Why I use Dvorak

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Last year I switched from QWERTY to Dvorak. At the time I typed about 55-70 wpm, with 99-100% accuracy. Testing just now, I got 55 wpm, with 100% accuracy (but I did a lot of correcting) on Dvorak.

So, why Dvorak? Did I give into the hype that I would type faster, I wouldn’t get carpal tunnel, that I would suddenly be really really cool? (… I don’t think I’ve ever heard the last one.)

A little.

In high school, I was typing a lot, between school and my own writing. Enough, that my wrists hurt and I bought an ergonomic keyboard, a speech-to-text program (that sucked), and other things to fight repetitive stress injuries. I’ve never been as bad since, but I used that same keyboard until I got my laptop. I think most of my pain now comes from the mouse, and I’ve taught myself to use the mouse or trackball with either hand (and even the stylus of a graphics tablet, but I can’t draw with my left). (For clarity: I don’t have carpal tunnel. My hands hurt if I use the computer for too long, which is only logical).

I don’t remember where I heard about Dvorak. It was September or October of 2011. Aside from hype like:

Most typists who switch from QWERTY to Dvorak easily match their old speed, and usually surpass it. Some have seen a 200-300% increase in their speed. Your speed may not increase that much, but you will notice a striking difference in accuracy and comfort.

[…]

The logical arrangement of the letters makes Dvorak easy to learn. It has been proven that the Dvorak keyboard is easier to learn than QWERTY, and so speed can be accumulated more easily. In one study, only 52 hours of Dvorak practice had brought a group of typists up to the speed to the speed it took them 3 years to accumulate on QWERTY! ( TheWorldofStuff.com )

and

An hour and a half, to six hours or so to learn the keyboard, then maybe 20 hours or so of slower typing. until your speed increases to what you have now, increasing more from there. Time forgettable a month from now. (Dvorak is much faster than Qwerty for beginners to learn). ( DvorakTyping.com )

and

QWERTY’s many words and letter strings for the left hand are especially unfortunate when you consider that most people are right-handed. Yet QWERTY allocates to the weaker left hand the most common English letter (E), the second most common (T), and the fourth most common (A), thus making the left hand perform more than half of all typing strokes (56 percent). We are condemned to struggle with a left-handed typewriter in a right-handed world. The Dvorak keyboard instead gives 56 percent of all strokes to the right hand. (Discover Magazine – The Curse of QWERTY )

it appealed to my geekishness and that was the tipping point (… I’m shallow, I admit.) So I changed my keyboard layout, I ordered stickers for the keys, I set the keyboard layout as my wallpaper. (1) And I trained. It didn’t take 26 hours to learn. It didn’t take 52 hours. It took months (I took a break in the middle to do NaNoWriMo. I couldn’t type fast enough in Dvorak. It was killing me). I think I was finally up to a speed where it wasn’t painful in February, and I know that I wasn’t up to my old speed. I’m still not. There are keys I still have trouble with (pretty much the bottom letters for the left hand – Q J K and X).

BUT…

Some of the hype is true. It is more comfortable. My fingers travel less and there’s less strain on one hand. I enjoy it.

I can touch type on Dvorak now, even if the keys aren’t labelled. It takes me a moment to switch to QWERTY but I don’t think I’ve lost much speed on it (I don’t use it a lot anymore). And there’s one added bonus: No one can use my computer. If they aren’t touch typists they’re confused because each key is labelled twice (white for QWERTY and blue for Dvorak). If they are touch typists nothing they type turns out right (I have a guest account with if I need someone to use it, but even it has Dvorak as default).

Do I think everyone should switch? Well, if you ask me my opinion, I’ll say what I said above – it’s more comfortable and it’s not as much work (2). But I’ll also say, it takes a significant amount of time to learn and if you’re spending all day on the computer the keyboard layout probably won’t make difference. I wish Dvorak keyboards were cheaper (there’s one I’m drooling over that has the layout hard-coded in – so you move the switch and it’s instantly Dvorak or QWERTY – which means at work I wouldn’t have to login using QWERTY and get confused half the time. But it’s $95). I wish I could have a physical Dvorak keyboard for my phone; it’s about the only place I routinely use QWERTY any more. If I ever found a Dvorak typewriter I would buy it even though I don’t have the room (they made very very very few).

So in summary, why do I use Dvorak?

Because I am a GIANT geek.

(1) I have three. They’re nothing special and if anybody wants them, you can have them.

(2) I have cites for that. Your fingers travel less and it’s more balanced between the two. See here for visual proof and here to try it out yourself with an online analyzer. Here are the results for this post:

Dvorak
QWERTY
Number Row Usage
96(2%)
110(3%)
Top Row Usage
966(24%)
2034(50%)
Home Row Usage
2594(64%)
1250(31%)
Bottom Row Usage
398(10%)
660(16%)
Number of hand alternations
8721
6996
Number of same-finger reaches
203
310

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