What Are Some Scientific Notation Rules?

Scientific notation is a system that helps people read either excessively large or excessively small numbers. To find the scientific notation of a number, count how many spaces the second to last digit is from the decimal point, insert a period, and represent the number as a decimalized digit term along with an exponent. This condenses the number.

For example, 54,000 is a large number that can be represented in scientific notation. Move the decimal point over four spaces, between the 5 and the 4. Now the number reads 5.4. The number of spaces the decimal point moved to the left must still be accounted for. The number of spaces moved is 4. In the end, 5.4 is the digit term and 4 is the exponent, so the final scientifically notated number is 5.4 x 10^4.

Regardless of the answer or exponent involved, the final scientific notation always has the term "x 10^" between the digit term and the actual exponent. For another example, scientifically notate a very small number, 0.00043. Move the decimal point over four spaces, producing a digit term of 4.3 with 4 as the exponent. However, because the decimal point is now moving to the right, the exponent has to be negative. Thus, the final scientific notation is 4.3 x 10^-4. When using a calculator, carefully read instructions in order to correctly apply scientific notations, including how exponential terms are bracketed.