One of the things I’ve recently gotten into is mechanical keyboard switches. While I don’t have enough disposable income right now to indulge in buying elaborate pieces of plastic to put in jars, it did lead me to improving my typing speed. It was always something I thought I’d be stuck in, even though it’s pretty much what I do for a living.
For the longest time, my average typing speed had hovered around 65 words per minute. This was and still is fine since I can touch-type at a comfortable pace that lets me do my job as a freelance writer. However, I was quite conscious of the flaws in my typing, and I thought I could never be able to surpass my current limits.
But now, I’m averaging around 75-80wpm on typing tests and have been working on correcting flaws in hopes of getting even faster. The latter involves constant deliberate practice through typing in the textbook manner that I’m not used to.
As I undergo that process, I wrote this blog post to compile what I’ve learned thus far. Perhaps it may be useful to you as well.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not an expert on the subject. My personal record as of this writing is 91 words per minute on MonkeyType, which is painfully average compared to the fastest typists in the world. But this isn’t about being the best, but being your best.
Basic Plan for Improving Typing Speed
Here’s the outline to this quest for typing speed. I’m not saying this is the one way to do this, but they’re good guidelines to form a solid foundation.
- Have proper ergonomics
- Learn touch typing
- Make a habit of using keyboard shortcuts
- Practice regularly
- Be able to focus while typing
- Mod your keyboard or get a better keyboard
- Aim for even faster typing speeds
- Optional: Change keyboard layout
Watch these two guide videos to have a better idea on how to do this. Take note of their similarities as those are the things you’ll definitely have to do.
The most helpful part of the process is having a way to practice typing with measured results. Knowing how much wpm you can do each time lets you know if you’re getting faster, becoming more consistent, and making less mistakes.
Ergonomics and Avoiding Repetitive Stress Injury
One thing you should watch out for in the quest for top typing speed is repetitive stress injury, or RSI. Whether it’s carpal tunnel syndrome or De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, it’s a sharp, lingering pain that will get in the way of your life. I’ve had some De Quervain’s tenosynovitis in the past, and it was a pain that I feared would never go away.
That’s what made me pay more attention to ergonomics. I had to examine my own posture, wrist alignment, arm angle, neck angle, sitting posture, and so on. I’m not an expert in ergonomics, although I did take a few units of it in college since I studied industrial engineering. Most of what I know is taken from experience.
Wrists must be as straight as possible, with no tensions on the shoulders. The elbows resting on armrests or forearms resting on the table if possible. Sitting posture must be comfortable without any slouch and there shouldn’t be any tension in the lumbar area.
You also should be able to see your screen straight ahead from your sitting posture. If you have to bend your neck up or down to see it, then you should adjust your monitor height.
Not only will good ergonomics help you type faster, but it will also ensure that you get to type for as long as you live. After all, you can’t type anything comfortably if you have carpal tunnel pain in your wrists and a crick in your neck.
There will be a blog post in the near future about ergonomics for people who spend 12+ hours in front of the computer (like myself).
The most fundamental aspect of “proper typing” is touch typing, which is being able to type fast without looking at your keys. You keep your eyes on the screen as you type, whether you’re looking at what you’re typing or the reference material you’re using for the work.
In order to touch type, you should have your fingers on the “home keys” and designate each finger to keys adjacent to it. This lets you be able to incorporate all your fingers in rapid succession. A professional typist, whatever that is nowadays, should be able to type at a minimum of 50 words per minute. Around 80-100 wpm is above average, and 120+ is considered advanced.
Currently, I average around 75-80wpm. I used to average 65-70wpm, which shows I’ve improved with practice.
Typewriters and Origin of QWERTY
The QWERTY layout was designed for English-language typewriters to make frequently used letters more accessible while also minimizing the strikers from getting jammed. It facilitated what we know now as touch typing—being able to type without looking at the keyboard, letting you keep your eyes on what you’re typing or what you’re copying from.
Touch typing started with typewriters, which basically had the same concept as it does now, but required a lot more strength to type on due to their mechanical nature and the need to hit the types on the ribbon to adequately transfer ink to the paper with a very audible “TAK!” That arm and finger strength has been not necessary since the invention of electric typewriters, and now even less so with computers.
I remember typewriters. We had typing class in fourth grade, and I was bad at it because I was too much of a wuss to strengthen my left pinky for hitting the A key. Our teacher placed importance on learning how to type, but in the context of typewriters. Nowadays, my left hand is my “computer hand” and I don’t have to pierce the heavens with my pinky to hit A.
Imagine reprimanding a 10-year-old for not being tough enough to do something akin to hammering a nail into a piece of wood with the little finger of their non-dominant hand.
But that experience did inform me of the concept of home keys, so I had foundational knowledge to improve my typing speed. Once I had my own computer, I got to practice all I wanted. Of course, I didn’t pay much mind to it, but I learned over time, especially with my left hand mostly staying on the left side of the keyboard.
The Wayward Right Hand
My right hand is more haphazard. I use only the index and middle finger on that hand most of the time. I may use the thumb for the spacebar sometimes, and I use the pinky for Shift to capitalize letters, but it’s mostly those first two fingers.
For a good while, I felt like I was limiting myself by not typing with my right hand “the proper way,” but I’ve gotten less apprehensive about currently lacking that ability as I learned that the QWERTY layout doesn’t really give that much opportunity to practice those fingers since a lot of the keys on the right side are for symbols.
(I typed that paragraph with my right ring and little fingers involved, and hitting I, O, P, and symbols with them “the textbook way” is going to take a lot of work.)
I also tend to capitalize letters by holding Shift and the letter with the same hand, but only for the right hand. I do use the right Shift key to capitalize letters on the left side of the keyboard, which shows I lack consistency with my touch typing.
Perhaps after a few months of constant practice hitting the keys on the right side of the keyboard with the “correct fingers,” I should be able to type much faster. But deliberately slowing down to practice this will be a struggle, especially with my work as a freelance writer.
I know it’s worth doing, but that also means I have to stop typing the way I usually do to reconfigure my muscle memory. In the meantime, I’ve been hitting backspace and CTRL-backspace a lot more often, so there has indeed been some progress.
In order to improve in just about anything, including typing speed, you should be able to practice. The old way I know of was to copy a book, like a textbook or novel, see how many words you’re able to put down in an hour, and divide that by 60 to get your wpm.
Fortunately, there are now plenty of websites and games that allow for lots of typing practice. The great thing about these sites is that they track your wpm in real time and don’t have you copying something from somewhere else. You’re given words, gibberish, or a paragraph to type within a time limit or character limit, letting you have short bursts of typing speed.
My personal favorite is MonkeyType. It’s aesthetically pleasing, smooth, and lets you customize it as you please. You can have it feed you a random word list or quotes from various sources. You can adjust how long or short the typing tests are and it even has multiple language support.
But perhaps the best thing about it is you get to start whenever you wish. It only starts timing you upon the first keystroke, instead of counting you down. That means you can start at your own pace, so you don’t have to get anxious when you go to the website to get some practice.
I’ve also frequented Typeracer. This is great for the more competitively-minded as it pits you against other typists in the site, and it has standings to show who is the fastest in the world. The top typists in the site top out at around 200-230 wpm, which is absolutely insane.
I like to practice in it around once a week to measure my current progress, but I don’t like to go there all the time. Not only do I not like the interface, but I also don’t like that it takes ten whole seconds for you to start a “type race,” which gets me really anxious.
If you don’t like Typeracer, but you like the type racing format, then you may want to try NitroType instead. It’s fancier, even letting you customize your “racer.” The only reason I don’t use it is because since I have my browser on forced dark mode, it actually makes the words on the interface completely white and nearly invisible against the also white background.
Keybr is one I should use more often. It’s most important feature is its ability to learn which keys you have the most trouble with, then giving you those letters to practice with. However, the problem is that it feeds you gibberish and not real words.
I don’t like 10FastFingers that much since it’s more about typing random words instead of real sentences and paragraphs. It’s completely unnatural to my usual typing work, so I don’t find it as useful. However, a lot of people use it as their standard typing test website, so I still try it out every now and then.
If you want more of a typing game, there’s ZType, which is a space shmup turned into a typing game. So far, I’ve only reached level 14 consistently. But if you want a full game for practicing your typing, there’s the legendary The Typing of the Dead, Sega’s cheesefest spin-off of the arcade lightgun game The House of the Dead.
The Typing of the Dead is now considered abandonware, so you can actually download the PC version for free. Since it’s a game from 2000, it’ll take some tweaking around to make it run the way you want in modern systems. You may have to use dgVoodoo 2 to make it run in anything other than an old 4:3 display resolution.
There’s also the sequel The Typing of the Dead: Overkill, which is available on Steam. It has more of a grindhouse aesthetic and the voice-acting doesn’t have that Resident Evil level of porn acting. It also has more game modes that give you more opportunities to work on your typing speed and accuracy.
However, the problem with both these games that I found is that they don’t really mandate capitalization and spacing. Maybe I have to dive into the settings to turn them on, but I haven’t found the need to do them whenever I play them.
