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I've occasionally thought about trying the Dvorak keyboard layout to improve my writing speed. However, I wonder if the speed gain is really worth the initial learning curve.

I'm curious if anyone knows of studies that tested people switching from Querty to Dvorak. Specifically, how long does it take the average person to recover their previous speed, and how much does their speed improve overall?

I would also be interested in any anecdotal evidence by those who have made the switch (or attempted it and reverted back to Querty).

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Relevant: Daring to Dvorak –  Neil Fein Mar 28 '13 at 16:55
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10 Answers 10

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Personally I switched to Dvorak about six years ago, and I've found it to have been a net positive over all. My typing speed is about the same as before, though oddly my error rate has gone down. On the other hand, I haven't had any serious wrist pain since I switched.

There are some downsides to switching.

  • It seems to make about two months to get back up to the speed you were before changing over.
  • Your QWERTY typing speed will suffer unless you put time into working with both.
  • You're also going to have to learn how to type without looking at the keyboard as the odds are pretty good you're not going to be able to change the key labels. (You can find blank keyboards if the mismatch is a problem)

If you do try to change over, I'll warn you that the third week or so will be the worst. You'll kind of know where everything should be but you'll have a hard time finding it. Typing will be a huge pain for a few days as everything starts to properly shift around in your head. If you can get through it though, it will get better after that.

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This matches very well with my experience. I switched nearly 20 years ago, when I had just started freelancing and realized how badly my wrists were hurting after a marathon writing session. I will add that what really tripped me up was the fact that A and M are in the same place in both layouts. I'd be typing Dvorak, then type an M and mentally switch back to QWERTY... that lasted a couple of weeks. –  kindall Feb 1 '12 at 19:36
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re: the third bullet point (changing key labels). I would advise against using the same keyboard to switch the layout (in software) between the two. The reason for that is muscle memory. I use both AZERTY (French) and QWERTY layouts but I am completely unable to switch from one to the other through software on the same physical keyboard. I have to use a different physical keyboard in order for my brain to also switch. Sometimes I even need to be in a completely different environment (home vs. office). –  Phong May 11 '12 at 21:39
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It's been a while since I've seen research on this, but the consensus that I hear from other programmers who have tried Dvorak (we tend to spend all days in front of keyboards and therefore tend to be picky about the keyboards we use) is that:

  • There is little difference in speed, or if there is, it isn't enough to justify the cost in learning it in and of itself.
  • However, it does provide significant benefits in terms of preventing repetitive strain injury (carpal tunnel and the like).

Another thing to take into consideration is that Dvorak keyboards are somewhat hard to find. So when you get used to it, it's difficult to say, go to the library and use the keyboard there.

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I thought most operating systems these days had a Dvorak setting, but I suppose using computers where you can't modify that setting would suck once you got out of the Querty habit. –  sjohnston Jan 13 '11 at 2:48
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I switch back and forth between Dvorak and QWERTY pretty easily. It just takes a few minutes to "click". –  HedgeMage Jan 13 '11 at 2:54
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I use Dvorak, and what you describe was exactly my experience. And I've gotten very used to just writing in Dvorak on a Qwerty keyboard, though it occasionally freaks my coworkers out. –  JSBձոգչ Jan 13 '11 at 14:55
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I'm a programmer and I made the switch about six months ago. Switching has increased my speed significantly, but I think that this is because I couldn't touch type before hand. The main difference though, has been that typing in the dvorak layout is much more comfortable than qwerty.

You don't need to buy a dvorak keyboard in order to switch. My keyboard has the qwerty layout printed on it. I think that it would actually be counter productive to get a keyboard printed with dvorak's keys.

The downside as others have noted is that it is annoying to have to use qwerty on other computers.

If you do decide to switch then make a complete break from qwerty.

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Trying to switch is totally worth it. I tried to switch form qwertz to Neo (a German variant of Dvorak). I practiced it several weeks, but then decided against it and switched back to qwertz. I touch-typed before that switch, nevertheless my writing speed enhanced significantly.

