How Fast Do People Type?

Less than half the population of the world has the manual dexterity to wiggle their fingers at the speed of 50 words per minute or better.

–Dr. Alan Lloyd, seminal typing instructor.

Computer professionals often seem to have unrealistically high expectations of what the “average” typist can do. For example, according to this Wikipedia article (as of 2007-12-04)

An average typist reaches 50 to 70 wpm, while some positions can require 80 to 95 (usually the minimum required for dispatch positions and other typing jobs), and some advanced typists work at speeds above 120.

But as we shall see 70 WPM is an absurdly high “average”. 120 WPM means 12 strokes a second, or a split-time of 83mesc between keypresses. That borders on the physically impossible.

As Teresia R. Ostrach, President of Five Star Staffing, Inc. says,

After 27 years in the Staffing Industry, I’ve encountered just about every misconception regarding the performance of office workers. The most frustrating of these is the belief in what constitutes “average” typing scores.

“For years I tried to explain that 65 WPM is a lot faster than average, but I had no proof. After all, everybody knows what an average typist is, right? Somebody who types between 50 and 60 WPM? Well, isn’t it? Well, NO, it’s not!

Here are her findings:
Average Typing Speed

Mean = 40 WPM = 240 characters/minute
Median = 38 WPM = 228 characters/minute
Standard Deviation = 16.7-WPM = 100 characters/minute

Notice that that out of the three thousand four hundred and seventy five applicants, not a single one could manage 120 WPM. And only the top 5% of applicants could manage 70 WPM or higher.

Source:
Typing Speed: How Fast is Average
4,000 typing scores statistically analyzed and interpreted

It’s an excellent paper. Short and accessible, yet relevant, authoritative, and eye-opening. Well worth the read. (Unfortunately it’s laid out poorly in the liked PDF. If someone has a more readable source I’d love to link to it).

But what’s more interesting to me is this chart:
Typing Errors By WPM
Which shows an average error-rate of about 6% per word. Put another way, more then 1 out of every 17 words has a typo in it, which is kind of a big deal.

The error-rate is probably artificially high, because subjects were taking the test under a lot of pressure — it determined if they got a job or not! But even the best group of over-qualfied typists still had a 4% error rate; or a fumble on 1 out of every 25 words. And that’s significant.

The implications of a 4%-6% error-rate are enormous. If people are making that many errors, then good spellcheckers, and auto correctors are essential. If one out of every 17-25 words is mistyped, then long command-lines seem like a very bad idea, because something like one out of every 20 commands would be in-error. Systems should be able to gracefully recover from bad input; because they will be inundated with it.

It looks like the average typist is much slower, and makes more mistakes, then “folk-wisdom” leads us to believe.

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24 Comments on “How Fast Do People Type?”

  1. kwiksand Says:

    It’s an interesting thing to see graphed out, I know from a programmers perspective I can hammer out lines of code in no time at all, or similarly when writing this comment. But if I was dictating for say, a lawyer, typing words I wouldn’t normally type (especially under pressure) even though I may know full well how to spell each word, I’ll make typing mistakes all over the place.

    I’m pretty sure in my heyday, when I was concentrating I could hit the 90WPM for extended periods of time, but I think I’d be hard pressed to do 70 or 75 now. In that sense, I’ve definitely become lazier.


  2. [...] Published December 5, 2007 Design , Usability , User experience I found a fascinating blog entry this morning on the misconceptions surrounding the speed at which people type, the error rate, and [...]

  3. James Cook Says:

    I make many errors which I immediately correct, often without having to look at the screen. Do the error rates here count errors that are later corrected? If so, the implications are exaggerated.

  4. Q Says:

    I have personally hit 150 wpm for periods of 3-5 minutes (this was actually timed). The problem is that I run out of words to type. My typing speed varies based on what I’m doing: copying, listening, writing, coding, etc. I normally type ~50 wpm, but I only using 3 fingers and a thumb.

    Most of my mistakes are corrected by feel: I feel that I hit the wrong key three strokes back and correct it quickly enough that it doesn’t effect speed.

    I find it hard to believe that I’m 6.6 standard deviations out.

    First, this study should be done under normal typing conditions.

    Second, it should only test people who have been trained to type and do so frequently. Everyone begins as a poor typist.

  5. vgable Says:

    @James Cook,

    My understanding from reading the paper was that the error rate included typos that were instinctively corrected. So the 4-6% error rate was of key presses, not final words.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know any data on how many words are mistyped. As you point out, it could be a lot lower.

