The Dvorak Keyboard is a major improvement over the QWERTY layout, which was designed to slow people's typing speed! Learning it may increase your typing speed, and even reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries.
Back in the early 1990s, with the aid of some interesting parsing techniques, I devised a typing course which, much like the tutors of the QWERTY keyboard, starts you out on the home rows and gradually has you learning the entire keyboard. With a Dvorak keyboard, you can type fairly interesting words fairly quickly. (Anybody remember lessons like "a sad lass; a dad falls"?)
I have been interested in the Dvorak keyboard layout for some time, but never was able to find a typing tutorial that properly taught this layout. I even bought a piece of commercial software that claimed to teach the Dvorak layout. But all they did was remap the keys and teach the same old QWERTY lessons. Yuck.
For the curious, or for reference, here is a picture of the keyboard layout. Notice how the commonly used keys are in the "home" rows and the more obscure letters are harder to reach.
The Dvorak keyboard, named for its inventor, Dr. August Dvorak, was designed with the goal of maximizing typing efficiency. For over a century, typists have been using the qwerty keyboard arrangement, a hack that was implemented to work around the mechanical limitations of early typewriters.
Contrary to popular opinion, the qwerty design was not actually invented to slow typists down. Rather, the layout was intended to place common two-letter combinations on opposite sides of the keyboard. On manual typewriters, each key is mechanically connected to a lever that has the reversed image of a letter on it. If a typist were to hit two keys on the same side of the keyboard in rapid succession, the second lever on its way up would hit the first on its way down, the keys would become stuck together, and the typist would have to stop typing and unstick the keys. The qwerty layout was a clever design that minimized this problem. However, now that most of us use computers (or electric typewriters that don't use levers), the problem of keys jamming is no longer a consideration. Also, computers now enable us to switch layouts while continuing to use the same equipment.
Most people learn to type on a qwerty keyboard. New typists learn the qwerty arrangement because that's most likely what they'll encounter on the existing equipment they'll be using; new equipment is standardized to the qwerty arrangement because that's what the vast majority of us know. Most people are reluctant to switch because they're afraid of how long it will take them to learn the new arrangement, and of the additional effort of having to switch layouts on all of the equipment they might encounter.
According to Dvorak, prior to World War II, researchers had found that after three years of typing instruction, the average typing student's speed was 47 net words per minute (NWPM). Since typists were scarce during the war, the U.S. Navy selected fourteen typists for a 1944 study to assess whether Dvorak retraining would be feasible. Dvorak found that it took an average of only 52 hours of training for those typists' speeds on the Dvorak keyboard to reach their average speeds on the qwerty keyboard. By the end of the study their Dvorak speeds were 74 percent faster than their qwerty speeds, and their accuracies had increased by 68 percent.
Dvorak attributed the increase in accuracy to the fact that on keyboard, that the most common digraphs (two-letter combinations, such as "ed") in English would occur with a minimum of "hurdling" (having to jump over a key as if it were a hurdle), and would use stronger fingers rather than weaker ones. Dvorak estimated that the fingers of an average typist in his day travelled between 12 and 20 miles on a qwerty keyboard; the same text on a Dvorak keyboard would require only about one mile of travel. Dvorak believed that hurdling and awkward keystroke combinations were responsible for most of the common errors typists make. His list of the most common typing errors on the Dvorak and qwerty keyboards is interesting.
Unfortunately, subsequent investigation has shown that at best, the experiments in the Navy study were biased, and at worst, fabricated. See Typing Errors, from the June 1996 issue of Reason Magazine for a thorough discussion of this topic, as well as more information about the early history of the typewriter and the qwerty keyboard. In the mid 1950s, U.S. Government's General Services Administration commissioned a study by Earle Strong to confirm Dvorak's results. Strong's study, which included proper controls and which was set up to allow direct comparison of qwerty and Dvorak data, found that after sufficient training, Dvorak typists were able to match their previous qwerty speeds, but not surpass them. Furthermore, additional qwerty training for qwerty typists resulted in a greater increase in speed than additional Dvorak training for Dvorak typists who typed at a similar rate. These results would suggest that Dvorak's claims of faster and more efficient typing are bogus, and switching layouts on the basis of speed and efficiency would not make sense.