Right now I try it again. Because programming with qwertz is a PITA. Look at it as brain calisthenics. It won't hurt ;)

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I'm a developer and blog writer. I switched to Dvorak 10 years ago and never looked back. It took a little bit to teach myself how to type but it was totally worth it. Speed has increased a great deal and the amount of pain in my wrists and shoulders was drastically reduced within weeks, and stayed that way.

Speed increases relate more to standard language typing rather than programming due to the fact that Dvorak actually puts some commonly used programmer keys in odd places. The ';' for instance is in an inconvenient place and it's like '.' to developers.

Yes, it is VERY worth switching. Was for me anyway.

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To me, ; is pretty easy to press, especially compared to - (which is dangerously close to the Enter key). –  Joey Adams Jan 22 '11 at 2:37
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I'm just starting to learn the Dvorak layout (I'm at about 15 WPM touch typing after around 5 hours of practice over the last few days), but have not yet decided whether or not I will stick with it permanently. (Edit: After 2 weeks of using Dvorak, I'm up to about 35 WPM). This site has a useful trainer for learning it. Here are my thoughts so far:

The Bad

  • At the moment, Dvorak is painfully slow considering I type over 70 WPM using qwerty. Its probably not worth trying to switch to Dvorak unless you're willing to put up with it long enough get decently fast.
  • I use the standard Windows keyboard shortcuts (ctrl-c, ctrl-v, etc.) heavily. Dvorak moves these keys to the right side of the keyboard, which is extremely inconvenient for people like me. However, there seem to be some good ways to work around this. I returned the shortcuts to their original locations by installing this layout, which was one of several solutions posted on this thread.
  • After getting used to Dvorak, it takes several minutes to switch back to querty (which may occasionally be necessary). I've been using Dvorak almost exclusively for about 2 weeks now. I just took some 3 minute typing tests using querty and scored 25 WPM, 46 WPM, and then 55 WPM. I'm guessing I'd be back up around 70 WPM again if I typed in querty for a good 30 minutes or so, but I'm sure my top speed in querty will degrade some over time as well.

The Good

  • So far, it does seem like Dvorak would be more comfortable to type in than querty. I have definitely noticed that many common digraphs are more natural to type in Dvorak.
  • The more you type, the more potential for long term benefits. I type a lot, so I'm willing to put in a fair amount of effort for relatively small gains.

Edit 2:

It's been a while since I wrote this answer, but if I remember correctly I stuck with Dvorak for a couple months. I used it almost exclusively for the first 3 or 4 weeks, and then switched back to qwerty for programming on my computer at school while still using Dvorak at home. I wasn't a fan of some of the places the symbols that are used often in programming got moved (like the semicolon). I kept using Dvorak at home and qwerty at work/school for at least a month or two. It was easy to switch between them since I used them both regularly, but I probably didn't get as fast at Dvorak as I would have had I stuck with it exclusively. I think in the end I got up to about 55 WPM in Dvorak.

I ultimately gave up on Dvorak at home as well because there were always small, annoying side-effects of using it that would crop up somewhere sooner or later. I refused to stick with normal Dvorak since it messes up ctrl-c and other shortcuts that I want easily accessible with just my left hand. I tried the hybrid layout I linked above that keeps the querty virtual key codes but remaps the character codes to Dvorak. That worked fairly well in most situations, but I ran into an application or two that I used often that ctrl-c was still messed up for (I don't remember which application). Perhaps that program used character codes instead of virtual key codes for its internal keyboard shortcuts or something.

So, I went looking for another solution that wouldn't have that side effect. I eventually set up an AutoHotkey script that remapped all the key-presses involving the ctrl, alt, or windows key modifiers back to qwerty. That worked even for the application that caused problems with the hybrid layout, but ended up causing problems in computer games. In many games, you hold ctrl or alt to do something (i.e. crouch) while pressing other keys. But, once I was holding ctrl or alt, the script mapped all the other keys back to qwerty, effectively scrambling all my movement and other controls. I could temporarily disable the script while playing games, but that's just another small annoyance.

