What Are Words per Minute?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Words per minute (WPM) is a term used to describe how quickly an individual can type a complete series of words accurately, with a minimum of errors. In times past when most typing was done using manual or electronic typewriters, the ability to type over a minimum amount of words per minute was often a key skill when applying for any type of administrative or clerical work. Even today, when most office work is done using a QWERTY keyboard on a computer, there is still some emphasis on maintaining a decent WPM as a requirement for certain types of work.

Typing instructors use a stopwatch to track time when calculating how many words per minute someone can type.
Typing instructors use a stopwatch to track time when calculating how many words per minute someone can type.

The traditional process for determining the words per minute that an individual can type usually required providing the individual with a specific paragraph or set of paragraphs to type. With this approach, the person conducting the test would allow the applicant to be seated in front of the typewriter and to insert a piece of paper into the carriage. When signaled by the instructor, the applicant would begin to type the words from the sample provided until the instructor told the applicant to stop. Typically, the instructor would use a stopwatch to determine the stop and start time so that the applicant typed for exactly one minute.

Practice typing can increase your words per minute output.
Practice typing can increase your words per minute output.

Once the typing was completed, the paper was extracted from the typewriter and the words counted by hand. In the event that the applicant transposed letters or made any type of spelling errors, those words were deducted from the total count. The end result would be the total words per minute typed, and would be used to determine if the applicant was qualified for the job he or she was seeking.

The QWERTY keyboard is named for its top row of letters.
The QWERTY keyboard is named for its top row of letters.

There were variations on this basic process for determining words per minute. Some methods called for allowing two full minutes, on the premise that the applicant would need twenty seconds or so to build up speed. When this was the case, the total words typed were counted, any misspellings deducted, and the total divided by two to come up with the final tally.

While typewriters are rarely used today, it is not unusual for employers to still query job seekers regarding the total words per minute they can type. Often, the interview process will include a typing test, using a desktop computer to assess the speed of the typist. With this more contemporary approach, the typist is not allowed to use automatic spell check during the test, or to stop for a moment in order to correct spellings.

Typing a certain number of words per minute became a skill when typewriters were popular.
Typing a certain number of words per minute became a skill when typewriters were popular.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments

gravois

I will admit something a little embarrassing to you guys. I work as a freelance writer but I am an absolutely terrible typer. To be honest, I am slow and sloppy.

But over the last two months I have been trying to type properly and improve my speed and accuracy. I would take typing speed tests when I first started and I could only do about 30 WPM. I took one this morning and I was up to 63 WPM. Not too shabby.

chivebasil

Words per minute seems to apply mostly to typing, but is there a measure or a test of the number of words per minute that a person can read? I feel like I am a pretty fast reader but I have never actually been able to compare my speed to others, or to an average speed.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: