Good news for folks who never bothered to learn touch-typing. A new study shows that you may be just as fast as those show-off keyboard-rattlers whose fingers always find their way back to the home row.
Self-taught typists who don’t use all 10 of their fingers to type are not necessarily any slower than trained touch typists. The study, from Aalto University in Finland, used high-speed cameras to track dots on the typists fingers, similar to the motion-capture techniques used to digitized actors’ movements in Hollywood movies.
"We were surprised to observe that people who took a typing course performed at similar average speed and accuracy as those that taught typing to themselves and only used 6 fingers on average," said doctoral student Anna Feit.
This is the first study which looks at people who never learned to type in a standard way, say the authors, and using movie-style motion-capture let them make a much more accurate assessment of the typists’ skills. "When you ask a person which fingers they use for typing, they cannot tell much. The motion tracking data exposes it, and for the first time we can exactly say which finger presses which key," says Aalto University’s Daryl Weir.
The results showed that even people who peck with one or two fingers per hand can type fast. The data also showed up several trends among successful self-taught typists. For instance, we’re more likely to keep our hands in the same place as we type, instead of waving them all over the keyboard. Others used a self-taught approximation of the touch-typing methodology, or had developed curious habits. For instance, some typists used both thumbs to hit the space bar, while others used the caps lock key instead of the shift key.
Feit points out that touch-typing was designed as a method for people to type out text, which seems obvious, but today we use keyboards for a whole lot more than that. Watch a seasoned Photoshop user and you’ll see them playing their QWERTY keyboard like a piano, with complex "chord" shapes, all without looking away from the screen. It could even be argued that touch typing isn’t relevant to many computer users today, a trend which might continue as we move to touch screens instead of keyboards.
Not that touch-typing is completely pointless. Feit says that non-touch typists still spend a lot more time looking at the keyboard. Ironically, that’s not really a problem when you’re writing long-form text, because you don’t need to look at the screen at all. But if you’re copy-typing, or doing some other secretarial-style work, you probably still want to learn to touch type.
Think you're good—with whatever method you use? Test your words per minute here.