Units, Scientific Notation, and Significant Figures

Introduction and Summary

Before moving into the study of any science, it is important to understand the basis of scientific study: recording and presenting scientific data. In order for one scientist to understand the results of a different scientist's experiments, there must be a standardized system through which the data can be shared and understood.

This SparkNote will discuss a number of important concepts associated with recording scientific data and presenting experimental results. Specifically, this SparkNote will discuss the concepts of units, significant figures, and scientific notation. Units allow scientists to standardize measurements of scientific data, while the rules for expressing significant figures ensure that data is presented honestly and accurately. Scientific notation provides a more convenient method of writing otherwise cumbersome large and small numbers.

We will also discuss the more abstract principles of accuracy and precision. Accuracy describes the extent to which an experimental result is correct. Precision refers to the extent to which an experiment can be repeated with the same result. The two concepts are distinctly different, since measurements can be very precise, but not accurate, or accurate but not precise.