    Does the 4-6% key-press error rate hold for keyboard shortcuts? Anecdotally I don’t think it does. But I don’t have anything other than “it feels like I hit the wrong key a lot less than that” to base that on.

    @Q
    6.6 ∑ does seem pretty unbelievable! I agree that the study should be done under normal typing conditions. I also think if it were repeated today, the average would be higher, because computers are increasingly ubiquitous, and more children grow up using them.

    But I strongly disagree that these kinds of tests should only be done on people who have been trained to type, and practice typing. I think the question of how fast to most computer users type is more interesting and valuable.

  6. Jamie Dolan Says:

    Hello;

    Thanks for the interesting article. The requirements of some agencies seem quite silly to me. My girl friend, who is a nursing assistant was looking at some medical office positions, that also required some data entry. They required 60+ WPM, I thought to myself, that really sounds quite high. So I looked it up and found your page. I can type up in the 70+ WPM range with errors, or error free (correcting my errors as I go) at 50+ WPM. I can see now from your charts that there are very few people (5% or less) that can achieve typing rates as fast as what I can do. Based on your charts, I doubt more than 10% can type at over 60 WPM.

    Thanks
    Jamie Dolan
    Neenah, WI

  7. Aaron Adams Says:

    I spend a lot of time practicing typing on programs like MicroType and various typing test websites such as Typingtest.com and can do 120 wpm no problem with 99-100% accuracy.

    Speed really depends on the text difficulty. Copying stuff out of a chemistry book for example is a lot harder because of all the jargon and big words with fingering patterns that haven’t been locked into your muscle memory yet. If something has a lot uncommon words, and a shitload of weird punctuation and symbols it can slow my typing speed dramatically down to 90-100 wpm. On the other side of things, I have reached a personal record of 168 wpm typing a short 3-4 sentence paragraph on Microtype that contains common everyday words with no punctuation other than periods and commas (albeit with a couple errors). Also on microtype I sometimes on a good day reach 1 sentence speed bursts of up to 176 wpm. on TypingTest.com the text is a bit harder and a lot longer so my personal best there is only 142 wpm (96% accuracy) on “the enchanted typewriter” for 60 seconds.

    I’ve never had my wpm taken for more than a 60 second period so I can’t say for sure if 5 minutes 120 wpm is “physically impossible” or not.

    Keep in mind I have been playing the piano for 12 years. so its safe to say that extra finger dexterity has built up overtime. If you look at some of the ridiculously fast passages concert pianists need to execute over a span of 88 keys (listen to Chopin’s “winter wind” etude on youtube for example), 120+ wpm on a mere computer keyboard is not unrealistic at all. People who pick up the piano for the first time will fumble all over the keys trying to play a simple scale, in very much the same way a person just learning to type does on a keyboard.


  8. I must confess I was quite flattered to find that an article I wrote several years ago for a staffing industry magazine has gained such exposure on the internet. I’ve found abundant quotes from it on many sites, and not a single one sought me out to ask for clarification before commenting. Yet a 10 second search on Google could find me. Anyway, some interesting suggestions were brought up.
    First, thank all of you for your comments. I’m not likely to be in a position to repeat this analysis in my lifetime or to test out the other theories presented here, but here are a few clarifications.
    It’s not surprising that there are unanswered questions which I will try to address but I’m sure I’ll miss many. In any case, anyone wishing to reach me may send a note to terryostrach@cfl.rr.com. Here are my comments:
    1) Several people commented on how the “study” should have been done. This was NOT a “study.” It was a de facto analysis of EVERY score from EVERY individual taking a standardized typing test in my own business over a period of several years. Nobody “set out” to do a study. I simply collected the information we already had on computer and analyzed it.
    2) Regarding how typing speeds are probably higher now based upon the fact that so many of us use computers, I don’t know of anyone who has researched this, but surely there must be someone out there who has. The jury is still out on that.
    3) Several people commented on their own experience either with correcting errors or how they instinctively “feel” if they’ve made a mistake. No doubt this may be true, but I know of no study or analysis that has tested that out. This was not “designed” to be a definitive “study.” It’s merely an analysis of the years of data we had on hand.
    4) As I clearly stated in my article, the ability to back up to correct errors was disabled in our computerized test. The results are as they stand. Since NO ONE could correct errors, the conditions were the same for everyone. Whether allowing people to self-correct would make a difference in the scores, I cannot know since I can’t go back and re-test those 4,000 people under different conditions. I can tell you, from personal experience of 30 years in an industry that people who were allowed to correct their errors as they typed usually missed a few and, I suspect, their speed scores were lower, ultimately resulting in the same approximate score.
    5) As I mentioned in my article, Dr. Alan Lloyd stated, from his studies, that the “average” person has difficulty WIGGLING his/her fingers at 50 wpm. Since he was a major authority on typing in his day, I tend to trust him.
    6) In my personal experience over 30 years of screening applicants for clerical jobs, scores for a 5-minute test are always lower than scores for a 1- or 2-minute test. Many people can have their fingers fly for a short period of time but cannot maintain that speed for 5 minutes. Usually if they do, their error rate increases dramatically.
    7) As another general rule, the very fastest typists also had the fewest errors. It was unusual for a 100+-wpm typist to have more than an occasional error. On the other hand, there were many people who could type at the SPEED of 40 wpm while making 40 errors!
    8) There was a suggestion that tests should be done in a more “normal” environment. As soon as you start a test, though, it’s not a normal environment anymore. We always assumed that in a normal work environment people type faster than they do on a test. As a matter of fact, we counted on it. We encouraged companies NOT to rely on typing speed alone–that when people settle into a job, their anxiety is reduced and their performance increases.
    9) Yes, it is true that speed depends upon the difficulty of the text being typed. It is also true that EVERYONE who took these tests took the same test in the same room on the same computer and additionally,
    10) The test was set up to repeat the content automatically if a person reached the end. It recycled so that no one would ever be in the position of running out of text as one person said.
    As I said, you may contact me personally: terryostrach@cfl.rr.com.


