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Typewriter vs computer era: How fast do you type?

Researchers found that the fastest typists performed between 40%-70% of keystrokes using rollover typing, in which the next key is pressed before the previous key is released.

world Updated: Apr 05, 2018 19:58 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Typewriter,Computer,Cambridge
The study is based on analysis of the largest dataset on typing speeds and styles based on 136 million keystrokes from 168,000 volunteers.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

If your skills were honed in the typewriter era before the advent of computers, you make different kinds of mistakes and have different speeds, but a new study suggests that the fastest typists make fewer errors and press the next key before the previous one is released.

Analysing the largest dataset on typing speeds and styles, based on 136 million keystrokes from 168,000 volunteers, researchers at Cambridge and the Aalto University in Finland found that the fastest typists performed between 40%-70% of keystrokes using rollover typing, in which the next key is pressed before the previous key is released.

Volunteers from more than 200 countries were asked to transcribe random sentences in the study, and their accuracy and speed were assessed by the researchers, who say the strategy of pressing the next key before the previous key is released is known in the gaming community but hasn’t been observed in a typing study. “Crowdsourcing experiments that allow us to analyse how people interact with computers on a large scale are instrumental for identifying solution principles for the design of next-generation user interfaces,” said the study’s co-author, Per Ola Kristensson, from University of Cambridge’s department of engineering.

Since most knowledge of how people type is based on studies from the typewriter era, researchers say that decades after typewriters were replaced by computers, people make different types of mistakes.

For example, errors where one letter is replaced by another are now more common, whereas in the typewriter era typists often added or omitted characters. Another difference is that modern users use their hands differently.

Modern keyboards allow us to type keys with different fingers of the same hand with much less force than what was possible with typewriters,” said co-author Anna Feit from Aalto University. “This partially explains why self-taught typists using fewer than ten fingers can be as fast as touch typists, which was probably not the case in the typewriter era.”

The average user in the study typed 52 words per minute, much slower than the professionally trained typists in the 70s and 80s, who typically reached 60-90 words per minute. However, performance varied largely.

“The fastest users in our study typed 120 words per minute, which is amazing given that this is a controlled study with randomised phrases,” said co-author Dr Antti Oulasvirta, also from Aalto. “Many informal tests allow users to practice the sentences, resulting in unrealistically high performance.”

The researchers found that users who had previously taken a typing course had a similar typing behaviour as those who had never taken such a course, in terms of how fast they type, how they use their hands and the errors they make - even though they use fewer fingers.

The researchers found that users display different typing styles, characterised by how they use their hands and fingers, the use of rollover, tapping speeds, and typing accuracy.

First Published: Apr 05, 2018 19:58 IST