A final gaming-related drawback is that you either have to remap all the keys for every new game (somehow they never have defaults for a Dvorak layout), or temporarily switch back to qwerty when playing games. Games like (Starcraft II) that have bajillions of keyboard shortcuts for every command/unit/ability in the game can be a real pain to remap.

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Did you stick with it? –  naught101 Aug 1 '13 at 11:10
    
@naught101 I didn't stick with Dvorak in the end, as annoying little side-effects always seemed to crop up (see my second edit for the details). If Dvorak were more widely used and supported, these little things would crop up less and I'd be more willing to stick with it. In a way, it's like a massive prisoner's dilemma situation where we're all stuck with a sub-optimal choice of keyboard layout, but it's not as appealing to switch unless you can somehow convince everyone else to switch with you. –  Brandon Aug 4 '13 at 7:07
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At a work where I answered 100+ emails a day, I found that my hands hurt a lot less after switching to dvorak. It causes less strain on the hand, in other words.

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I switched to Dvorak about 4 years ago due to some pain in my wrists. It took me less than a month to regain my old speed, maybe three weeks. This was the same for everyone I knew who switched cold turkey; people who went back and forth with QWERTY during the transition period took two or three months to become proficient (or gave up). After less than six months, my wrist pain was virtually gone, and has remained gone (disclaimer: I used to play guitar and video games more frequently as well, so I'm not certain this was the only factor).

I had read on a pro-Dvorak site at the time that most people get a 30% speed gain. I was in the lower 70s with QWERTY and am now in the upper 70s, so for me it was more like 10%. Still, over the course of the last 4 years, I've probably made up for the slowness of the month when I switched. Think of it this way: you already know how to type, so switching is essentially rebuilding your muscle memory. Since your fingers will be travelling a shorter distance under Dvorak, once your muscle memory gets to the same point you're at with QWERTY, you'll be faster by definition.

If you're going to switch, my advice would be the following to try to reduce the learning curve:

  • Don't switch back and forth until you've got Dvorak down. All major OSes have fairly straightforward ways of switching to Dvorak; learn them and use them, even if you're borrowing a machine.
  • Print out a diagram of the key layout and put it up next to your monitor. This is better than relabeling your keyboard, in my opinion, because then you will get out of the habit of looking down to see where you are (which should also improve your speed, even if you decide to go back to QWERTY).
  • Try to time the switch around a time when you're going to be using a computer frequently, but not for anything time sensitive. I work in IT, and I timed my switch around a stretch when I knew my primary task was going to be working with numerical data. Be prepared to send a lot of one-word e-mails! If you've got to do a large amount of time-sensitive typing, you'll be inclined to switch back and forth, and that will be problematic.
  • There are a number of online keyboarding exercises designed for Dvorak - use them! I actually observed noticable speed gains daily using these. I don't have any of the links any more, but I don't recall them being difficult to find.
  • Be wary of keyboard shortcuts. As others have mentioned, many application specific keyboard shortcuts are in part based on the physical location of the key on QWERTY, so depending on what else you do, it could be problematic. (I've gotten used to the cut/copy/paste type functions and many shortcuts in Vi, but there are some applications where I just switch back to QWERTY if I'm not going to be typing words.)

I've become enough of a Dvorak evangelist that it's become a sort of joke among my friends and family. I honestly think it's the best computer-related decision I ever made, and I've gotten a great ROI.

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Dvorak is unbelievably more efficient. You simply travel less distance to type most words. It seems like a no-brainer to me. That said, I'm at week 5 and am just now getting back up to speed. Learning to switch is painful!

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Having grown up with piano lessons and computer games, I used to be able to type 110-130WPM on a QWERTY keyboard. Now, after 4 months of DVORAK, I'm at about 60WPM DVORAK and down to 90WPM QWERTY. Thus, so far it has definitely cost me tremendously in terms of speed. However, the novelty of it and knowing I'm the only one who can use my laptop more than makes up for the difference :)

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