How do you write in scientific notation?


Quick Answer

Writing in scientific notation involves taking a very small or very large number, converting it to an easy-to-read decimal, and raising it to a power of 10. Depending on the venue, the exponent may be expressed in various ways. However, the overall process is the same regardless of the audience.

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Full Answer

Take the number written in standard notation, and look for the leftmost or rightmost digits for large and small numbers respectively. Then, place a decimal point so that it creates a new number between 1 and 10. This is the coefficient that forms the main part of the number in scientific notation. Count the number of decimal places that it takes to reach the original number. For example, the number 9,345,000,000 has 9.345 as its coefficient in scientific notation. To reach the original number, the decimal must move nine places to the right. This is expressed as 9.345 * 10^9 or 9.345E+9. Converting small numbers requires the decimal to move to the left. This means the exponent is negative, such as 3.2 * 10^-4 for 0.00032.

When picking the coefficient, use all significant digits. These are all digits not including leading zeroes or trailing zeroes with no decimal point specified. Most of the time, it's possible to round to two significant digits.

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