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by Daniel Gloade on July 23, 2012

One of the few wise choices that I made during my youth is to take a summer school typing course.  The dividends of this decision far out weights the loss of one summer.  I simply could not practice law without effective keyboarding skills.  I have worked with lawyers without keyboarding skills.  They must hire support staff that takes dictation.  Unfortunately such staff is not always available.  Taking dictation seems to be a dying art.  This reliance on employees taking dictation can cause increased expenses or, at worse, the significant reductions in productivity while the owner searches for support staff who takes dictation.

I wonder if we should make keyboarding an essential course for all Ontario students. Like the “3R’s”, keyboarding seems to be a skill used daily by most people.  Even when not keyboarding at work, more and more services are only available through the internet or using a computer database.  Before implementing such a policy, however, we should consider some issues.

The first issue is whether we should use the “QWERTY” keyboard layout. The original QWERTY keyboard was designed to delay typing of the second letter in certain common letter pairs.  The letters “th” is an example.  The delay was necessary because if someone typed too fast on the early typewriters two letters strike the same space at the same time.  This problem has been solved long ago.  People now advocate a keyboard arrangement designed for maximum efficiency.

This layout has several advantages. First the most commonly used keys are located in the middle row. This arrangement reduces finger movement.  The work of each hand is divided equally.  One hand does not have to wait while the other hand finishes.

I have tried the Pratt system.  I suspect that I would type faster using it if I had not already learned the QWERTY system.  I cannot afford to type slowly for a long period of time while I learn a new keyboard arrangement.  If I had children I would be tempted to introduce the Pratt system to my child at a very young age. The only problem, however, is that there is no teaching software for it. I would have to drill my child on the specific letter combinations.  I can see this being a nightmare for both my fictional child and myself!

If you want to try the Pratt system, you can download free software that permits you to reconfigure your keyboard.  The software is called the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator.  The program allows to type in the new configuration as long as the program remains open.  You can cut and paste your materials into the regular word-processor.  Once you close the keyboard software, however, then the keyboard reverts back to the QWERTY configuration.

The second consideration is whether keyboarding is redundant because of dictation software.  I have occasionally used dictation software in the past. I don’t use it more often because I find it to be counter-intuitive.

When I type something it is initially imperfect. I see the flaws in the sentence and I redraft the sentence accordingly. I follow the adage that half of writing is rewriting. Everything changes when I use dictation software, however.

I must compose each sentence in my head before I speak.  This includes coming up with a new idea and arranging the words for clarity and grammatical correctness. I do not save time because there are long pauses between sentences.  I cannot say whether this problem is due to my inexperience with dictation software or whether it is an inherent flaw of it.  I intend to use voice recognition more frequently in the future and perhaps my opinion of it will change.

It is also difficult to use dictation software when making notes on what another person is saying. The speaker would have to frequently pause for the benefit of the note-taker.  The speaker would also hear what the note-taker intends to record, which may not be prudent.

I have seen court reporters speak into a microphone that is shaped like a horse’s feed bag.  The speaker cannot hear what the reporter is saying.  It is unattractive but effective.

I decided to discuss data entry because of the apparent doctor shortage in Kitchener-Waterloo.  The doctor’s handwriting medical records and prescriptions cause delay and (sometimes) confusion. The physician is pressured to quickly make legible notes.  I suggest that doctors using feed bag microphones would significantly reduce the time each doctor would have to spend on each patient. I suspect that many doctors would welcome the prospect of dictating his or her notes without having to retain more support staff.

I have decided to compose all of my blogs using voice recognition software. For this blog I used dictation software.  I used my keyboard to re-replace and correct about 1/3 of its original contents.  In time I will advise you, dear reader, of my conclusion regarding this technology. As always I welcome your thoughts. Thank you.


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