My Own Experience
Having heard Dvorak's claims, but not the modern-day scientific analysis of his experiments, I decided to switch to the Dvorak layout in the late 1980s, when computer software (specifically version 10 of the X Window System) made it fairly simple to remap the keyboard layout without making any hardware changes. It took a few months for my Dvorak speed to catch up to my qwerty speed. I found the Dvorak layout to be more comfortable and less effort.
For a period of four or five years, I used the qwerty layout at work (on a shared DOS computer), and the Dvorak layout at home, spending about half of my typing time on each. During that time, my Dvorak speed increased to 90 wpm, and my qwerty speed reached 80 wpm. My accuracy improved slightly on both layouts. On the Dvorak layout, my most common typos are reversing two letters, whereas on the qwerty layout, it's more common for me to hit the wrong key altogether. (Note also that several people have made the claim that it's impossible to be able to switch back and forth between different keyboard layouts. That certainly hasn't been my experience, and I'm always happy to demonstrate for non-believers.)
The greatest benefit I've found from the Dvorak layout is that, in addition to feeling more comfortable, the typing-related discomfort I was beginning to experience in my wrists and forearms diminished, even though the amount of typing I was doing remained constant. Once my workplace switched from DOS to Windows and I was able to use the Dvorak layout everwhere, those problems vanished and have not returned. I believe that Dvorak's claims that his layout requires less "hurdling" over keys and less total finger travel are true, and that this is more or less directly responsible for the reduction in RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) symptoms that I have experienced.
Was making the switch worth it? Yes, because of the ergonomic benefits.
Would I recommend it to other people? Yes, particularly if you have RSI problems from typing. When you first make the switch, the unfamiliar layout will slow you down, helping your injured arms and wrists heal. Once your Dvorak speed catches up with your qwerty speed (which it eventually will), you will likely find typing more comfortable (or at least less uncomfortable), and it may be less likely that your RSI will recur.
The Dvorak Keyboard is not a separate keyboard. (Well, not with computers, anyway.) It's a logical layout, in which you tell your operating system what physical keypresses correspond to what characters appear on your screen.
The Mac comes with the Dvorak layout. From System Preferences, chose "International," and from the "Input Menu" tab, check "Dvorak" (or "Dvorak - Qwerty ⌘)
If you are a Wintel user, it can be set as well.
If you're searching for other Dvorak layouts to install, try looking at www.download.com.
This course is not a tutor for left-handed or right-handed Dvorak layouts. Some information about them can be found on Dvorak's Wikipedia entry.
The name "Dvorak" as a typing layout has nothing to do with John Dvorak or Antonín Dvořák (classical music composer).
I know now that one commercial software package, Mavis Bacon Teaches Typing, does have Dvorak lessons. I don't know how good they are, though.
If you want to try these lessons off-line, try saving each lesson page, either as source (to include the entry fields) or as text-only.
To find out more about Dvorak, check out Dvorak International. or other sites from our list of Dvorak links.
Yes, I Know that the picture above (by Jeff Bettens) is of a regular keyboard, or at least not a Dvorak one. But remember, you don't have to move your keys around to use the Dvorak layout!
The Dvorak keyboard layout is a free control panel option on every modern computer. Dvorak is a vastly more comfortable and efficient alternative to the old-standard "QWERTY" pattern, which was designed in the 1800s with no effective attempt at typing comfort.
Most accomplished QWERTY typists don't want to retrain on a new keyboard layout. That's OK! But some typists don't do so well with QWERTY, and there are always kids and new typists who could learn to type more easily in Dvorak. In spite of this, many still struggle to learn QWERTY instead.
Most new typists start with QWERTY because they don't know that the Dvorak layout exists, or because they have been misled into thinking it's useless. Some are afraid they'll encounter a school or workplace where using Dvorak is not allowed. A few seem to be afraid of leaving the herd, of not conforming to the behavior that's expected of them.
But many people have learned the Dvorak layout and enjoy using it without trouble. If you don't like QWERTY and want to try Dvorak, consider the question logically: does it make sense to avoid Dvorak because, in some uncertain future, you might have to give it up? If that prospect is so awful, isn't the status quo just as bad?
The Dvorak layout does have its pros, cons, and historical controversy, and there are steps to switching your computer and retraining. For more information refer to the following pages. (I apologize that some of them are rather old.)