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In keyboarding parlance, staggering refers to the rows or columns of a keyboard being set offset to one-another.

Classic typewriter keyboard

A mechanical typewriter with a (Swedish) QWERTY layout. The key arms on each row are spaced equidistantly from each other.

The classic QWERTY typewriter keyboard layout has offsets between key rows, and the offsets are not the same. Thus, it is double staggered. The offsets are 1/2 key, 1/4 key and 1/2 key respectively.

The reason for this staggering was to allow equal distance between arms from each key to the type-writing mechanism.

There are also computer keyboards with an equal offset of 1/2 key. These days, most keyboards with this layout are point-of-sale keyboards. Vintage keyboards from the Eastern Europe often had this layout, as did several keyboards from Commodore, including the Commodore 128.

The staggers

Simplified drawings of various staggers

Here are simplified versions of the various keyboard staggers. The last one is called matrix, ortholinear or orthogonal stagger, although it does not have any stagger at all.

Symmetric stagger

A µTRON keyboard with "symmetrically staggered" layout

A symmetric stagger is a row-oriented layout organised into a left and a right half, for the left and the right hand respectively. On each half, the row offsets are the same and opposite of the other half.

Columnar layout

An ErgoDox keyboard. It has a columnar layout for alphanumeric keys, albeit the column offsets are small

Many "ergonomic" keyboards have instead keys organised in a columnar layout with offsets between columns. The offsets are most often not the same - if it was, then it would be equivalent to symmetric stagger. Columnar layouts are sometimes called column-staggered

Matrix layout

A TypeMatrix 2020 with ortholinear layout

A keyboard layout with no staggering is called matrix layout or ortho-linear (or ortholinear) layout. The term "ortho-linear" was coined by TypeMatrix.[Citation needed]

Matrix layouts are believed by some to help with RSI symptoms but no research can be found on this subject.[1]