Your parents made you take touch typing, maybe even in summer school. The teacher was humorless. The exercises inane. You had no plans to compete in the Ultimate Typing Championship or become a professional typist. But The Big Brown Bear and the Quick Brown Fox would pay off some day you were told. But when the day came, when you grew up and arrived in your first office, and you saw that the person next to you was typing just as fast or faster with two fingers or four instead of 10, you knew that summer was lost, never to be regained
Now, too late for you, but too late not for your kids, comes a suggestion that ordinary people (as opposed to those conditioned to break the 120 wpm barrier) who are touch typists are no faster or more accurate than those who have over time developed their own typing strategies.
And it doesn’t matter whether you use 10 fingers or five or six while you’re typing. The result, on average, will be the same.
That’s the finding of researchers at Finland’s Aalto University, albeit from a test using a very small sample.
The researchers studied the typing habits of 30 people, using an optical motion capture system to record their exact finger movements, so in addition to studying speed, they could discern the different ways typists used their hands.
Some used one or two fingers of each hand. Some used more four or five. Gamers had particular quirky habits which they transferred to typing, like always using their left thumb on the space bar, a habit increasingly ingrained with the advent of the mouse, generally gripped with the right hand.
Regardless, for each group they found that some typed slowly and some fast, up to 79 words per minute regardless of whether they used the touch method or, over time, had developed their own strategies in their own ways.
Self-taught, non-touch typists did tend to look down at the keyboard more instead of the screen, which had a tendency to slow some down, co-author Anna Feit said in an interview.
But overall, there was no difference within the group studied in speed and accuracy between the methods.
Big caveat for kids: If you don’t type your own papers and instead nag your mom or dad or some friend to do it for you, you will never develop your own way of typing, your own system, and you will suffer, no matter. Gaming doesn’t count as typing.
So is learning touch typing a waste of time and money? “I think the touch typing system is great if you really want to invest the time and effort,” she said.
“If your goal is to type a 100 words per minute or 120 words per minute I would definitely recommend learning a touch typing system….But if you’re just a regular office typist who writes email and reports, I think there are better ways to train yourself using your own system but paying attention to other factors. Keep your hands more static. Don’t move your hands toward the key.”
Because what does matter, the researchers found, is not whether you took a touch typing course, but whether you move your hands around as you type, or just, as you should, your fingers.
“Fast typists have learned to keep their hands fixed on one position, instead of moving them over the keyboard, and more consistently use the same finger to type a certain letter.”
That’s the secret, she said.
Clarification: The original version of this article — as many readers have noted — did not point out the small size of the sample and should have not used the word “proof.”