Typist and Word Processor Career

Using typewriters, personal computers, and other office machines, typists and word processors convert handwritten or otherwise unfinished material into clean, readable, typewritten copies. Typists create reports, letters, forms, tables, charts, and other materials for all kinds of businesses and services. Word processors create the same types of materials using a computer that stores information electronically instead of printing it directly onto paper. Other typists use special machines that convert manuscripts into Braille, coded copy, or typeset copy. Typists and word processors hold about 194,000 jobs in the United States.

History of Typist and Word Processor Career

Typist Career InformationThe invention of the typewriter in 1829 by W. A. Burt greatly increased business efficiency and productivity, and its benefits grew as typists became skilled at quickly transforming messy handwritten documents into neat, consistently typed copies.

More recently, the introduction of word processing into the workplace has revolutionized typing. This task may be done on a personal computer, a computer terminal hooked up to a network, or a computer that strictly handles word processing functions. By typing documents on a computer screen, workers can correct errors and make any necessary changes before a hard copy is printed, thus eliminating the need for retyping whole pages to correct mistakes. The computer stores the information in its memory, so the worker can go back to it again and again for copies or changes.

The term word processing entered the English language in 1965, when International Business Machines, more commonly known as IBM, introduced a typewriter that put information onto magnetic tape instead of paper. Corrections could be made on this tape before running the tape through a machine that converted the signals on the tape into characters on a printed page. Today, word processing software and personal computers have virtually replaced typewriters in the office.

The Job of Typists and Word Processors

Some typists perform few duties other than typing. These workers spend approximately 75 percent of their time at the keyboard. They may input statistical data, medical reports, legal briefs, addresses, letters, and other documents from handwritten copies. They may work in pools, dividing the work of a large office among many workers under the supervision of a typing section chief. These typists may also be responsible for making photocopies of typewritten materials for distribution.

Beginning typists may start by typing address labels, headings on form letters, and documents from legible handwritten copy. More experienced typists may work from copy that is more difficult to read and requires the use of independent judgment when typing; they may be responsible for typing complex statistical tables, for example.

Clerk-typists spend up to 50 percent of their time typing. They also perform a variety of clerical tasks such as filing, answering the phone, acting as receptionists, and operating copy machines.

Many typists type from recorded audiotapes instead of written or printed copy. Transcribing-machine operators sit at keyboards and wear headsets, through which they hear the spoken contents of letters, reports, and meetings. Typists can control the speed of the tape so they can comfortably type every word they hear. They proofread their finished documents and may erase dictated tapes for future reuse.

Almost all typists work at computer terminals. Magnetic- tape typewriter operators enter information from written materials on computers to produce magnetic disks or tapes for storage and later retrieval. In-file operators use terminals to post or receive information about people’s credit records for credit reporting agencies. When an agency subscriber calls with a question about a person’s credit, the typist calls up that record on the video display terminal screen and reads the information.

Most typists today are word processors. These employees put documents into the proper format by entering codes into the word processing software, telling it which lines to center, which words to underline, where the margins should be set, and how the document should be stored and printed. Word processors can edit, change, insert, and delete materials instantly just by pressing keys. Word processing is particularly efficient for form letters, in which only certain parts of a document change on each copy. When a word processor has finished formatting and keying in a document, the document is sent electronically to a printer for a finished copy. The document is normally saved on a disk or the computer’s hard drive so that any subsequent changes to it can be made easily and new copies produced immediately. Word processors also can send electronic files via email or modems to people in different locations.

Certain typists use special machines to create copy. Perforator typists type on machines that punch holes in a paper tape, which is used to create typewritten copy automatically. In publishing and printing, photocomposing perforator machine operators, photocomposing-keyboard operators, veritype operators, and typesetter-perforator operators type on special machines that produce photographic negatives or paper prints of the copy. Some of these typists must also code copy to show what size and style of letters and characters should be used and how the layout of the page should look.

Braille typists and Braille operators use special typewriter- like machines to transcribe written or spoken English into Braille. By pressing one key or a combination of keys, they create the raised characters of the Braille alphabet. They may print either on special paper or on metal plates, which are later used to print books or other publications.

Cryptographic machine operators operate typewriter-like equipment that codes, transmits, and decodes secret messages for the armed forces, law enforcement agencies, and business organizations. These typists select a code card from a codebook, insert the card into the machine, and type the message in English on the machine, which converts it to coded copy. A decoding card is used to follow the same process for decoding.

Typist and Word Processor Career Requirements

High School

Most employers require that typists and word processors be high school graduates and able to type accurately at a rate of at least 40–50 words per minute. Typists need a good knowledge of spelling, grammar, and punctuation and may be required to be familiar with standard office equipment.

Postsecondary Training

You can learn typing and word processing skills through courses offered by colleges, business schools, and home study programs. Some people learn keyboarding through self-teaching materials such as computer programs or books. Business schools and community colleges often offer certificates or associate’s degrees for typists and word processors.

For those who do not pursue such formal education, temporary agencies will often train workers in these skills. Generally, it takes a minimum of three to six months of experience to become a skilled word processor.

