Does It Really Matter How Fast You Type?


Illustration for article titled Does It Really Matter How Fast You Type?

Photo: ArthurStock (Shutterstock)

Technological advancement over the last 30 years have meant skills once rare to office workers are now commonplace. Chief among those skills is typing: Decades ago, one could ply their trade as a typist and make a living solely by striking keys on a typewriter. Back then, you might consider including your best words-per-minute time in a resume, as an indication of your efficiency.

However, it’s worth asking this question in 2021: Is it as necessary a skillset in the new economy, or can you hunt and peck at the keys and be just fine?

What’s considered ‘fast’ anyway?

If we’re going to discuss the concept of fast typing we might as well consider the fastest who ever lived, Stella Pajunas and Barbara Blackburn. Pajunas set the world record in 1946 with a speed of 216 words per minute (WPM), typing on an IBM electric typewriter. Blackburn is currently the world’s fastest English-language typist, with a speed of 212 WPM, recorded in 2005 on a Dvorak simplified keyboard.

In my opinion, Pajunas is the unsung champion of the speed typing game because she did it on a typewriter, which is now inarguably an obsolete piece of technology. If you were to resurrect Pajunas and teach her how to code, she might just be a software developer’s dream. For the rest of us, though, you can consider an “average” typing speed at about 40 WPM.

Are there still professions were fast typing matters?

Many coders in the tech world type pretty fast by virtue of their vocation, which requires them to sit and type pretty incessantly. As the corporate strategist Mario Peshev writes on his website, “most developers I know usually clock at least 70 words per minute.” That might prove to be a major asset, provided you thoroughly understand the programming language you’re smashing into existence.

That said, there are only a select few other careers where fast typing is imperative, according to the career coach and consultant Judith Gerberg.

She tells Lifehacker:

Speed is still important in some industries and jobs, especially those that have to deal with transcribing or note taking- i.e. court stenographer, typists, legal transcribers, data entry specialists. However, what is most important is accuracy and consistency.

By and large, how fast you type doesn’t really matter all that much so long as you’re able to maintain a speed around the average threshold. If you’re using two fingers to type—an un orthodox technique known as “hunting and pecking”—your speed will likely only reach 27 WPM, a notable distance away from that 40 WPM average.

Gerberg notes that typing isn’t quite the definitive skillset it used to be, but it’s still important, especially when it comes to doing a job well:

In today’s world, it is assumed everyone has typing skills and that spellcheck will catch any errors, yet attention to detail is a desired skill. Proofreading and knowing the fundamentals (this includes proofreading a spellchecked document) is necessary in the business world to not experience embarrassing errors.

How to boost your skills

If you’re someone who spends all day at a keyboard, it’s likely that your speed surpasses the average WPM. If you’re interested in seeing where you fall between those who hunt and peck and Barbara Blackburn, there are WPM tests, such as those offered by Key Hero and Typing Test, which are free to try.

Alternatively, there are online programs such as Typing Club, which act as a sort of tutor for adults. As my colleague Meghan Moravcik Walbert wrote earlier this month, this is a pretty useful tool that you can use to whatever extend you’d like, whether it’s fully immersive or just out of curiosity:

Users can take a free “placement test” so the site can determine where you need to begin. Depending on what you score on the placement test, the results will “open” a variety of lessons for you based on your specific areas of needed improvement. The lessons are quick but offer repetition to help your fingers build muscle memory for each key. You’ll get a report that details your accuracy and speed with each lesson.

Either way, muscle memory and practice are ultimately what will help your skills the most.