfected yet. In another 30 years’ time, typing may become obsolete, but not right now. Typing courses used o be taught in highschool. It’s a shame the schools don’t teach it anymore. Taking that class saved my life. When I was 19 and my father shunned me, I had to find a job and quick! In those days( 1986) I only typed 50 wpm with 4 errors. But i.got my first typing job that lasted me 3 years. The fact that I had typing skills totally saved my ass! Today I type over 100 wpm. I really love ❤ to type. I don’t know if it’s because I love the feel of he keys or what. I just love doing it!

  25. Heh… hunt-and-peck? That is what my mother does, and she is a poultry farmer. How apt.

    In my case though… transferrable skill.
    I dare anyone to do piano for 10 years and not be able to touch-type by the end of it.

    In fact, why bother with typing classes? Just take piano lessons. You’ll get more out of it… and iron fingers that can break computer keyboards besides.

  26. You are so right about your point that if you played the piano then touch typing should be no problem. Why bother with typing lessons you ask?

    I say, it helps to quickly learn where the letter keys are located. A little different from piano, and in typing you keep the hands still. Thanks for your comments. D

  27. I ended up learning it without even knowing I did. XD Due to endless hours of typing. 😛

    But yes, it’s kind of horrid to see people search for keys. So I guess people don’t really know how to, these days.

  28. I touch type, though I need to learn 10 finger, ’cause I developed 8 finger touch typing without even knowing anything about typing techniques, right now I’m starting to search about and start practicing 10 finger slowly… to see if that improves my CPM…

  29. Touch typing actually uses 8 not 10 fingers to type the keys, letters, numbers, and characters and the thumb of either hand is used for the space bar. The little finger in each hand is used for the side keys: on the left, Ctrl, Shift, Caps lock, Tab and the right, Ctrl, Shift, Enter, Backspace. It depends on how many extra keys you have to the right on your keyboard and along the bottom as to how you type them.

    If you go to my learntyping.org website you will find all the exercises and helpful hints you need from Beginner to Advanced, Tests and Keyboard Shortcuts plus a link to my e-Book, Typing Success, to help you on your way to great touch typing.

  30. Hi! I just recently started learning touch-typing even thought I could type quite fast, but I was only using 4 fingers, so I thought that if I could use more fingers properly, it would turn out more efficiently.

    I don’t know, it was just a thought I had. Then I remembered having tried to learn touch typing in grade school but gave up soon after and always wanted to learn but didn’t know how so. So I thought about giving it a try again.

    It’s hard because all my life I’ve been typing in another way and it is difficult to change it now, but I made tons of mistakes and wanted to change that. I think it will be worth it…

    After a few weeks of training I am at barely 30-40wpm. I hope it gets better soon! now off to practice

  31. Well Fangni, it seems you really want to improve your typing by using the four fingers for each hand and I wish you well. Work at it and it will happen.

    Try my learntyping.org website where you will find helpful instructions and lessons from Beginner to Advanced and helpful Keyboard Shortcuts to keep your hands over the keys instead of moving your hand across to pick up the mouse to click on something then move it back and bring hand again to the keyboard. It saves heaps of energy, even saves time.

    There is a link to my eBook, Typing Success, where you will read good hints on how to bring your 30-40 wpm to higher speeds and keep good accuracy. Go for it.

  32. An answer to Jacob in his comments further up, March 2015, about typing with webbed fingers.

    Good for you for not giving up learning a skill some might say would be impossible for you. Yours is a situation where with a good effort you have mastered your own style of typing which probably by now is not actually still ‘hunting’ even if it looks like ‘pecking’. I admire you.

    I have seen people who have Parkinson’s or have had a stroke leaving them with limited use of their fingers who have adapted a style of typing possible for them and easier than writing with a pen.

  33. I did touch-typing classes in middle-school, but never really used them outside of games. It’s a skill I consistently grind and work with though. I’m working to become an MTE, I currently touch-type around 130~ wpm. (22) I just learned how to properly hit each key, then just did typing tests non-stop. Though, I do find it correct that it really doesn’t matter how fast you can type if you can’t use the skill correctly.

  34. Well, good on you James and you are right in a way that speed isn’t the most important. The way you type and mostly, how accurate you type, is the most important. Correct touch typing uses much less energy.

    Some talk about how fast they can type with hunt and peck but they will be using much more energy and probably can’t keep their eyes on the screen to see what they are typing and catch any mistakes.

