Do-It-Yourself Keyboard Study

It is pretty easy to demonstrate that the Dvorak layout is much more logical than QWERTY in several respects. I developed a quick litmus test that anybody can repeat:

I started with some keyboard goals that seem acceptable to all sides of the discussion:

And, since one correspondent speculated the top two rows are about equally easy (perhaps favoring QWERTY): To compare Dvorak, QWERTY, and an alphabetic layout against these criteria, I used the hidden-word feature of a shareware Mac anagram program (games/word/anagram-crossword-15.hqx on Info-Mac) to see how many unique 3-letter or larger words it could construct from different groups of keys.

For example, to test the Dvorak home row, I fed the program "aoeuidhtns." It listed all the words it could create with those letters. Here are the word counts for all the key sets I tested:

                      QWERTY    ABCD    Dvorak
                      ------    ----    ------ 
(More is better...)
Home-row-only           49        40      618 
Top-two-rows-only     5810      6977    10448 

(Fewer is better...)
Left-hand-only         687      1183       58  
Right-hand-only        101        49       29  
Off-home-row-only     1138       596       15  

Dvorak comes out well ahead in all these tests using the default dictionary. (Even the alphabetic keyboard looks better than QWERTY in some respects.) I also tried some tests with a list of 1000 most-used words that I found on the web; the ratios were similar.

The numbers look small overall because the strings I used had only one instance of each tested letter, so the test ignores words with two or more of any letter (like "test" and "letter"). I accepted this limitation to keep run times down.

Later I found that the program only accepts 32 character strings; I did a quick test with a couple of padded strings (for example, "aoeuidhtnsetaoinshdetaoinshdetao") and I didn't see much difference in the ratios.

Someday I hope to write a program that will measure actual text against these (and perhaps other) criteria. That would be a more true-to-life test; but frankly I don't expect QWERTY to catch up.

Back to Introducing the Dvorak Keyboard.

Last update: 8 December 1996
Original page established: 25 February 1996
Marcus Brooks:  HTML Home  Weblog