The Dvorak Keyboard and You

The Dvorak keyboard layout
Image based on "Persian keyboard layout, unshifted" by Behdad Esfahbod (CC BY)

The standard "QWERTY" keyboard was not designed with ease of typing in mind. Rather, it was designed to keep early typewriters from jamming. 130 years later, in the age of computers, people are still using this awkward, inefficient keyboard layout. Few know that there is a much faster, easier, more efficient, and more comfortable alternative: the Dvorak (pronounced "duh VOR ak") keyboard. Unlike QWERTY, the Dvorak keyboard was scientifically designed for increased speed and accuracy. It is estimated to be 12 to 20 times more efficient than QWERTY. Dvorak is great for beginning and experienced typists alike. It's the layout used by some of the world's fastest typists. This page will give you some information on the Dvorak layout and how to start using it. It's easy and free!

Table of Contents

  1. Dvorak's Advantages Over QWERTY
  2. Personal Experiences
  3. Is Dvorak a Myth?
  4. If It's So Great, Why Doesn't Everybody Use It?
  5. Making the Switch
  6. Buying, Not Buying, or Forging a Dvorak Keyboard
  7. Very Minor No-Big-Deal Dvorak Variations
  8. Recommended Reading
  9. Promote Dvorak!
  10. Dvorak Links
  11. Contact

Dvorak's Advantages Over QWERTY

The typewriter was invented in 1866 by Carlos Glidden, Samuel Soulé, and Christopher Latham Sholes. The alphabetical layout of the keys was not a good one; the type bars that struck the paper jammed often. Sholes came up with a fix for this by placing the type bars for letters of common digraphs, two-letter sequences, as far from each other as possible. The end result was the awkward and confusing QWERTY keyboard layout (named for the first six letters on the top row), which appeared on the first commercially produced typewriter in 1873. When touch-typing became popular in the 1880s, QWERTY was the norm for many keyboards. Although newer keyboards did not jam as easily, it remained the most popular layout and other layouts gradually fell out of use.

The Dvorak keyboard layout was created in the 1930s by Dr. August Dvorak, a professor at the University of Washington, and William L. Dealey, his brother-in-law. It was the result of much effort studying typing behavior and letter frequency. The layout was designed to make typing easier, faster, and more efficient — and it works. The key to its success is the arrangement of the letters.

Speed

Some of the world's fastest typists use Dvorak. A woman named Barbara Blackburn failed her high school typing course, which, of course, taught QWERTY. Then she found out about the Dvorak keyboard. Now, Blackburn can type at a rate of 170 WPM (words per minute) and once peaked at 212 WPM! Here's more information about the world's fastest typist and why she uses only Dvorak. Indeed, most typists who switch from QWERTY to Dvorak easily match their old speed, and usually surpass it. Some have seen a 200-300% increase in their speed. Your speed may not increase that much, but you will notice a striking difference in accuracy and comfort.

Alternating Hands

Because it is more difficult to type an entire word with one hand, the vowels are on one side of the home row and the most used consonants are on the other side. This allows for more alternating between hands. You may have heard that on QWERTY, the left hand does about 56% of the typing. On Dvorak, the typing is split more equally between your hands, which means you can type faster. As a finger on one hand hits a key and comes back to the home row, a finger on the other hand can easily get to the key it needs to hit. Though typing long words with one hand is difficult, there are thousands of one-hand words that can be typed on QWERTY. Try typing these 12-letter words: stewardesses, aftereffects, desegregated, reverberated. Only a handful of such words can be typed on Dvorak, and the longest are only 6 letters long: papaya, Kikuyu, opaque, and upkeep.

Easy to Learn

The logical arrangement of the letters makes Dvorak easy to learn. It has been proven that the Dvorak keyboard is easier to learn than QWERTY, and so speed can be accumulated more easily. In one study, only 52 hours of Dvorak practice had brought a group of typists up to the speed to the speed it took them 3 years to accumulate on QWERTY!

Accuracy

Accuracy is another advantage of the Dvorak layout. Dvorak users tend to make fewer mistakes when typing. Using Dvorak, your accuracy will increase noticeably. A Dvorak typist typically makes half as many mistakes as a QWERTY typist. It has been shown in studies that while a QWERTY typist's accuracy stops increasing, a Dvorak's typist's accuracy will continue to improve. This means you can fix mistakes less and create, compose, and chat more.

