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The Fallacy of Sight Keying

Author: George Rhodes, Founder of The Keyboard Teacher.George Rhodes

The effective elimination of “hunt & peck” keying–remedial keyboarding–is based on a single factor: an inability to visually guide the fingers. However, typewriting, keyboarding’s predecessor, had only a marginal number of “hunt & peck” students and typing instructors never felt a need to restrict sight typing. In fact, typewriting authorities extolled the merits of permitting students to visually observe both the keyboard and their finger movements, and have criticized keyboarding’s failure to adopt this traditional typewriting practice.

Typewriting instruction’s emphasis on allowing the student to “look,” or visually observe his keying activity was markedly influenced by the Leonard West study of 1967. Titled “Vision and kinesthesis in the acquisition of typewriting skill,” West’s research concluded, “The Beginner, deprived of vision and forced to depend on muscular sensations alone, does NOT very often know what he has done.” The belief of this writer is that few comments have equally mislead education.

West reported his study in his typewriting instruction methods text titled ACQUISITION OF TYPEWRITING SKILLS, 1969, Pitman Publishing Company pp. 78-85. The research included 266 typists who ranged in skill from 9 through 108 WAM. Each typist was given a 12 minute timing while deprived of vision by the placement of a paperboard shield that blocked the typist’s view of both the typewriter and the typescript. The copy was tacked to the top of the paperboard. West’s study attempted to determine the extent to which a typist could reliably depend on muscular cues, or kinesthesis feel, employing these in place of visual guidance. Each typist was instructed to immediately space once after each “felt” error and retype the word, then continue with the copy. An analysis of the timing data determined that 9-14 WAM typists sensed less than 20 percent of their errors by kinesthetic feel; the 15-24 WAM typist 30 percent; the 95-108 WAM typist 50 percent.

The weakness of West’s study was its failure to include CORRECT keystrokes as well as error strokes. A “success” was limited to “feeling” an error and immediately reporting this finding. A 10 WPM typist during the 12 minute timing keyed 600 keystrokes, 41 of these being error strokes. Approximately 8 (20%) of these error strokes were recognized by “feel.” The 600 total strokes minus 41 error strokes leaves 559 correct strokes. Each of the 559 strokes were determined by the student to be correct employing the same muscular cues that were applied to determine an error stroke. Therefore, there were only 33 kinesthetic failures (41-8) out of 600 keystrokes, giving a 33/600 percent of failure or, in positive terms, a 94.5% success rate! Applying the same logic to the typists who typed from 95-108 WAM, using a 100 WAM average, these typists keyed 6000 strokes with 30 errors, 15 of which were recognized by muscular cues. Thus, 5985 kinesthetically recognized strokes out of 6000 strokes, gives a “touch” dependability reading of 99.8%! What more can be expected of muscular cues?

Regarding the unrecognized “error” strokes and drawing from my personal typing experiences, a confused mind and not an “unfeeling touch” is the greater villan of the two. Mental errors occur in the passage of keyboarding data to one’s striking fingers in the manner that the mind is less than perfect in any human endeavor. On what basis did the West study conclude that unrecognized keying errors were a failure of finger touch and not a mental glitch?