News and Views from a Mass Spectrometry Lab in Irapuato, Mexico

Colemak: The ideal keyboard layout for multilingual scientists

As scientists, we frequently need special symbols such as ±, ‰, µ. Many researchers also have to write in multiple languages. As a Bavarian/German that works in Mexico and publishes principally in English, I switch continuously between typing in German, Spanish and English, meaning that I need letters on the keyboard that are typical for those languages, such as ñ, é, ü, ß etc. As you might know, dealing with a considerable variety of symbols on a standard keyboard layout is tricky. In contrast, the Colemak keyboard layout provides shortcuts for commonly used letters in the Latin writing system.
But the real reason, why I changed to the Colemak keyboard layout, was a different one: at a very vivid conference dinner of the Mexican Society of Biochemistry, I cut a tendon of my left index finger. As a consequence, I required two surgeries and more than 100 sessions of physiotherapy. Nevertheless, a complete recovery of the functionality was not possible. Prolonged typing was painful, and therefore I looked for solutions. The first steps were a competent dictation software (Swype and Dragon) and a mechanical keyboard (Corsair Strafe with blue Cherry switches). Dictation of e-mails and typing with a high-quality keyboard was already a significant improvement toward ergonomic writing. But still, I had to move my stiff finger for every 't', motivating me to try alternative keyboard layouts. Finally, I discovered the Colemak layout, which is designed for optimizing the finger movements and for multilingual writing. Compared to other ergonomic arrangements such as DVORAK, fewer keys are different, which facilitates the learning. The Colemak webpage provides training strategies and software recommendations.
Sometimes you want to cheat and see the keys (e.g. for typing your complicated password)? In this case, you either can define a key for switching keyboard layouts (I am using the [Win] key to change between Colemak and US layout). Or, you re-label the keyboard with stickers. Thanks a lot to Roman Glinnik, who created high-quality labels for Colemak!
Of course, switching to a new keyboard layout reduces your typing speed for several days or weeks. But in the long term, you write faster and reduce your risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI).

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