Use Keyboard Shortcuts
If you’re not using hotkeys, you’re dumb. You likely copy stuff by right-clicking on it and clicking on ‘copy’, then clicking on where you want to paste it, right-clicking on an empty space, then clicking on ‘paste’. You see how long and winding that is? How the hell do you have time to do that? It’s Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V, it’s not that hard.
Perhaps the most important keyboard shortcut for typing fast is Ctrl-Backspace. When you realized you made a mistake in the previous word, you can use that shortcut to delete the whole word at once instead of jackhammering the backspace key like Tom Hanks in You Got Mail.
Ideally, you should be able to do most tasks with keyboard shortcuts. It makes you more efficient and do work more quickly. It can even make work more engaging, letting you focus more easily and achieve flow state. It’s a feeling I’m addicted to, and I do whatever I can to reach that state whenever I work.
However, I know there are plenty of people out there who go, “But doing it the hard way is what I’m used to.” I was friends with some of them. Was. I would later find out that they tend to be unbearable people who were stubborn and not very self-aware.
I know it’s wrong to judge people based on their work habits, but don’t blame me for their lack of ability to learn new things bleeding into the rest of their personality.
Typing as Meditation
Nowadays, whenever my mind is troubled and in need of centering, I put my headphones, go to MonkeyType, and type my troubles away. Before, it was a couple of games of StarCraft II that helped me get into that zone. The difference is that while a StarCraft II game takes around ten minutes to half an hour, a round of MonkeyType takes less than a minute.
Typing at your fastest requires a level of focus that most other things don’t need. You need to concentrate on reading the text and looking ahead in order to type it quickly without errors. If you are not 100% in there, you’ll find yourself stumbling and the frustration will see you making even more errors as you try to correct your course in vain.
The key is to let go and let your fingers do it for you. You can command them to go faster, but you can’t just force them to start typing everything accurately without a good amount of practice. I see typing as the modern moving meditation, like how zen monks walk, how kung fu stylists do tai chi, or how more and more people do yoga.
When you open MonkeyType and start typing whatever is on screen, you feel an immediate need to stop thinking about other things. If you have other things in your mind at that moment, you may start making mistakes. It requires you to read carefully and read ahead in order to have your fingers type out every letter in rapid succession.
It can be a part of one’s meditative ritual. Maybe you’re into stuff like transcendental meditation, but you feel like you’re stuck in that routine alone whenever you have that need to center yourself. Perhaps typing can help you gain another thing you can do to accomplish that same feeling of emptying your mind and focusing on what’s in front of you.
Typing is about being in the now. The words don’t type themselves, and you have to put them down one character at a time, like how you build a wall brick by brick. Word after word, sentence after sentence, you’ll soon have a paragraph, and then more.
It’s the same reason why I’m a writer. Very few things fulfill me more than filling up a page with meaningful prose, and improving my typing speed helps me get better at doing just that each and every single day.
If typing is a major part of your work or everyday life, then perhaps it’s time to invest more on your keyboard. It’s your workhorse, so you should get into having a better one that will hold you over, making typing more comfortable, and even improve your performance.
I’m not saying that having a mechanical keyboard alone will boost your typing speed, but it can help make typing feel nicer once you’re able to consistently touch-type. While I’m not sure about the claims of mechanical keyboards being more durable, they can definitely feel nice to type on for a very long time. I have two of them that still hold up after 8+ years.
The problem with the vast majority of rubber dome keyboards most people have is that they get mushy after years of use, which can make typing less than ideal. It’s not to say that rubber dome keyboards are no good for typing since that’s like saying the Toyota Corolla is a bad car.
Mechanical keyboards are becoming more common, but it may be to its detriment as substandard ones and imitations become more proliferated. While as long as a keyboard has good switches and a serviceable board, it should be fine. But I can imagine there’s now a growing crowd that sees them as overrated and to be avoided because of the trend.
The rabbit hole of mechanical keyboards can get pretty deep, especially once you get into keyboard modding and building. But in the end, all that really matters is you are able to type on a keyboard that you feel the most comfortable with.
Chiclet keyboards are basically ones that you find on laptops. They use scissor switches and/or membranes, and they typically don’t take that much actuation to press. Their thin profile makes them perfect for compact devices, although some may feel they don’t have a tactile enough feel.
But for some people, they may actually be better at typing with a chiclet keyboard. That’s actually a lucky break because there are plenty of good chiclet keyboards out there that look good and are available for a fraction of the price of a mechanical keyboard.
Since they tend to be a lot thinner than mechanical or rubber dome keyboards, then you may not need a wrist pad for most of them. Some may feel too mushy, while others may feel too hard to press. You just need to find one with the right feel.
