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What Are Words per Minute?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By gravois — On May 28, 2012

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.

By chivebasil — On May 28, 2012

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.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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