Words per minute, commonly abbreviated wpm (sometimes uppercased WPM), is a measure of words processed in a minute, often used as a measurement of the speed of typing, reading or Morse code sending and receiving
Since the length or duration of words is clearly variable, for the purpose of measurement of text entry, the definition of each "word" is often standardized to be five characters or keystrokes long in English, including spaces and punctuation. For example, under such a method applied to plain English text the phrase "I run" counts as one word, but "rhinoceros" and "let's talk" would both count as two.
Karat et al. found that one study of average computer users in 1999, the average rate for transcription was 32.5 words per minute, and 19.0 words per minute for composition. In the same study, when the group was divided into "fast", "moderate", and "slow" groups, the average speeds were 40 wpm, 35 wpm, and 23 wpm, respectively.
With the onset of the era of desktop computers, fast typing skills became much more widespread.
An average professional typist types usually in speeds of 43 to 80 wpm, while some positions can require 80 to 95 (usually the minimum required for dispatch positions and other time-sensitive typing jobs), and some advanced typists work at speeds above 120 wpm. Two-finger typists, sometimes also referred to as "hunt and peck" typists, commonly reach sustained speeds of about 37 wpm for memorized text and 27 wpm when copying text, but in bursts may be able to reach much higher speeds. From the 1920s through the 1970s, typing speed (along with shorthand speed) was an important secretarial qualification and typing contests were popular and often publicized by typewriter companies as promotional tools.
Stenotype keyboards enable the trained user to input text as fast as 360 wpm at very high accuracy for an extended period, which is sufficient for real-time activities such as court reporting or closed captioning. While training dropout rates are very high — in some cases only 10% or even fewer graduate — stenotype students are usually able to reach speeds of 100–120 wpm within six months, which is faster than most alphanumeric typists. Guinness World Records gives 360 wpm with 97.23% accuracy as the highest achieved speed using a stenotype.
The numeric entry or 10-key speed is a measure of one's ability to manipulate the numeric keypad found on most modern separate computer keyboards. It is used to measure speed for jobs such as data entry of number information on items such as remittance advice, bills, or checks, as deposited to lock boxes. It is measured in keystrokes per hour (KPH). Many jobs require a certain KPH, often 8,000 or 10,000.
For an adult population (age range 18–60) the average speed of copying is 40 letters per minute (approximately 13 wpm), with the range from a minimum of 26 to a maximum of 113 letters per minute (approximately 5 to 20 wpm).
A study of police interview records showed that the highest speed fell in the range 120–155 characters per minute, the highest possible limit being 190 characters per minute.
According to various studies the speed of handwriting of 3–7 graders varies from 25 to 94 letters per minute.
Words per minute is a common metric for assessing reading speed and is often used in the context of remedial skills evaluation, as well as in the context of speed reading, where it is a controversial measure of reading performance.
A word in this context is the same as in the context of speech.
Research done in 2012 measured the speed at which subjects read a text aloud, and found the average speed across 17 different languages to be 184±29 wpm or 863±234 characters per minute. However, for the languages that use the Latin or Cyrillic alphabets, the number of wpm varied, as low as 161±18 for Finnish and as high as 228±30 for English. The reason for this is different word structures in each language (longer words in such languages as Finnish and shorter words in English). However, the number of characters per minute tends to be around 1000 for all the tested languages. For the tested Asian languages that use particular writing systems (Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese) these numbers are lower.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that reading—defined here as capturing and decoding all the words on every page—faster than 900 wpm is not feasible given the limits set by the anatomy of the eye.
While proofreading materials, people are able to read English at 200 wpm on paper, and 180 wpm on a monitor. [Those numbers from Ziefle, 1998, are for studies that used monitors prior to 1992. See Noyes & Garland 2008 for a modern tech view of equivalence.]
Slide presentations tend to be closer to 100–125 wpm for a comfortable pace, auctioneers can speak at about 250 wpm, and the fastest speaking policy debaters speak from 350 to over 500 words per minute. Internet speech calculators show that various things influence words per minute including nervousness.
John Moschitta, Jr., was listed in Guinness World Records, for a time, as the world's fastest speaker, being able to talk at 586 wpm. He has since been surpassed by Steve Woodmore, who achieved a rate of 637 wpm.
Morse code uses variable length sequences of short and long duration signals (dits and dahs, colloquially called dots and dashes) to represent source information e.g., sequences for the letter "K" and numeral "2" are respectively ( ▄▄▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ ) and ( ▄ ▄ ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ▄▄▄ ). This variability complicates the measurement of Morse code speed rated in words per minute. Using telegram messages, the average English word length is about five characters, each averaging 5.124 dot durations or baud. Spacing between words should also be considered, being seven dot durations in the USA and five in British territories. So the average British telegraph word was 30.67 dot times. So the baud rate of a Morse code is 50⁄60 × word per minute rate.
It is standard practice to use two different such standard words to measure Morse code speeds in words per minute. The standard words are: "PARIS" and "CODEX". In Morse code "PARIS" has a dot duration of 50, while "CODEX" has 60.
Although many countries no longer require it for licensing, Morse is still widely used by amateur radio ("ham") operators. Experienced hams routinely send Morse at 20 words per minute, using manually operated hand telegraph keys; enthusiasts such as members of The CW Operators' Club routinely send and receive Morse code at speeds up to 60 wpm. The upper limit for Morse operators attempting to write down Morse code received by ear using paper and pencil is roughly 20 wpm. Many skilled Morse code operators can receive Morse code by ear mentally without writing down the information at speeds up to 70 wpm. To write down the Morse code information manually at speeds higher than 20 wpm it is usual for the operators to use a typewriter or computer keyboard to enable higher speed copying.
In the United States a commercial radiotelegraph operator's license is still issued, although there is almost no demand for it, since for long distance communication ships now use the satellite-based Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. Besides a written examination, proficiency at receiving Morse at 20 wpm plain language and 16 wpm in code groups must be demonstrated.