Touch typing is a crucial skill for students and working adults to master. It makes writing on a computer faster, helps improve spelling skills by bringing in muscle memory and reduces the distraction and inefficiency of hunting for one letter at a time. It also provides a direct route for the translation of ideas into written language, as thoughts flow freely through the fingertips and onto the screen.
But in order to find letters on the keyboard through touch alone, typists need to create a spatial map of the keyboard that their fingers can use to navigate accurately and without visual guidance. They also need a base position to start with and a resting place for their hands to come back to during pauses and breaks in typing.
The traditional resting place for the right and left hands is on the home row keys.
On an English keyboard, the home row keys are A-S-D-F and J-K-L-;. The little finger of the left hand sits on the A, the ring finger on the S, the middle finger on the D and the pointer on the F.
The pointer of the right hand takes the J, the middle finger the K, the ring finger the L and the little finger of the left hand rests on the ; key. See our post on correct finger placement for a visual map of this configuration.
Often, the F and J home row keys have raised lines on them, in order to guide the hand to correct finger placement. A set of upward, downward and side-to-side reaching movements governs typing, with each finger responsible for a series of keys in the direct radius.
This approach to typing was first proposed in the late 1800s by Frank Edward McGurrinn. Mcgurrin was considered the world’s fastest typist and was a court stenographer who taught typing lessons on the side, It works for the QWERTY keyboard, which could be found on type-writers before it was used for computers.
It’s known as the QWERTY keyboard because these are the letters, reading left to right, found on the top line.
Learning touch typing
To master touch-typing, learners begin with the home row keys and then practice one letter at a time until their fingers automatize the distance and orientation of every key from the home row. It can be slow going at first, but over time their hands will normalize the movements required to type quickly and accurately.
The more daily practice learners engage in, the faster they will acquire the skill. Learn more about recommended study times in this article – How long does it take to learn how to touch type?
For some people, typing is made more difficult by the size of their fingers. Adults with large hands may struggle with pressing more than one key at a time and require a specialized keyboard.
Children may find it difficult to reach certain keys, which is why it is recommended that young learners wait until their hands can sit comfortably on the keyboard. This usually happens at around age 7. You can read more about teaching kids to type.
Tips for learners
Before you start
When sitting down at the computer, it’s important to maintain good posture and avoid putting excessive pressure on the wrists. Don’t let them droop. Elbows should be pulled in close to the body and feet should be flat on the floor, with knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
Find the home row
Try to locate the F and J keys without looking at the keyboard. It may take you a few tries before you get it – just remember to feel around for the raised lines. Arrange your hands so your fingers are lightly resting on top of the home row keys, not pressing down on them.
Use your senses
It works best to learn the position of the keys by seeing the letters displayed on the screen, hearing them read aloud, watching the movements required on the screen and then moving your fingers as shown. In this way, you use sight, sound and touch to direct your learning which creates a more powerful memory. Learn more about multi-sensory learning.
Typing may feel awkward at first but this is just because it takes ample repetition for the muscles in your hands and fingers to learn the new movements. Keep trying and do your best not to look at the keyboard. If you are struggling with a particular key, you can try placing a piece of putty there to make it easier to recognize.
Who benefits from typing?
Being able to use a computer is a prerequisite for many jobs today. Even sales positions that traditionally did not require office skills now often entail communicating with clients via email and online message systems. Adults who hunt-and-peck are much slower when it comes to writing responses and reports. Typing can, therefore, make you more efficient at your existing job, clear the way for promotions as you are able to complete work in less time and even open up the door to new careers. Adults who have built up speed with the hunt-and-peck method might find it frustrating to be slowed down as they learn this new approach to typing, but the benefits that come with persisting make it worth persevering. Learn more about jobs that require typing skills.
Students and teachers
Handwriting is no longer a practical approach to drafting long compositions. That’s because it makes editing and revising text –a crucial part of the writing process-- particularly messy. Handwritten text is also harder for other people to read, which is one of the reasons why most teachers beyond primary school prefer longer assignments to be typed. However, more important for educators is the benefit it gives test-takers on computer based assessment measures. In an exam setting, speed is power and the faster responses can be drafted, the more time can be devoted to brainstorming, organizing ideas and copy-editing final answers. Learn more about the importance of typing programs for schools and tips for improving writing skills.
Individuals with visual impairments
Typing is a crucial skill for people who have reduced vision. It allows them to navigate a computer by touch, which is especially important when vision is below a certain threshold or completely absent. With electronic devices reading and writing are facilitated, making it easier to study and work in various professions. Learn more about typing for the blind.
Help for individuals with learning difficulties
Individuals who struggle with a learning difficulty can benefit from touch typing, particularly in the case of dysgraphia which makes writing by hand painful. Dyspraxic individuals often have trouble with fine motor skills that can make holding a writing utensil difficult and forming letters impossible. In both cases, it is recommended that writing be done on a computer using a touch typing approach.
People with dyslexia may also find touch typing beneficial. Dyslexia impacts on reading, spelling and writing abilities and makes it difficult for individuals to split words into their component sounds.
Taking a typing course like TTRS entails repeated exposure to language and involves muscle memory in learning the spelling of high frequency words. It further exercises phonics skills through visual and audio prompts. Learn more about typing for dyslexics.
Touch-type Read and Spell
Touch-type Read and Spell has an online program that breaks touch typing into a series of step-by-step lessons made up of multiple modules. In this way, a learner can proceed through the course at a pace that is right for him or her.
Do you have any tips on finding the home row keys? Join the discussion in the comments!