    Or they probably can’t keep the place on the page they are copying from.

  35. Computer Scientists don’t need to type fast just efficiently and intelligently. I can touch-type in my sleep because I was trained that way. I see it as a beneficial class in upper elementry or junior high school for people who want to master typing on a regular keyboard, but it is not very necessary today even writers don’t need to write 80-120 wpm when writing same as computer scientists the work developed is always a much slower pace. Only people who need to copy verbatim or something more tedious needs to touch type which is why it is not used and still not limiting the majority of the population’s efficiency. I don’t even think hunt and peck is a distraction to most peoples thinking they probably do it subconsciously as well.

  36. Gradetsk, I have to differ. Computer scientists may work at a slow pace, but anyone who wants to take notes in a fast moving meeting and simultaneously keep their eye on the speaker or the projection would miss a lot if they’re constantly looking down at the keyboard. Same for college lectures. I was recently at the dentist and noticed how the assistant was standing at a keyboard at waist level, arms nearly straight down at his side, and closely examining a monitor at eye level. He did not drop his eyes once to look at the keyboard and would have had a lot of trouble if he had to. To me it’s a no brainer. This is a tool that becomes an encumbrance if it’s in the way.

  37. It is interesting Tradetsk and Naomi to read the thoughts you have put here. i agree with some but wonder why the dentist’s typist does the modern piano keyboard style of standing with straight arms stretched down. Seems to me that would be tiring on arms AND legs. As a pianist, I tried it once, but that’s not for me.

    The ‘touch typing in your sleep’ idea, I understand, You can visualise where the keys are with no trouble or distraction of looking up and down. I learned that many years ago when I found people memorising their piano music more easily and is fewer hours than I had been doing. We had developed different techniques.

    Also, it is right that people who need to copy verbatim find that easier if they have learned Touch Typing. They don’t have the same risk of losing the place by continually moving their eyes from the copy to the keyboard.

    I don’t think Touch Typing is going to die any time soon but accept that for some people their own style of hunt and peck may suffice. I think that phrase “just efficiently and intelligently” is a good one, it over-rides high speed with low accuracy.

  38. I also disagree with Gradetsk. I write code every day, and found that teaching myself to touch type made things much easier. I suspect if Gradetsk had ever tried it before learning to type, he might have found the same thing.

    It may be that Gradetsk has observed non touch typists who have learned non standard typing methods themselves, and while they can’t touch type, they almost can.

    I have found that merely being able to type a space, Backspace, Delete and the apostrophe without looking give me a big advantage over before, let alone the other keys.

    I agree though that speed isn’t the most important thing for people like me, it’s accuracy.

  39. Yes, I agree with you P, It’s not just the letter keys we need to touch type. It’s a great advantage to be able to type those other keys you mention without taking your eyes away from the screen or the copy your typing from. And the figures and characters.

    I have some exercises in my learntyping.org lessons to help with those.

  40. I must admit I’ve found it hard to be accurate on the number row. They’re too far from the home keys for me, unless I’m only typing numbers. I hate typing dates, and having to reach from the numbers to the / key.

    I ended up putting a tiny lump of Blu-tack on the 4 and the 7 so I can feel for them more quickly.

  41. Hmm, I heard about somebody else doing that, another asked why there wasn’t one on each of these. Good point.

    My newest laptop has an annoying front section. It is all black and there is no dip down where the actual touch pad is like there was on my last one. I kept hitting the touch pad and another key and this activating things I didn’t want, like causing the cursor to jump somewhere else on the screen, so put a strip of white sticky tape across where the touch pad ends at the font flat section, right and left. I actually eventually de-actified the touch pad to that I can use just the mouse.

  42. Interesting thread. After 40 years of two finger hunting and pecking, I decided to learn to touch type. I use a website called the typing club https://www.typingclub.com. I spend about 15 minutes a day practicing. I have been practicing TT for about 6 months. I currently have reached 35 words a minute ( not very fast) but I think it will accelerate from here…Learning to properly use the shift key slowed me down… Next I will learn the number keys and special characters on the top row..After that it will be practice a lot to build up my speed..

    What I have learned about TT:
    1) It is so much less stressful on your body!
    2) It is mentally less stressful as well!
    3) If you input data from a customer or written text, it makes the process much more seamless.
    4) I can type in the dark while watching TV
    5) I am just getting to the point where I don’t need to think about individual key location. Its like being in the “zone” and things go much easier and faster when I achieve this level..

    I owned and ran a business for 40 years which required employees to do a lot of data entry. If I had it to do over, I would only hire people who could TT.

    Just my two cents
    Ben

  43. This is a cool article – I learned how to type at home using a book, then in the 6th grade my school had a typing class. To be honest I haven’t had the time to teach my kid but on the advice of one of his teachers I went to the munchmath website and got him a typing tutor. Honestly I don’t think its a big deal WHO teaches him so long as he learns. My only job at this point is looking at him type out of the corner of my eyes to make sure that when he’s near a keyboard he doesn’t do that single finger crap. Of course with a phone or tablet you have to do the single finger thing.

  44. You don’t have to do “the single finger thing” on phones and tablets, James. Two thumbs seems to work best on a phone. I find I have to look at the keyboard on a touchscreen, although Apple claim you can trust the autocorrect to fix the mis-hits. On a physical keyboard, back when they had them, I didn’t have to look. In fact I first learned to touch type on a Blackberry.

    On a tablet, I tend to use all my fingers, although my little fingers tend to get in the way in portrait mode.

  45. Ben, that’s an interesting set of comments you have their. I like the ‘touch typing in the dark while watching TV. Only a TT can appreciate what that is like. I’ve seen very fast blind typists.

    And also, yes, a good Touch Typists hardly thinks about where any letter key is. The fingers just go there out of habit.

    You have good thoughts about employing only people who can TT. I get many responses from my website from people saying they have lost their job and can’t get another till they can TT and increase their typing speed.

  46. James, and P, I’ve seen people do that thumbs only typing on the small screens and guess if that’s the only way they’ve tried they can do well like the fast texters but it doesn’t appeal to me and moving my hands all over a normal keyboard doesn’t either. It’s so tiring. But yes, I’ve seen some do that quite fast and accurately.

    I admit that it would be quite difficult trying to do TT on very small screens. I have a small kindle on which I have to tap along or up or down to get to the letter I want then click on the button which activates that and I find that very frustrating.

    Also, trying to one hand type while holding a telephone in the other hand.

  47. WHAT I’D LIKE TO KNOW IS WHERE CAN I FIND A HARD TOUCH KEYBOARD THAT A TOUCH TYPIST LIKE ME WHO IS USED TO HITTING THE KEYS QUITE HARD CAN USE WITHOUT IT BEING SO TOUCHY AND WOBBLY THAT I CONSTANTLY SLIP OFF THE KEYS I WANT – SO FRUSTRATING. CAN’T SEEM TO FIND ANYBODY WHO SELLS THEM ALTHOUGH I KNOW THAT THEY USED TO BE AROUND

    ALSO WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHO THE IDIOT WAS THAT CHANGED THE WAY THE SHIFT KEY WORKS FOR CAPITALISATION. REALLY DREADFUL FOR SOMEBODY WHO WAS TAUGHT ON A TYPEWRITER.

  48. About the firmer keyboard you prefer, I think you may have two options if you can find them.

    1 Looking round all shops but it seems you have tried that.

    2 Advertise for a older keyboard or look in second hand shops. I still have a really good one but have seen others, plus my laptops with keyboards that are too flat and as you, too touchy.

    Your other point. The Caps Lock and Shift Keys are just as they have been for many, many years. If you want to type a heading or word in ALL CAPITALS just press the Caps Lock then when you want to change back to normal small letters, called lower case, press the Caps Lock again to release it. The Shift keys are used for when you want a single capital or upper character. I have not seen any keyboard different to that in all the years I have typed, starting in about 1931.

    I think on the earliest I typed on there was a Caps Lock where it now is and when you pressed it down it locked the Shift Key, then to release it you pressed it again . Really the same as now. I just found one on the internet where the Caps Lock was on the Right but I’ve always seen it on the Left.

  49. Well, I do a type of typing that isn’t touch typing but it isn’t hunt and peck. My fingers move around, but I know all the keys and look mostly at the screen when typing. My fingers scatter and rest wherever, mostly wasd and the mouse because I am a bit of a gamer. Whenever I touch type I always get confused and slowly come back to how I usually type, and plus touch typing requires a set position, while mine.. lets say that I am laying on a bed. So, what kind of typing do I do?

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