Learning to Type

By Shlomo Perets, MicroType

If you regard touch-typing as a secretarial skill, and not an essential writing skill, consider the following:

  • How much time do you waste looking backwards and forwards from the screen to your paper, and locating your place on both screen and paper each time? Even if it is only a few seconds, it can add up.

  • How does this split concentration affect your work? Glancing at the keyboard disrupts your flow of thoughts and ideas -- affecting your writing and efficiency.

  • How many typing errors do you make? How much energy goes into finding and correcting them (not to mention those that slip through unnoticed and end up in print!). Some typos are unique to two-finger typing.

Touch-typing eliminates most typing errors. Touch-typing should not be confused with typing fast. Even if you do the two-finger jig fairly well, the above points remain relevant.

Keyboarding should be as "transparent" as walking. Most walk without regarding it as an activity, doing other activities simultaneously. I personally think that typing should be taught as a basic skill at all elementary/high schools (as is already done in several countries). More and more professionals in all fields use computers and E-mail as part of their everyday activities, so why not do it efficiently?

How many of you who started off with a different profession and worked your way into technical writing know how to touch type? And, if you don't, how do you go about learning this skill?

On the average, it takes 10-14 hours (in 3-15 consecutive days) to learn how to touch-type at a rate of about 15 words per minute. Success and improvement depend on your determination to stick with ten fingers after you have finished learning. For those who might hesitate, consider that you will more than recover the learning time in a few weeks.

Even if you have been two-finger typing for years, you can make the shift to touch-typing! You can learn to touch-type using a computer program or an old fashioned book. Both have lessons providing concentrated practice on a few keys. New keys are added after mastering previous keys (i.e. typing them without having to think about where they are located on the keyboard).

Most touch-typing books are very similar, and you don't have to find one written specifically for computer people. Books which teach how to touch-type on a typewriter are equally suitable, as you mainly need to concentrate on the 40 main keys (together with shift key) that are used most frequently, and these are common to typewriters and keyboards.

Note that when using a computer, you should also learn to use the main keys together with the Ctrl and Alt keys -- this is very useful for keyboard shortcuts. Some special keys (like the backslash) are placed differently in various keyboard, and can be chosen by sight. You may want to learn to touch-type a few of the special keys if you use them frequently.

Touch-typing programs can be more efficient than learning from typing books. There are a number of simple programs which provide the same type of training as a book does, with the advantage of being available on your computer. There are also number first-class (and more expensive) programs which gather information to create a learner profile and modify themselves in real time according to actual performance. Lessons and drills are automatically adjusted so that no time is wasted on keys already mastered while the program makes you concentrate on weak keys.

Tip: learning touch-typing can be boring. It is argued that some people are more receptive to learning touch-typing when they are listening to classical music.

Originally published in i-Contact, publication of the Society for Technical Communication, Israel Chapter, 1998

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