What is Significant digits: Definition and 50 Discussions

Significant figures (also known as the significant digits, precision or resolution) of a number in positional notation are digits in the number that are reliable and absolutely necessary to indicate the quantity of something. If a number expressing the result of measurement of something (e.g., length, pressure, volume, or mass) has more digits than the digits allowed by the measurement resolution, only the digits allowed by the measurement resolution are reliable so only these can be significant figures. For example, if a length measurement gives 114.8 mm while the smallest interval between marks on the ruler used in the measurement is 1 mm, then the first three digits (1, 1, and 4, and these show 114 mm) are only reliable so can be significant figures. Among these digits, there is uncertainty in the last digit (8, to add 0.8 mm) but it is also considered as a significant figure since digits that are uncertain but reliable are considered significant figures. Another example is a volume measurement of 2.98 L with the uncertainty of ± 0.05 L. The actual volume is somewhere between 2.93 L and 3.03 L. Even if all three digits are not certain (e.g., the actual volume can be 2.94 L but also can be 3.02 L.) but reliable as these indicate to the actual volume with the acceptable uncertainty. So, these are significant figures.The following digits are not significant figures.
All leading zeros. For example, 013 kg has two significant figures, 1 and 3, and the leading zero is not significant since it is not necessary to indicate the mass; 013 kg = 13 kg so 0 is not necessary. 0.056 m has two insignificant leading zeros since 0.056 m = 56 mm so the leading zeros are not absolutely necessary to indicate the length.
Trailing zeros when they are merely placeholders. For example, the trailing zeros in 1500 m as a length measurement are not significant if they are just placeholders for ones and tens places as the measurement resolution is 100 m. In this case, 1500 m means the length to measure is close to 1500 m rather than saying that the length is exactly 1500 m.
Spurious digits, introduced by calculations resulting in a number with a greater precision than the precision of the used data in the calculations, or in a measurement reported to a greater precision than the measurement resolution.Of the significant figures in a number, the most significant is the digit with the highest exponent value (simply the left-most significant figure), and the least significant is the digit with the lowest exponent value (simply the right-most significant figure). For example, in the number "123", the "1" is the most significant figure as it counts hundreds (102), and "3" is the least significant figure as it counts ones (100).
Significance arithmetic is a set of approximate rules for roughly maintaining significance throughout a computation. The more sophisticated scientific rules are known as propagation of uncertainty.
Numbers are often rounded to avoid reporting insignificant figures. For example, it would create false precision to express a measurement as 12.34525 kg if the scale was only measured to the nearest gram. In this case, the significant figures are the first 5 digits from the left-most digit (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5), and the number needs to be rounded to the significant figures so that it will be 12.345 kg as the reliable value. Numbers can also be rounded merely for simplicity rather than to indicate a precision of measurement, for example, in order to make the numbers faster to pronounce in news broadcasts.
Radix 10 is assumed in the following.

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  1. Lotto

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  2. DaveC426913

    B How to handle significant digits of exact values?

    I learned the basics of sigdigs in school, but that era has more in common with the pyramid of Giza than modern day. I was figuring the angle of a 3d-designed part in my head the other night. It's a cylindrical polyhedron with 32 faces (because 32 seemed like a good number). I didn't expect to...
  3. V

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  4. V

    Significant digits rule when determining radius from diameter

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  5. Raschedian

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  6. K

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  7. M

    MHB Round To Two Significant Digits

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  8. Anshul23

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  9. A

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  10. P

    Significant Figures with Kinetic Energy Formula?

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  11. G

    Significant Figures & Error Analysis

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  12. HuuChi1778

    B Why we take the least # of significant digits when multiplying?

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  13. J

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    Homework Statement I am starting to confuse myself with the proper use of SF. I am to convert time from minutes to hours, keeping in mind proper SF Homework Equations conversion factor: 1 min = 1/60 hr The Attempt at a Solution The timing error is +/- 0.2 (1SF) = 0.003hr (1SF) 20.0...
  14. B

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  15. R

    Inconsistency in Significant Digits

    A question posed as an example: converting 1.55 and 0.55 inches to cm. 1.55 * 2.5400000000... = 3.937 which rounds to 3.94 cm per the rules and 0.55 * 2.5400000000... = 1.397 which rounds to 1.4 cm per the rulesIf both inputs are known to the same precision (hundredth of an inch), why are the...
  16. D

    Condition Number and Significant Digits

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  17. M

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  18. W

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  19. G

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  20. V

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  21. A

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  22. N

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  23. N

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  24. D

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  25. S

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  26. S

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  27. P

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  28. J

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  29. P

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  30. ThomasMagnus

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  31. B

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  32. S

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  33. P

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  34. P

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  35. B

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  36. R

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  37. C

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  38. I

    Solving Significant Digit Problems with Varying Order of Magnitude

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  39. J

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  40. L

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  41. J

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  42. C

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  43. J

    Equations of motion and proper Significant Digits.

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  44. M

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  45. X

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  46. P

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  47. J

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  48. D

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  49. J

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  50. B

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