Why Are Keyboards QWERTY And Not Alphabetical?

Knowing how to type on a keyboard is now an essential skill. But, for new typists, understanding the confusing QWERTY format may feel a bit difficult. This begs the question, why are keyboard QWERTY and not the alphabetical format? 

Keyboards use the QWERTY format and are not alphabetical because the format was popularized with Remington typewriters which had to follow the format to avoid paper jams from adjacent keys being hit in successive motion.

In this article, we’re going to go over the history of the typewriter, keyboard, various keyboard layouts, and why eventually, the QWERTY format took precedence over every other format.

Why Are Keyboards Not Alphabetical?

azerty typewriter
An older typewriter with a different format

To understand why keyboards are not alphabetical and follow a certain standard, we’ll need to move back a few hundred years and go to the typewriter. A typewriter, in essence, is the start of modern-day typing.

Now, these typewriters, archaic as they are consisted of purely mechanical parts. The easiest way to understand how they work would be through a piano. The piano has adequately spaced levers that hit a hammer, which ultimately hits a specific number of strings.

A typewriter works in the same way. A lever, when you hit a key, forces a steel type to hit a ribbon filled with ink, transferring that inky ribbon to paper. The problem with this mechanism is that if these levers are not adequately spaced and are pressed in quick succession, the typewriter would jam.

Fixing The Jam

As soon as typewriters were invented, various typists from all around the globe rallied around to create a format that was both easy to use and caused little to no printer jams. Eventually, with proper letter arrangements, jams were avoided.

As soon as that happened, though, another issue arose. There was no standardized format for typewriters. So, multiple companies (and even smaller manufacturers) had their own format for tackling paper jams. Therefore, keys were placed in different positions with no harmony to them.

The Birth Of QWERTY

The primary problem with typing formats besides jams was the lack of key spacing. Why is that important? Well, think about it this way. When typing quicker, typists use all their fingers or most of them. If letters are not evenly spaced, they’d need to wait for one finger to move before they hit the other key.

This inherently reduces their speed. So, when complex messages from Morse Code needed to be deciphered or, courtrooms needed quicker typing, the letter arrangements of keyboards were changed over time. And, by the late 1860s, this almost matched the QWERTY keyboard.

In fact, take a look at this particular typewriter from the 1870s:

Credits: NameExplain 

The format above closely resembles a modern QWERTY layout with the exception of a full stop where the R is and some minor changes. This format was commonly referred to as the QW.T layout. 

American Christopher Sholes, one of the premier designers of various forms of typewriters eventually, after much trial and error, created the QWERTY format we all use today. It avoided the aforementioned paper jams that plagued an alphabetical arrangement.

The patent for the QWERTY keyboard was sold to Remington and Sons in the 1870s. With the company eventually producing thousands of standardized typewriters, as the world progressed towards the era of touch typing (typing without seeing), numerous professionals started getting used to the format.

Why Is The QWERTY Layout So Popular?

Contrary to popular belief, the QWERY format isn’t the best format out there. It is not the easiest to learn. And most professional typists prefer DVORAK for its spacing. But, since QWERTY was the first format to gain popularity, it is hard to beat.

Credits: TheKeyboardCompany

When typewriters were faced made electronic with the introduction of the big beige keyboards we all know and love, the QWERTY format was used simply because it was the easiest for typists of that time to switch to. Since a generation now grew up on that format, it ultimately made sense for our modern-day keyboards to house the same format.

This begs the question, can a modern-day keyboard be arranged in an alphabetical keyboard? Well, yes! Since there are no paper jams in modern keyboards, you can arrange your keys in whichever key you like. But, since QWERTY is so widely accepted and is used by billions across the globe, we’re stuck with the format for a very, very long time.

Is QWERTY The Easiest Layout To Learn?

Source: NameExplain

The QWERTY format is the most convenient to learn but not the easiest. The accolade of the easiest format goes to DVORAK or the newly released Colemark. In any case, no matter what layout you go for, time and practice are of the essence.

Personally, I’ve been using QWERTY for quite a while. And, even though I wasn’t initially great, I recently scored over 130 WPM. Not to brag or anything, but it is a testament to the fact that practice matters more than what format you end up using.

Related Articles:

Why Do Keyboards Have Two Sets Of Numbers? (Explained)
Why Do Keyboards Have 2 USBs? (Explained)

+ posts

I work from home. To do the best possible job I need the right accessories - the right desk, the right chair, the right keyboard, the right monitor, etc. When I work I want to feel comfortable. I review everything that's related to home desk setup - focusing on Monitors & Keyboards.