What Are the Alternatives to a Qwerty Keyboard?

Countries using the Latin alphabet (which includes English!) largely use the Qwerty keyboard layout, or at least a close cousin of it. Many who start learning to type may wonder why the letters on a computer keyboard aren’t arranged alphabetically. By the time the modern teenager is getting plenty of typing practice with text messaging, the layout will become pretty instinctive. Not many people are aware of the alternatives to Qwerty, but are they worth considering?


QWERTY: Less Universal Than You Might Think

Variations exist even among the standard layouts for other Latin alphabet countries, like the Azerty in France and the Qwertz in Germany. The reason for each standard is surprisingly arbitrary, based on what just happened to be chosen by the bosses selling typewriters in each country when those were still a thing. That said, the frustrated British intern trying to get used to the new keyboard layout at the office in Paris will find that most of the letters are in the same place. It’s mainly the first row that’s been swapped around a bit.

Taking Transcribing to the Next Level

The Qwerty layout is often criticised by some typing pros who have evolved beyond us mortals continuing to use a layout created for a typewriter in the 19th century. Indeed, Qwerty’s critics argue that it’s not particularly well adapted for the modern typist, as a better word per minute rate can be achieved with alternatives. It’s more a case of everyone being so used to the standard that switching would be almost like coming up with a new calendar. It’s certainly possible, but would cause a lot of disruption for little gain.

Then again, some speedy typists do swear by alternatives. These include the Dvorak keyboard, named after the doctor who invented it rather than the key layout itself. It’s designed to increase typing speed and reduce finger strain by limiting the distance between common letters. One of the world’s fastest typists, a writer called Barbara Blackburn used the keyboard to get her world typing record in 1985. While most professional transcribers will type at a rate of 70 words per minute or more, she managed a speed of 150 words per minute for 50 minutes, reaching a max speed of 212. She’d have a transcript finished in no time!


Become a Typing Industry Legend

If that sounds complicated, imagine training to become a court stenographer. These keyboard wizards often type at a blindingly fast rate of 250 words per minute. If you think that sounds impossible on a standard Qwerty, you’re right. They actually use specially adapted stenograph machines . But before you rush out to buy one, know that stenographers train for years to get to that level.


Overall, Qwerty works just fine mainly because it’s what most of us have grown up with. It is possible to retrain with a clever alternative like Dvorak, but just looking at one will be enough to give most pro typists a headache. For the purposes of everyday use, writing and transcribing, Qwerty is likely to remain the standard in the UK, America and elsewhere, but die-hard typing enthusiasts may be interested in exploring the alternatives.

Words by Transcriber William W

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