One-handed typing improves prose, research suggests

Nothing highlights someone unused to hammering away at a computer keyboard more than the use of a single digit, hunting down each character slowly and deliberately. But while you may finish your emails first, they’ll have the last laugh. It turns out this is very much like the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race – at least in terms of quality.

As should be pretty obvious, typing one-handed is really slow – your hand has to cover the entire keyboard, rather than the “zonal marking” system I’ve currently deployed to my hands*. How much slower will vary from person to person, but I did a quick unscientific test by doing a few online typing tests. Halving the number of hands reduced my word-per-minute output from 72 to 34.

But if I took that productivity hit, my words would be better, according to a study from the University of Waterloo. The researchers asked 103 participants to type up essays, either using one hand or both. Text-analysis software found that the sophistication of vocabulary improved when limited to a single hand.

Typing can be too fluent or too fast, and can actually impair the writing process,” said Srdan Medimorec, lead author of the study. “It seems that what we write is a product of the interactions between our thoughts and the tools we use to express them.”typing_one_handed_better_writing

In short, the researchers believe that actively slowing down our writing speed gives us longer to do an “internal word search”, ensuring a broader lexicon. Fast typists, on the other hand, just pick the first option that comes to mind in their haste to reach that sweet, sweet end of paragraph.

You might think the simple answer would be to consciously slow down the rate at which we type, but that’s not a great solution either, as different research has suggested this can impair our writing too. Single-handed typing, however, slows the writing speed to around that of handwriting, only without the associated hand cramp and struggle of interpreting sloppy cursive.

“This is the first study to show that when you interfere with people’s typing, their writing can get better,” added Professor Evan Risko, senior author of the study. “We’re not saying that students should write their term papers with one hand, but our results show that going fast can have its drawbacks. This is important to consider as writing tools continue to emerge that let us get our thoughts onto the proverbial page faster and faster.”

The researchers speculate that this means future tools designed to make writing quicker – speech-to-text for example – might make our writing weaker still, but further research would be required to confirm this.

If you’re a particularly fast typist, try using the time you saved to give your writing a quick edit, just to make sure your prose is as perfect as possible.

(*I set out with the full intention of writing this story one handed, but couldn’t justify the ridiculous amount of time it was taking. Sorry if my writing suffered as a result.)

READ NEXT: Try the app that will delete all your work if you stop typing

Images: Matsuyuki and Dennis Skley used under Creative Commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.