Comfort

Many people switch to Dvorak because it's more comfortable. The Dvorak layout was carefully adapted to fit the English language. QWERTY, on the other hand, is about as efficient as a random layout. Because it makes typing easier and more natural, Dvorak may actually decrease the risk of carpal-tunnel syndrome and other forms of repetitive-stress injury (RSI). You can type longer on Dvorak without making your fingers sore. In fact, most RSI sufferers no longer feel pain in their fingers after switching to Dvorak. If you experience pain from using the QWERTY keyboard, the Dvorak layout is for you.

Less Finger Travel

Because of the arrangement of the keys, the Dvorak keyboard requires less finger travel. It has been estimated that a QWERTY typist's fingers travel 16-20 miles a day, while a Dvorak typist's fingers will only travel about 1 mile. This is a major benefit to the health of your fingers.

The Home Row Advantage

Unlike the QWERTY keyboard, the Dvorak keyboard includes the most common letters on the home row (the row of keys your hands rest on when you are touch-typing). The next most common letters are on the top row, and the least-used letters are on the bottom row. 60-70% of the typing is done on the home row of Dvorak, compared with 30-35% on QWERTY's home row. On Dvorak, you can type thousands of words on the home row (aoeuidhtns). How many words can you make out of QWERTY's home row, "asdfghjkl;"?

To see exactly how pronounced the difference is between QWERTY and Dvorak, check out my QWERTY/Dvorak Comparison.

Personal Experiences

I hated learning to type on QWERTY in school. I could only do about 30 WPM. At home I prefered to hunt-and-peck because I was faster that way. But in August 2002, I read about the Dvorak keyboard. I figured someday I was going to have to touch-type, so why not try learning the scientifically designed Dvorak keyboard instead of the sluggish, 19th-century hack known as QWERTY? I got up to a decent speed after a few weeks' practice. Now I'm typing over 60 WPM and I rarely have to think about where the letters are. Here are some other stories from members of the altkeyboards mailing list.

Paul writes:

I took a summer [typing] course and hated it so much. I remember that the keys were all placed in the most awkward order I could imagine. I went the next 20+ years without ever being able to type. I read the story [of Dvorak] and decided that it was of no use for me to learn QWERTY. Why bother? Any computer could be switched over to Dvorak. As I progressed I was able to touch type large documents making very few mistakes. The layout is very smooth so the fingers move without resistance. Switch, don't doubt. You'll never regret.

Thomas says:

My first impression was the comfort of use, even during the first weeks, where I was typing very slowly. Switching to Dvorak was an almost seamless way of learning touch-typing, which is a must for anybody who spends a lot of time using keyboards.

KC writes:

I read about that QWERTY was designed to slow the typists down because the keys kept jamming. I'm like, "That's not right." Then it mentions Dvorak. I click the link that sends me to a page where I can compare QWERTY and Dvorak. I'm like, I have GOT to try this. So, I went into the language settings in Windows XP and change it to Dvorak. So, after a day or so, my brain memorizes the key layout just a little bit. After 2 weeks, I got the hang of it and was starting to get back up to my original speed. After a month, I've mastered it. I'm now a Dvorak typist and I enjoy it.

Here are some words from the subjects in a 1944 study conducted by the U.S. Navy (see the next section for more information about that study). The Dvorak keyboard was known as the Simplified Keyboard back then.

I am definitely in favor of the Simplified Keyboard. It does not seem possible that after only six weeks of training I would be typing 57 to 62 WPM in comparison to typing 45 to 50 WPM on the standard keyboard after a four year typing course. I would certainly advise other typists to retrain.

I do not regret that I have converted, although I was very competent on the standard keyboard.

I do not regret converting to the Simplified Keyboard, as typing on the old keyboard had me on the point of resigning from typing. I would advise other typists to convert to this easy method, and not be a mere typist but a champion or an expert.

As you can see, the Dvorak layout has gotten rave reviews for as long as it has been around.

Is Dvorak a Myth?

Some people say that Dvorak is no better than QWERTY. They say that the layout must be no good, because a 1944 U.S. Navy study that showed very positive results of Dvorak was supposedly conducted by Dr. Dvorak himself. This is NOT true. Dvorak was a Commander in the Navy reserve at the time but did not organize, conduct, or participate in the study in any way.

