This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 07 table of contents.

Keyboarding as a Highly Practiced Skill

Gentner and Norman (1984) wanted to study finely coordinated activity without spending lots of time and money on special training sessions. They hit upon the idea of analyzing movements of skilled typists. They found...

What distinguished skilled from unskilled typists, in the Gentner and Norman (1984) study?

—Professional typists often average about 8 keystrokes a second, much too fast to control individually (just like the example of piano playing above).

—The main variable distinguishing skilled from unskilled typists was ability to move fingers independently to anticipate keystrokes 2 or 3 strokes ahead of the current keystroke. In typing "thing," for example, slow typists move their whole hand upward when typing the "i," leaving their fingers far from the "n." Experts move one finger up by the "i" while positioning another near the "n."

What happened after thousands of hours of practice typing manuscripts into word processors?

Full automaticity comes after thousands of hours of practice. Some typists who spend all their time typing from manuscript texts into word processors are conscious only of "reading" the text. The typing seems to happen automatically. Norman and Gentner found typists who typed from dictation (translating voice into typed text) sometimes unconsciously moved their fingers as if typing the dialogue while watching movies at home.

—Students learn typing best by practicing with normal prose, not by using exercises designed to practice certain movements.

What did they say about teaching students to type?

—Students should not be taught to type in a rhythm; most experts do not maintain a rhythm at all.

—The standard QWERTY keyboard is close to optimal, only 5-10% slower than the famous Dvorak keyboard which was designed to promote speed. An alphabetical keyboard did not help beginners.

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