How do you find the number of significant figures in a number?

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t-nez | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Significant figures are the digits in a measurement or calculation that show the degree of precision. Here are the rules for determining how many significant figures are in a measurement:

1. All non-zero digits are significant.

2. Zeros that are in between non-zero digits are signifiicant.

3. Zeros at the end of a number are only significant if there's a decimal point.

4. Zeros at the beginning of a number aren't significant. 

5. If a number is in scientific notation all of the digits in the coefficient are significant.

Here are some examples:

100 has one sig fig (rule 3)

1001 has four sig figs (rule 2)

0.00134 has three sig figs (rule 4)

23.5 has 3 sig figs (rule 1)

2.40 x 10^4 has 3 sig figs (rule 5)

When recording a measurement that you made you should include all of the certain digits plus one that is estimated. For example. if you're using a ruler marked off in millimeters, you estimate the last place so your measurement will be reported to the nearest .1 mm.