Word processors must be able to type 45 to 80 words per minute and should know the proper way to organize such documents as letters, reports, and financial statements. Increasingly, employers are requiring that employees know how to use various software programs for word processing, spreadsheet, and database management tasks.

Other Requirements

To be a successful typist and word processor, you need manual dexterity and the ability to concentrate. You should be alert, efficient, and attentive to detail. Because you will often work directly with other people, you need good interpersonal skills, including a courteous and cheerful demeanor. Good listening skills are important in order to transcribe recorded material.

Exploring Typist and Word Processor Career

As with many clerical occupations, a good way to gain experience as a typist is through high school work-study programs. Students in these programs work part time for local businesses and attend classes part time. Temporary agencies also provide training and temporary jobs for exploring the field. Another way to gain typing experience is to volunteer to type for friends, church groups, or other organizations and to create your own computerized reports.


Typists and word processors are employed in almost every kind of workplace, including banks, law firms, factories, schools, hospitals, publishing firms, department stores, and government agencies. They may work with groups of employees in large offices or with only one or two other people in small offices.

There are approximately 194,000 are word processors and typists working in the United States. Most of these workers are employed by firms that provide business services, including temporary help, word processing, and computer and data processing. Many also work for federal, state, and local government agencies. Some typists and word processors telecommute, working on client projects from their own home offices.

Starting Out

Business school and college students may learn of typing or word processing positions through their schools’ placement offices. Some large businesses recruit employees directly from these schools. High school guidance counselors also may know of local job openings.

People interested in typing or word processor positions can check the want ads in newspapers and business journals for companies with job openings. They can apply directly to the personnel departments of large companies that hire many of these workers. They also can register with temporary agencies. To apply for positions with the federal government, job seekers should apply at the nearest regional Office of Personnel Management. State, county, and city governments may also have listings for such positions.


Typists and word processors usually receive salary increases as they gain experience and are promoted from junior to senior positions. These are often given a classification or pay scale designation, such as typist or word processor I or II. They may also advance from clerk-typist to technical typist, or from a job in a typing pool to a typing position in a private office.

A degree in business management or executive secretarial skills increases a typist’s chances for advancement. In addition, many large companies and government agencies provide training programs that allow workers to upgrade their skills and move into other jobs, such as secretary, statistical clerk, or stenographer.

Once they have acquired enough experience, some typists and word processors go into business for themselves by working from home and providing typing services to business clients. They may find work typing reports, manuscripts, and papers for professors, authors, business people, and students.

The more word processing experience an employee has, the better the opportunities to move up. Some may be promoted to word processing supervisor or selected for in-house professional training programs in data processing. Word processors may also move into related fields and work as word-processing equipment salespeople or servicers or word-processing teachers or consultants.


The U.S. Department of Labor reports that median annual earnings of word processors and typists in 2005 were $29,020. Salaries ranged from less than $19,200 to more than $43,550. Word processors and typists employed by legal services made the highest median annual salaries in 2005: $36,820.

Typists and word processors occasionally may work overtime to finish special projects and may receive overtime pay. In large cities workers usually receive paid holidays, two weeks’ vacation after one year of employment, sick leave, health and life insurance, and a pension plan. Some large companies also provide dental insurance, profit sharing opportunities, and bonuses.

Work Environment

Typists and word processors usually work 35–40 hours per week at workstations in clean, bright offices. They usually sit most of the day in a fairly small area. The work is detailed and often repetitious, and approaching deadlines may increase the pressure and demands placed on typists and word processors.

Recent years have seen a controversy develop concerning the effect that working at video display terminals (VDTs) can have on workers’ health. Working with these screens in improper lighting can cause eyestrain, and sitting at a workstation all day can cause musculoskeletal stress and pain. The computer industry is paying closer attention to these problems and is working to improve health and safety standards in VDT-equipped offices.

Another common ailment for typists and word processors is carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful ailment of the tendons in the wrist that is triggered by repetitive movement. If left unchecked, it can require corrective surgery. However, proper placement of the typing keyboard can help prevent injury. Several companies have designed desks, chairs, and working spaces that accommodate the physical needs of typists and word processors in the best manner currently known.

The nature of this work lends itself to flexible work arrangements. Many typists and word processors work in temporary positions that provide flexible schedules. About 20 percent work part time. Some offices allow word processors and typists to telecommute from home, whereby they receive and send work on home computers via modems. These jobs may be especially convenient for workers with disabilities or family responsibilities, but often they do not provide a full range of benefits and lack the advantages of social interaction on the job.

Typist and Word Processor Career Outlook

Employment in the typing field is expected to decline through 2014 due to the increasing automation of offices and increased outsourcing of word-processing jobs. Technological innovations such as scanners, voice-recognition software, and electronic data transmission are being used in more workplaces, reducing the need for typists and word processors. Many office workers now do their own word processing because word processing and data entry software has become so user-friendly. However, the sheer size of the occupation means that many jobs will become available for typists and word processors, especially to replace those employees who change careers or leave the workforce.

More companies today are contracting out their data entry and word processing projects to temporary-help and staffing services firms. Most openings will be with these types of firms, and jobs will go to workers who have the best technical skills and knowledge of several word processing programs.

For More Information:

International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP)