What Makes A Fast Typist
Written by Janet Swift   
Wednesday, 11 April 2018

When you think about how important a keyboard still is in these days of voice and touch, it makes you wonder why keyboard skills aren't part of a modern education. But what makes a good, fast typist? An analysis of 136 million keystrokes provides some answers.

Researchers from Aalto University in Finland and University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have collected data about the typing behavior of 168,000 volunteers using an online typing test, which you can still take. The occupation of the subjects wasn't determined, but as it is an online test they would all be computer users at some level.

As reported in a paper presented at the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, the first result is that the average speed was 52 words per minute which is suprisingly high given only 70% admitted to ever having taken a typing class. Of course compared to professional trained typists working at 60-90 words per minute it isn't so fast but some users did manage 120 words per minute which is amazing.


The data revealed that faster typists make fewer mistakes and that the fastest typists made use of "rollover" which is where the next key is pressed before the previous one is released. A big surprise is that there was no difference between those who had taken a typing course and those who hadn't in terms of speed and errors - they simply used more or fewer fingers. It seems that the modern keyboard makes it easier to type using fewer than ten fingers and speed and accuracy don't suffer - this wasn't the case in the mechanical typewriter era. The ad-hoc techniques invented by users as they acquire keyboard skills aren't inferior to the discipline of touch typing.



Typing as taught in 1950's Britain


Data analysis revealed that there were eight types of typing style:

The largest and slowest group of
typists  (∼46 WPM). The hands are equally slow, and hand
alternation is leveraged less than by others.
Less than half the size of the previous group, composed of slow typists (∼48 WPM) with similar characteristics. The main difference from
group 1 is that they make and correct more errors and have the
highest uncorrected- and substitution-error rates.
Average typists (∼52 WPM) who, similarly to cluster 2, make and correct many errors.
A group of average typists
(∼53 WPM). The main difference from the above groups is
that their right hand is much faster.
The smallest group of typists, with average performance  (∼53 WPM). They leverage hand alternation better than even the fastest typists.
Average typists with slightly higher performance (∼56 WPM), achieved through higher rollover ratio.
Faster-than-average typists (∼65 WPM) with a high rollover ratio
The second-largest group, with the fastest typists (∼68 WPM). They
show high rollover behaviour (38%) and the lowest error rates


So what are we to do if we want to type better?

One of the researchers, Anna Feit, has some suggestions: 

  • Pay attention to errors, as errors are costly to correct. Slow down to avoid them and you will be faster in the long run.

  • Learn to type without looking at fingers; your motor system will automatically pick up very fast ‘’trills’’ for frequently occurring letter combinations (“the”), which will speed up your typing tremendously. Being able to look at the screen while typing also allows you to quickly detect mistakes.

  • Practice rollover: use different fingers for successive letter keys instead of moving a single finger from one key to another. Then, when typing a letter with one finger, press already the next one with the other finger.

  • Take an online typing test occasionally to track performance and to identify weaknesses such as high error rates. Make sure that the test requires you to type new sentences so you do not overpractice the same text. Our scientific typing test gives you a reliable estimate of your typing performance.

  • Dedicate time to practice deliberately. People may forget the good habits and relapse to detrimental ways of typing.

If you want to make a start, take the typing test at the heart of this research: http://typingmaster.research.netlab.hut.fi/


More Information

Observations on Typing from 136 Million Keystrokes

Related Articles

Weak typing - the lost art of the keyboard

You Don't Need To Touch Type To Go Fast 

Finland Dumps Handwriting In Favor Of Typing

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 April 2018 )