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Homework Help: Question about significant figures

  1. Sep 17, 2010 #1
    I have a question regarding significant figures. I understand the notion well, but am having trouble putting it into practice. My main question is: let's say you divide two numbers of 3 sf each. The result from the calculator is long so you round it to 3 sf. If you need to re-use that result in a later calculation, do you

    (a) use the 3 sf rounded figure,
    (b) use the number with one additional sf (so 4 sf even though it won't show on paper), or
    (c) use the exact same number you got from the calculator (containing up to 10 sf, also won't show on paper) ?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 17, 2010 #2

    Borek

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    Staff: Mentor

    c is the most correct approach. b is not bad, although 1 additional digit (called guard digit) is sometimes not enough, 2 or 3 are much better. a is completely wrong.
     
  4. Sep 17, 2010 #3
    Ah OK thanks. Just to make sure, you never actually write the full number used on paper right?
     
  5. Sep 17, 2010 #4

    Borek

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    Staff: Mentor

    No, even when you are reporting some intermediate results you should round them down.

    Note that significant figures - although worshiped by some - are just an approximate way of dealing with precision. While listing all possible digits doesn't make sense, relying too heavily on significant figures is about as wrong.
     
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