  9. nice job guys,i like your simple themes.
    I want to style a single category title differently.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    i can type fast

  11. Jamie Dolan Says:

    But can you use capital letters? Seriously, it doesn’t do any good to be able to type fast if your accuracy rate is low.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    hmm my average typing speed is about 120wpm, while my personal max is 160

    most of it is from typingtest.com and online games like typeracer.com

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Hi everyone…

    To my knowledge there has been no officially accepted test like this for QWERTY/Dvorak typing speed and accuracy. Perhaps Teresia R. Ostrach would consider some investigation into this.

    As a Dvorak typist, I’d be very interested in the results!

    Rob

  14. Anonymous Says:

    STAR WARS RULES.

  15. waffle Says:

    man after reading the error rate the fact that my keyboard teacher only allows five errors for 3 paragraghs or its an f seems quite ridiculous


  16. [...] to this test I type about 60-65 words a minute, which is above average, but it’s not exceptional and I’m pretty sure in high school I was typing about the [...]

  17. Mist Says:

    Nonsense. The average WPM for 11 year olds would be around 87

  18. Wuzza Buzza Says:

    You use “then” where you mean “than” twice! And you made an error in “liked” rather than “linked”. Were you rushing to type this?


  19. […] to this test I type about 60-65 words a minute, which is above average, but it’s not exceptional and I’m pretty sure in high school I was typing about the […]

  20. Adam Says:

    I usually monitor http://www.ratatype.com/high-scores/all-time/ and 158 WPM is the highest result.

  21. Anonymous Says:

    “120 WPM means 12 strokes a second, or a split-time of 83mesc between keypresses. That borders on the physically impossible.”

    bahahaha I can’t believe someone actually thinks/wrote this.


  22. […] to this study, the average person types about 38 wpm. This matches well with the results of typingtest.com, which […]

  23. Arotarix Says:

    As someone who routinely averages 130-140WPM and can burst to 200+ with 99% accuracy, I can tell you that fast typing is not just about being able to think and move your fingers quickly – the keyboard is a HUGE factor. I can only type this fast on the keyboard I’m using, which is one with an extremely light actuation pressure (~30g), short actuation distance, and smaller gaps between the keys (so I don’t have to hit all the keys in their center — getting a corner suffices). I also have a laptop whose keyboard requires much more force, in the 60-70g range, and I can barely get to 120WPM with that; same with the more conventional full-sized keyboards with very deep key travel and wide gaps between keys, where even sustaining 100WPM quickly gets tiring.


  24. […] The average person types around 40 words per minute (WPM).  I type about 130-140 WPM (proof).  Sometimes, and this might sound weird, I feel in the zone and can type significantly faster – closer to 160 WPM.  I attribute this to my piano background and a childhood playing video games.  Sometimes I’ll sit at the piano, and things just feel right, whereas other times my fingers just get stuck on each other. […]


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