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An Overview: Keyboards & Accessories

Choosing the right keyboard is important; the wrong keyboard-combined with incorrect usage-can contribute to discomfort and ultimately even injury. Here are a few key things to consider when selecting your keyboard:





There are a variety of keyboard designs and shapes from which to choose. Most computers come with a traditional "straight" keyboard, which is the rectangular design we're all familiar with. Other companies produce a keyboard that splits the letters down the middle, producing two halves, which are then angled outward to better conform to the shape of our body. This design is particularly good for people with broad chests, as their elbows are already pushed slightly outward, naturally angling their wrists toward each other. Conversely, thinner people may find a traditional "straight" keyboard more comfortable.

There are also a number of "alternative" keyboards available. Contoured keyboards offer recessed keys to better fit the natural placement of fingers. Chording keyboards have fewer keys, allowing you to keep your fingers fixed on a given key. (They work by using combinations of keys instead of individual keystrokes.) There are even variations on letter arrangement; the Dvorak Layout keeps the same position of each key, but assigns different letters to each one. Commonly used letters such as "A", "O", "I", etc. are placed in the "home" row, and under the strongest fingers. These layouts can actually improve efficiency significantly, but require some time to learn.

There is no truly conclusive evidence that alternative keyboards reduce the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders. Some of these keyboards have been shown to reduce hand pain, but it may take weeks or months until you're aware of the reduction. However, if not set up properly these keyboards may make postures worse, so always follow proper setup and usage tips.

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Some keyboards have a smaller distance between the keys, which may be more comfortable for children or people with small hands. These keyboards can also be useful for people with little space on their desk top-but don't hurt yourself just to save space.

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There's often a distinct "feel" to typing on each keyboard, and it's due to the way keyboards translates your keystrokes into text. Some use mechanical keys, which tend to make a clicking noise and feature better defined "up" and "down" positions. Others use a "membrane" technology, with a softer feel, which makes it easier to depress the keys. Some people like the clear feeling of "up and down," and others like the softer touch and quieter action of membrane keyboards. Choose what feels most comfortable to you.

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The standard keyboard is the 101-key QWERTY version (named after the first five letters in the upper left row of the keyboard), and includes cursor keys, function keys, and a 10 key numeric pad on the right side. Some additional features you may want to consider are:

Cursor Keys in an inverted "T" arrangement: The arrow keys that let you move the cursor can come in two arrangements: side-by-side (arranged in a single row) or in an "inverted T" configuration. The inverted T configuration is more intuitive (and often more comfortable!), and makes it easier to navigate pages, play games, etc.

Special function keys: Some newer keyboards have added extra keys to the traditional 101 layout-common examples include the "Windows" key, Internet keys, or multimedia keys. These can be very useful for frequently repeated tasks, reducing keystrokes, improving efficiency, and reducing your risk of a repetitive stress injury. If the keys don't initially do exactly what you want, some can even be reprogrammed to execute a macro for the desired task.

Detachable Numeric Pad: For people who use the numeric pad extensively-accountants, for example-it may make sense to purchase a keyboard with a detachable 10 key module (this allows a much greater range of positioning). Not all keyboards even have a numeric keypad on the right side. Some keyboards are produced without them, and are therefore narrower. This can be very useful for people who do not use the 10 keys-the mouse or trackball can be brought closer to the keyboard, leading to a better position for the arm. These keyboards also take up less space on the desktop.

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