Then I discovered that there was an alternative to the standard keyboard layout. It was free and it was faster and, best of all, it could eliminate my pain. I started using it about two months ago and now I type more than I ever did before—and I type every word pain-free.
Type Faster With The Dvorak Layout
The alternative layout I mentioned is called the Dvorak layout. It’s named after the scientist who designed it, Dr. August Dvorak.
I should note that most people, myself included, don’t use the exact layout Dvorak created. We use the “Dvorak Simplified” layout. The reason we use the simplified layout is that you can use it more easily on a standard keyboard. Whenever I mention the Dvorak layout in the rest of this article, I mean the Dvorak simplified layout.
Look at the Dvorak layout and notice how Dr. Dvorak laid out the keys logically. Compared to it, the traditional qwerty layout looks like someone threw a bag of Scrabble tiles on a keyboard.
All of the vowels except Y are under the fingers of your left hand on the home row. The most frequently used consonants are under your right hand on the keyboard. And the letters you hardly ever use stay out of the way on the bottom row.
Learning To Type Faster
Learning to touch-type on the Dvorak keyboard is both easier and more difficult than when you first learned to touch type on qwerty.
It’s easier because your hands already know where all the keys are. You don’t need to relearn the key arrangement. But it’s more difficult because you need to relearn what keys are where. You’ve probably pressed the E key 10,000 times—but now you need to press a different key to make an E.
It took me about two weeks of learning to get up to even 20 words per a minute on the Dvorak keyboard. Coming from 60 words per minute on qwerty, that felt painfully slow, but it also gave my hands time to recover from the abuse I had heaped upon them.
How To Use The Dvorak Layout
Changing to the Dvorak layout in Windows is simple: from the Start menu, open the Control Panel. Launch the Region and Language Options wizard, click the Languages tab and then the Details button, and add “English (United States) Dvorak”. Close all of the dialogs by clicking each dialog’s Ok button. Now you’re using Dvorak. You can change back to the regular Qwerty keyword by choosing the default English keyboard.
Print out a chart like the one shown in this article (which is from Wikipedia) to help you find the right key.
How To Study Dvorak
This is the easiest way I know to learn Dvorak: start slow. Learn where all of the keys are before you try to actually use the Dvorak layout for real. Here’s how:
- Change your password. Start by changing your login password to the Dvorak version of your password. For example, if you currently use the password plutarch, change it to rpfkaoij. That way you type a little Dvorak every time you login.To increase the frequency of your practice, set your screensaver to activate and lock your computer whenever you’re idle for more than 10 minutes. That way you’ll type your Dvorak password more often.After you master the Dvorak version of your password, learn the rest of the characters. The following phrase contains every English letter character: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.Every few days, add another word from this phrase to your password. For example, add the Dvorak version of the word “The” to your previous password: rpfkaoij Kjd. A few days later, add Dvorak “quick”: rpfkaoij Kjd xfgiv. Eventually you’ll know where to find every letter on the Dvorak keyboard layout.
- Now learn to type your most common words.I wrote a quick computer program to analyze the last 100,000 words I’ve written and I discovered that about 50% of the words I wrote were the same top 100 words over and over.If you learn to type just the top 100 words quickly, it’ll be a lot easier to use Dvorak for real.
- Go Dvorak full time. Now it’s time to make the switch. Watch out—your typing speed will go way down for the first week or two after you switch, so make sure you don’t have any urgent projects due. Try to switch while on vacation or summer break.
It’s best to avoid typing qwerty during the learning phase. After you learn Dvorak, you can switch between the two layouts whenever you want.
In addition to your regular typing, you may want to increase your Dvorak speed faster by using a typing program like Mavis Beacon. You don’t need any special settings for Dvorak—just skip to the full typing speed tests. (I like the games.)
After Learning To Type Faster
On typing speed programs, my speed is now about the same as it was when I changed to Dvorak—but my error rate is lower, so my total speed is a bit higher.
More importantly, I can type for hours without any pain, so I type much more in a typical day.
I also expect my speed to continue to increase—it’s still going up by about 5 words per minute a week. I don’t know where it will stop, but every extra improvement will make me more effective. Plus it’s nice to know that I can type faster than most other people.