The results of the Navy study showed that Dvorak was superior to QWERTY in every way. It proved that Dvorak typists' skills could continue to improve while QWERTY typists reached a plateau. In addition, Dvorak was found to be so efficent that the cost of converting the typewriters and training the typists was recovered in 10.3 days! All of the Dvorak typists agreed that the keyboard was faster, more comfortable, and easier to type on.

However, the anti-Dvorak people don't seem to acknowledge this key study. And, because there are no studies that prove that QWERTY is better than Dvorak, Dvorak's opponents point to a study that shows that QWERTY is just as good as Dvorak. The study they cite was conducted in 1956 by Dr. Earl Strong for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). However, the anti-Dvorak folks don't tell us that Dr. Strong was biased toward QWERTY! In 1949, Strong wrote:

I strongly feel that the present keyboard has not been fully exploited, and I am out to exploit it to its very utmost in opposition to the change to new keyboards.

That's not all. Shortly after the GSA "study" was finished, other researchers asked to see Strong's data to verify his results. However, on completion of his study, Strong destroyed nearly all of the data, leaving only the hard results! We do know that he gathered up 10 QWERTY typists and trained them in Dvorak four hours a day for 25 days. Typing experts agree that training for more than two hours a day is counterproductive. In spite of this, the Dvorak typists performed better than the QWERTY typists by the end of the study. Their speed increased by 27% and their error rate was reduced by 54% in a five minute test. In the same test, the QWERTY group increased their speed by 32%, but their error rate increased by 12%.

Although the numbers clearly showed that Dvorak was superior, Dr. Strong (who was known to dislike Dr. Dvorak) turned the result of his study in the opposite direction, saying that converting to Dvorak was not worth it. What anti-Dvorak forces don't see is that the hard statistics beg to differ.

In 1990, an article titled "The Fable of the Keys" was published in the Journal of Law and Economics. It supposedly proved that Dvorak must be no good because it's not the standard today. But its authors fail to realize that two of the toughest times in American history (that is, the Great Depression and World War II) were what stood in Dvorak's way and assured that QWERTY was the standard. Admitting that Dvorak is better than QWERTY would blow a hole in their economic theories. If you've ever read "The Fable of the Keys," I highly recommend you follow it up with The Fable of the Fable and Response to the Anti-Dvorak Crusaders.

Clearly, people who say that Dvorak is no good have never tried it.

If It's So Great, Why Doesn't Everybody Use It?

Good question. The Dvorak keyboard did get some press when it was invented, and it gradually began to gain momentum from people who wanted a better keyboard. However, it was introduced during the Great Depression, and people weren't about to spend what little money they had on new typewriters when their old ones were built to last. Some companies started making Dvorak typewriters as early as the 1940s. Dr. Dvorak invested heavily in a Remington Dvorak model that didn't sell well because typists didn't like its sound. The U.S. Navy, having finished its study on the Dvorak keyboard, ordered 2,000 Dvorak typewriters, but the Treasury department vetoed the purchase. By the end of the World War II, QWERTY was the standard keyboard and nothing could get in its way. In addition, the poorly conducted 1956 GSA study that was extremely biased toward QWERTY managed to keep people from adopting Dvorak.

But in the 1970s and 80s, Dvorak made a comeback of sorts. Smith-Corona started offering all its typewriters in QWERTY and Dvorak — a switchable model was even made. The public's awareness of Dvorak was increasing. Still, the Dvorak typewriter was not popular compared to Smith-Corona's other models, and so they discontinued their Dvorak line. Dr. August Dvorak, who worked hard to promote his keyboard layout, died on October 10, 1975. And though Dvorak was officially recognized by ANSI in November 1982 and the number of Dvorak users rocketed from 5,000 in 1982 to 100,000 in 1984, the furor died down.

Then the personal computer emerged as an essential tool in homes and offices. Naturally, most computer keyboards adopted the QWERTY layout. However, the Dvorak layout was just popular enough that most operating systems made it an option. The Internet has also become a great tool for promoting Dvorak awareness. More and more people are learning about the Dvorak keyboard, and some of them are even making the switch.

Making the Switch

You can buy a Dvorak keyboard (see the next section for more details on buying), but it's not necessary. Nearly every operating system will allow you to change the keyboard layout in use. That means you can still use the keyboard you have now; it will just work like a Dvorak.

