Words Per Minute (WPM) is a measure of input and output speed of a person punching words, be it on a computer or typewriter. It is one of the commonly used measures in recruitment. For standardization purposes, a word is standardized to five characters or keystrokes. Hence, 'fifth' counts as one word, whereas 'fifteenth' counts as two words.
There are benefits of standardization of measurement for input speed. Standardization enables comparison across language as well as hardware boundaries. Therefore, the speed of an Afrikaans speaking person in Cape Town can be compared with the speed of a German speaking person in Frankfurt.
Average Typing Speed
The average typing speed is said to be around 40 WPM. Males tend to type faster than females, on an average. The average speed for males is around 44 WPM, while that for females is 37 WPM. With practice and typing a lot on the job, there are people who go up to even 200+ WPM.
The speed at which an average person reads is about 270 WPM. This is still slower than a steno-typist, who is said to have an average speed of 360 WPM. Above 40 WPM is considered a good speed, while 100 WPM is considered to be high-speed typing.
Most companies and employers who recruit for jobs that are typing-centric, demand a speed of around 50 - 60 WPM. Depending on the organization and its processes, this can even go up to 80 WPM.
There is also another method used to measure the speed of a typist. It is called 'characters typed per minute' (CPM), but is not a commonly used measure. It is a more common measurement used for typing programs or for typing tutors, as it is said to give a more accurate measure of a person's typing speed without having to type for an extended period of time.
Occasionally, this measure is also used to identify the speed of a reader with the amount he/she has read. This measure was also used in 20th century printers, but the modern faster printers use the common pages per minute (PPM) measure.
Now, only typing fast isn't important. Typing without errors is what all employers would look for. As a measure of calculation, for every character error made, 1 WPM is deducted from the overall speed. Meaning, if a person types a document at 45 WPM, but commits 3 errors, his/her final speed would be counted as 42 WPM.
As such, it is better to correct an error immediately using the 'backspace', rather than rushing through to achieve a better speed, but end up with a whole lot of errors.
The key for improving speed and accuracy is practice.