Learning to type using the Dvorak layout when you’ve spent a lifetime tapping on a QWERTY keyboard is universally acknowledged as both a time consuming and challenging task.
So why bother going to the effort?
Is learning Dvorak typing really worth the time investment that it takes to master?
The benefits of the Dvorak layout (vs QWERTY) are that it reduces awkward wrist movements so often attributed as causing RSI and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, as well as minimizes the frequency of typing errors.
There is an argument that together these two factors also make Dvorak a faster method of typing, but this is a difficult statement to fully prove or disprove.
Weighing the positives against drawbacks such as traditional shortcut keys being displaced, and incompatibility with programmes + games means that committing to learning Dvorak isn’t a straightforward decision.
Those who have fully mastered Dvorak often express a shared opinion in that it’s only really worthwhile adopting if your profession involves a heavy typing workload.
What are the benefits of learning Dvorak?
The benefits of learning Dvorak are chiefly linked to how keys are laid out on the board.
Unlike QWERTY, where commonly paired letters in the English language are designed to be apart from one another (originally to prevent typewriter keys from jamming), the Dvorak layout places the most commonly used letters along the home bar.
With a default starting point that minimizes movement of fingers and wrists it’s easy to understand why efficiency is improved when typing with a Dvorak keyboard. August Dvorak’s own surveys actually concluded that a 68% improvement in accuracy was achieved when compared to a QWERTY keyboard.
The mechanics of a Dvorak layout is also deliberately designed to be kinder upon our hands and arms.
By minimising unnatural movements, tenderness brought on my repetitive strain, aches, pains and unpleasant throbbing can be avoided for longer.
There is also a case to be stated for Dvorak being faster to type with. The keyboard’s inventor stated that when competent, a 74% increase in words per minute (WPM) could be achieved by operators. No independent surveys have been conducted to corroborate this claim.
Once learned, switching back and forth between Dvorak and QWERTY keyboards is similar to switching between spoken or coding languages, so you needn’t worry about sacrificing your ability to type QWERTY in your quest to upgrade your typing skillset.
What are the negatives to learning Dvorak?
Learning Curve: There’s an inevitable drop off in typing speed during the early stages of learning Dvorak. Those who have fully mastered the layout report a learning window of anywhere between weeks and months to reach a speed of at least equivalent to their QWERTY WPM.
Dvorak himself reported an average of 52hrs was needed by his study’s participant to return to the speed of typing they had developed on traditional QWERTY boards.
Even if the advertised gain in typing speed was realised (once again as much as 74% greater than QWERTY), you’d have to spend a lot of time on the keyboard to recoup the time lost when slowly learning your new skill.
Loss of Shortcuts: On a Dvorak keyboard the letters needed to activate shortcuts are spread about the whole board, so the convenience of having Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V close to hand is lost.
It is possible to toggle between keyboard layouts pretty easily on Windows and iOS so that it reverts back to QWERTY solely when Control is held so this negative is more inconvenient than a showstopper.
Can you practice Dvorak typing without buying a new keyboard?
Windows and iOS operating systems allow your keyboard layout to be switched from QWERTY to Dvorak, which means you can experience what typing on a Dvorak keyboard feels like on your existing setup,
If you have a mechanical keyboard with removable keycaps it might make sense to rearrange the letters into a Dvorak formation during the early days knowing that QWERTY has already been memorised and won’t need the keycaps to guide finger placement.
If you’re using a laptop keyboard to type, or just can’t be bothered with the hassle of switching around all of those keys, a tester of Dvorak can be had by heading over to https://learn.dvorak.nl/.
Here a simple dropdown option allows QWERTY keyboards to be mapped to Dvorak in an instant.
As a quick side note, if your default typing style remains ‘hunt and peck’, it might be best to spend time focussing on improving touch typing skills on QWERTY before making the transition to Dvorak.
It’s no secret that the keyboard layout we use every day is outdated and inefficient. The QWERTY design was created in 1878 to reduce typewriter jams, not for speed or accuracy.
Typing on a Dvorak offers a more modern and efficient experience with faster keystrokes per minute than the traditional QWERTY layout, it just takes time and patience to master.
Persistence is key to learning Dvorak, but overall the benefits certainly outweigh the negatives for those who are tech literate and spend a large amount of each day typing.