Most people who are familiar with QWERTY do not want to make the switch to Dvorak, and that's okay. If you've never switched keyboard layouts before, you should know that if you quit QWERTY for good, you may end up completely forgetting it. (It happened to me!) If you wish to retain your QWERTY skills while learning Dvorak, be careful. Try to keep your typing even between layouts, and don't do too much on one keyboard at one time. If you want to quit QWERTY for good, go ahead. You might have to re-learn it later if you need to. But unless you die next month, switching to Dvorak will be worth it in the long run, whether you decide to abandon QWERTY completely or not.

Make sure you have a lot of time to make the switch. It usually takes about a month or so. During the process of learning Dvorak, there may be a time in which you aren't yet up to speed on Dvorak and have pretty much forgotten QWERTY; you wouldn't be able to type very well on either layout. For this reason, it's good to start learning Dvorak during a long vacation. But after a few weeks, you'll see your speed increase.

With that said, you should now be ready take the big step. Here are instructions on switching to Dvorak for the most popular operating systems and desktop environments.

  • Windows XP: Go to Start -> Control Panel. (If you're viewing by categories, click "Date, Time, Language, and Regional Options.") Go to Regional and Language Options -> Languages -> Details and click "Add." Select "United States-Dvorak" and then press OK. To make it the default, choose "United States-Dvorak" in the Default Input Language drop-down menu.
  • Windows Vista: Go to Start -> Control Panel. In the default view, the option is "Change keyboards or other input methods;" If you're using the "Classic View," go to Regional Language Options and select the "Keyboards and Languages" tab. Click the "Change Keyboards" button, and click the "Add" button. Select "United States-Dvorak" and then press OK. To make it the default, choose "United States-Dvorak" in the Default Input Language drop-down menu.
  • GNOME: Go to System -> Preferences -> Keyboard -> Layouts and click "Add." For Layouts, select your country, and for Variants, select Dvorak. If a Dvorak layout doesn't appear for your country, then select "USA," "United Kingdom," or another country that has one. To make Dvorak the default layout, click the button under "Default" in the Keyboard Layouts window. To change the key combination used to switch between layouts, go to Layout Options -> Layout Switching and choose one or multiple options.
  • KDE: YaST -> Hardware -> Keyboard Layout -> Variant:Dvorak.
  • Mac OS X: Open System Preferences (Apple Menu -> System Preferences), choose the "International" tab, choose the "Input Menu" tab from there, and check the box next to "Dvorak." To change between the two at any time, click on the flag on the right of the menu bar, and on the drop-down, click on "Dvorak."

Okay, I don't have all the most popular ones covered. For other and older operating systems, see Marcus Brooks's page.

The next thing you're going to have to do is learn how to type on the Dvorak keyboard layout. ABCD: A Basic Course in Dvorak is a good on-line tutorial. This, along with some plain old self-composed sentences every now and then, is how I learned Dvorak. Like learning anything, practice makes perfect. Enough practice and you should be typing well in a few weeks.

If you move from computer to computer a lot and you can't switch the computers to Dvorak, I would recommend trying Dvorak Anywhere. Just log on to the page and type Dvorak-style in the box — you don't have to switch the software on the computer as described above! You could also save the page to a disk and take it with you wherever you need it.

Buying, Not Buying, or Forging a Dvorak Keyboard

Converting your computer using one of the methods described on the Switch Your Computer to Dvorak page will make your keyboard work and type like a Dvorak, but the keys will still have their original QWERTY letters printed on them. This shouldn't be much of a problem, because a touch-typist never looks at the keyboard. Still, you may want to print a diagram of the Dvorak keyboard (such as the one at the top of this page) to keep near your computer monitor.

If you would have the Dvorak letters on the keys, you have three options: you can either relabel your keys, buy a Dvorak keyboard, or make a Dvorak keyboard.

Relabeling

Relabeling the keys can be done inexpensively. You can buy some reasonably-priced Dvorak labels from Hooleon Corporation or Fentek Industries. If your unenlightened friends/family members also use your computer, you can get labels with both Dvorak and QWERTY letters on them. It's also possible to print a Dvorak layout such as the one on this page onto adhesive paper.

Buying

If you have some extra money to throw around, you may be interested in buying a hard-wired Dvorak keyboard — that is, one that works like a Dvorak when you plug it in. I'm not aware of any place that currently sells regular-shaped, true Dvorak keyboards, but there are some weird and wonderful ergonomic types that come in Dvorak. TypeMatrix gets rave reviews for its ergonomic keyboards, all of which have a QWERTY/Dvorak switching button. The keys are available in QWERTY, Dvorak, and dual-labeled configurations.

