To paraphrase Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Overflow, technical writers are like pianists. We need our hands to work perfectly to earn a living. Sitting for several hours a day in front of the computer and typing at speeds many times faster than the average computer user has a documented history of causing medical issues- which are usually all clumped under the umbrella of Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSIs). This includes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), which is probably the best known of them.
Technical writers, just like programmers, are especially prone to RSIs if they don’t pay serious attention to the ergonomics of their daily workspace. While ergonomics for technical writers extends to everything- from the chair and table to the lighting and the monitor setup, in this article we’ll tell you all you need to know about the most important and easily fixable of them all: putting together an ergonomic keyboard and mouse setup specifically tuned for technical writing.
The rigors this particular profession demands are especially harsh on our hands and arms. The standard keyboard is, shall we say, not-so-great for hours of continuously typing. Finding the best ergonomic mouse and keyboard for technical writers entails looking for these key features:
1. Hardware that helps us keep and use our hands in the most natural position possible:
The average keyboard (and mouse) is ridiculously arranged for our hands. What you want is a keyboard that includes a separate number pad, a comfortable, ‘inward leaning’ typing and resting position for your hands, a decent and comfortable palm rest and which also allows easy switching to different positions via tilting upwards as well as downwards.
The classic keyboard layout tends to ‘splay out’ our hands while resting them and needs our fingers to travel back and forth more to reach the different keys while rapidly typing. This gets worse because we’re doing it for several hours a day, for several days a year.
That is mostly because the original keyboard layout was designed for ease of manufacture decades ago and has stuck on since. There’s no excuse now in 2017 to stick to that archaic and harmful layout.
When it comes to mice, what you want is a specially designed ergonomic mouse. This also works similarly to ergonomically designed keyboards and ensures that your hand is in its most natural position when using it. A good mouse is also especially important for technical writers when we’re documenting a complex program and need to use the mouse for extended periods of time.
2. Keyboards that help preserve speed while maintaining accuracy when typing, for millions of keypresses:
What you want is a mechanical keyboard. But take care to choose one which needs as little pressing force as you’re comfortable with per keypress. The audible click of every single key will do wonders for accuracy especially when typing very quickly. Having to go back and correct errors is annoying and also increases the strain on your hands noticeably when working with tight deadlines.
3. Hardware that enable us to reduce or take out the ‘repetitive’ aspect of our typing position to minimize risk and impact of injury:
Looking at the RSIs, it is the ‘R’ or repetitiveness in our hand positions and motion that is the main culprit. Being able to switch up typing positions as much as possible will go a long way in helping de-concentrate the stress of typing on the same parts of your hands.
That’s maybe not always possible, but needs to be tried out and incorporated whenever it can be. Using keyboards that incline up and down is a good start. Deciding between relatively fixed wired keyboards and moveable wireless ones is also worth considering, keeping in mind the security aspects of doing so, depending on your specific workplace setup.
Our Recommendations To Check Out:
- Microsoft Sculpt Ergo Keyboard
- Kinesis Freestyle2 Blue Keyboard
- Matias Ergo Pro Fully Split Mechanical Keyboard
Any Keyboards that have Cherry MX Blue switches. Recommended example: Das Model S Professional Keyboard
- Evoluent Verticalmouse 4
- Anker 2.4G Wireless Vertical Ergonomic Optical Mouse
And lastly, we’d like to add a reminder that these keyboards and mice can maybe lessen the impact of future injuries. They can’t cure pre-existing ones. The wise decision in that situation is to tackle it head on. If you’re already suffering from a repetitive stress injury, it’s best to approach a good doctor and physiotherapist and seek treatment and remediation for it first. RSIs can, if left untreated, permanently put you out of commission in this field, and that’s not ideal, or worth it, ever.
Taking care to perform simple exercises regularly to reduce the stress your hands are under because of long hours of typing also goes far in helping you reduce current and future pain. Gradually giving up the keyboard is also an exotic option to explore if you’re okay with the considerable learning curve that comes with advanced speech-to-text software like Dragon Naturally Speaking. Happy typing!