Personally, I don’t like chiclet keyboards that require too much force to press the keys, like the Logitech bluetooth keyboard I currently have for my media devices. If it has to be a chiclet keyboard, I want to be able to glide across the keys seamlessly.
Perhaps a Rapoo keyboard would be better for that purpose. Chiclet keyboards tend to be less popular, but some people prefer them. I also realize that I like them whenever I type on a laptop. While they’re not a replacement for mechanical keyboards, especially with tactile switches, I find them nice to type on every now and then.
Before you ever think about buying a new keyboard, think about modding your current keyboard first. If it’s a rubber dome keyboard, that may be a lot less moddable. If you have one of those cheap “mechanical” keyboards, perhaps you can at least change the keycaps.
Changing keycaps is the first thing you can do. Most keyboards use ABS keycaps, and they work alright for the most part. However, over time, they can become “shiny” due to the oils on your fingers starting to wear on the plastic. As far as I know, that doesn’t happen with PBT keycaps, which I like the feel of. You can buy a set of PBT keycaps and perhaps it can make typing feel better.
The next mod you can try is sound dampening. You can add o-rings in your keycaps and even add shelf liners to the inside of the case. They can help dampen the sound, especially if you’re the type who doesn’t like all the click-clack. I personally prefer sound to only come from the switches themselves and remove as much sound from the other parts of the keyboard.
You can also mod the stabilizers on the long keys, especially the spacebar, to make them sound as much like all the other keys if possible. There’s the “band-aid mod” that makes them sound less like metal clacking with plastic. You can also clip the stabilizers to make them feel and sound better, although that can be destructive.
If I ever get more into keyboards, I’ll have a blog post or two about it here. I plan to get more into mechanical keyboard modding in the near future, and I’ve been doing my research lately. While I still think that mechanical keyboard switches are still “the wine tasting of the tech world,” I do have a vested interest in finding that one switch that’s perfect for my typing style.
Alternative Keyboard Layouts
There’s a common myth that the QWERTY layout was designed to slow typists down. This is bullshit. It would’ve never caught on if it were the case. Despite that, this little factoid keeps getting repeated over and over again, and it needs to stop. There’s no global conspiracy slowing people’s ability to type words onto a screen or page. Stop it.
However, there are those who still believe that conspiracy, or at least think that the QWERTY layout isn’t the best for typing speed. That’s despite the fact that some of the fastest typists in the world who reach over 200wpm do use the QWERTY layout. But if that doesn’t dissuade you from looking for alternatives, then there are primarily two layouts known for typing speed.
The first one I encountered many years ago was the Dvorak layout. It looked strange to me on the outset as it had symbols on the upper left. Even if I ever think of changing layouts, it’s not likely for me to pick up Dvorak for this purpose.
Dvorak claims to reduce finger motion, thus making it better for both typing speed and minimizing repetitive stress injuries. It was created and patented by August Dvorak around 60 years after the introduction of QWERTY, purporting it as a faster and more ergonomic layout.
Meanwhile, Colemak looked more like a regular layout to me as it didn’t have symbols on the upper left like Dvorak. It was created by Shai Coleman in 2006, making it the youngest of the bunch by a lot.
Colemak is basically a tweaked version of QWERTY, simply rearranging it to put some letters in supposedly more optimal positions. The premise of its design is having the most frequently used letters in the English language located right on the center row.
Does it actually matter which layout you use? Most likely not. But if you wish to experiment with alternatives, then you might find the process of switching interesting at the very least. However, from what I’ve gathered, there’s no huge benefit to changing from QWERTY to either Dvorak or Colemak that makes it a must for typing speed.
My Hypotheses on How to Facilitate Improving Typing Speeds
There are a few ideas in my head on how I can type even faster. Most of it is about dealing with both my current physical and mental limitations. That may seem rather excessive for something you can do sitting down in front of a computer like a neckbeard, but I think it can both enrich your life and ensure long-term performance. After all, most of the time, you don’t type just to type; you type to work, create, and communicate.
Maybe I can play other types of games that will make me faster, like osu! or other rhythm game. I’ve always stayed away from rhythm games, but perhaps that’s a limitation I should overcome in order to unlock some hidden potential inside me. It can help with improving focus, finger speed, reflexes, and sense of rhythm. I’m bad at all of those things.
I noticed that after a good bit of deliberate speed typing, my left hand starts to seize a bit and feel tight. There must be something about my left hand that limits how fast I can type. Perhaps working on the tendons can help mitigate that soreness. I need to work on my joint mobility and flexibility for other physical activities anyway.
This may be worth exploring. I can write a blog post in the future about my findings. I’ll be trying these things out and see if I can figure out a way to surpass my current limits.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have on the comment section below.
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