Fentek offers Dvorak keyboards that are not hard-wired. They will work like a QWERTY when you plug them in, so these keyboards require you to switch the software using one of the methods above. Apparently, they are simply regular QWERTY keyboards with the keycaps rearranged. In any case, Dvorak keyboards, when they can be found, are not as cheap as QWERTYs, and you'd be hard pressed to find one in a store.

Making

If you are really short on cash, you could always pop the keys off your QWERTY (using a screwdriver) and rearrange them to match the Dvorak layout. I tried this on an old keyboard just for the heck of it, and the results were not that pretty. On most keyboards, the keys on each row are slightly angled toward the home row. Rearranging these keys makes for a lumpy keyboard, and there are no notches on the keys where your index fingers rest ("u" and "h" on Dvorak; "f" and "j" on QWERTY). Note also that not all keyboards can stand to have their keys popped off. Make sure you know what you're doing.

Very Minor No-Big-Deal Dvorak Variations

Not all Dvorak layouts are the same. Don't freak out; not all QWERTY layouts are the same either. Over the years, there have been different placings of some of the lesser-used punctuation marks, most notably the [brackets] and {braces}. The American National Standards Institute (commonly known as ANSI) has its own version, but most operating systems use the one pictured on this page. The latter version is pretty much the de facto standard. Don't worry if the brackets on your computer's layout do not match the ones in the picture; with enough playing around you should figure out where they are. The letters and most of the punctuation marks are always in the same places.

Recommended Reading

'The Dvorak Keyboard' by R.C. CassinghamIf you're interested in the Dvorak keyboard, I highly recommend you read The Dvorak Keyboard: The Ergonomically Designed Typewriter Keyboard, Now an American Standard by R.C. Cassingham, Freelance Communications, 1986. Although the resources in the back of the book are outdated, the The Dvorak Keyboard contains more information about Dvorak than you could ever possibly get from a web site. Inside its pages are diagrams of various Dvorak and QWERTY variations, in-depth information about the Navy and GSA studies, lots of helpful tips for learning and practicing the layout, and more. It's the source for most of the facts and information you've seen on this page. You can order The Dvorak Keyboard and other Dvorak literature through the author's online order form.

Promote Dvorak!

Now that you know the benefits of Dvorak, it's time to spread the word. Here are some things you can do:

  • No major computer hardware companies (to my knowledge) make Dvorak keyboards. E-mail or write to them requesting that they produce them. Here's contact information for a few major manufacturers and/or distributors of computer keyboards:

Hewlett-Packard
3000 Hanover Street
Palo Alto, CA 94304-1185
USA
Phone: 650-857-1501
http://www.hp.com
E-mail

IBM Corporation
1133 Westchester Avenue
White Plains, NY 10604
USA
Phone (toll-free): 1-800-426-4968
http://www.ibm.com
E-mail

Logitech, Inc.
6505 Kaiser Drive
Fremont, CA 94555
USA
Phone: 510-795-8500
http://www.logitech.com

Microsoft Corp.
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052-6399
USA
Phone: 425-882-8080
http://www.microsoft.com

  • Tell all your family and friends.
  • If you're good with HTML, you can make your own Dvorak web page (like this one).
  • Try to make Dvorak an option at your school or work.
  • Have Dvorak bumper stickers made! (Hey, you could do it if you wanted to...)
  • If you come across a system/program that does not support Dvorak, write to the manufacturer.
  • Get your local paper to do a story on Dvorak.
  • Here's an image you can use that shows the letters of the Dvorak layout, with the home row in red. It comes in 350x140, 500x200, and 800x320. The largest is good for printing and hanging in your cubicle. It comes out to about 22x9 cm after printing.

Here are more and better sources of Dvorak help and information:

Contact

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or corrections, or have switched to Dvorak because of this page, you can e-mail me at the address given at the bottom of this page.

Disclaimer: I do not endorse any Dvorak products advertised on this page. They are linked for your benefit. I cannot be held responsible for broken keyboards from people who tried to rearrange their keys to match the Dvorak layout. I'm just this guy, you know?

Last updated January 3, 2009
Created October 5, 2002