If you work with large or small numbers in Excel, you might want to use exponential notation to make them easier to read and write. Exponential notation, also known as scientific notation, is a way of expressing a number as the product of a base number and a power of 10. For example, 12345678901 can be written as 1.23E+10, which means 1.23 times 10 to the 10th power.
We will show you how to display, enter, and calculate with exponential notation in Excel. We will also explain some of the benefits and limitations of using this format.
Displaying Numbers in Exponential Notation
Excel has a built-in number format for exponential notation, called Scientific. To apply this format to a cell or a range of cells, follow these steps:
- Select the cells that you want to format.
- On the Home tab, click the small More button next to Number.
- In the Category list, click Scientific.
- Using the small arrows, specify the Decimal places that you want to display.
The Scientific format will display a number in exponential notation, replacing part of the number with E+n, where E (exponent) multiplies the preceding number by 10 to the nth power. For example, a 2-decimal scientific format will display 12345678901 as 1.23E+10.
Note that applying the Scientific format does not change the actual value of the cell, only how it is displayed. You can see the actual value in the formula bar. Also note that Excel has a limit of 15 digits for number precision, so very large or very small numbers may lose some accuracy when displayed or calculated.
Entering Numbers in Exponential Notation
If you want to enter a number in exponential notation directly into a cell, you can use one of these methods:
- Type the number in scientific notation using the E symbol, such as 1.23E+10. Excel will automatically recognize this as exponential notation and apply the Scientific format to the cell.
- Type the number in normal notation, such as 12345678901, and then apply the Scientific format to the cell manually.
- Use the POWER function to calculate the number from its base and exponent, such as =POWER(1.23,10). Excel will return the result in normal notation, but you can apply the Scientific format to the cell if you want.
Calculating with Numbers in Exponential Notation
You can use numbers in exponential notation in any Excel formula or function, just like normal numbers. Excel will perform the calculations using the actual values of the cells, not how they are displayed. For example, if you have 1.23E+10 in cell A1 and 4.56E+9 in cell B1, you can use =A1+B1 to get 1.69E+10 as the result.
However, there are some things to keep in mind when calculating with numbers in exponential notation:
- As mentioned earlier, Excel has a limit of 15 digits for number precision, so very large or very small numbers may lose some accuracy when displayed or calculated. To avoid this, you can use more decimal places in your exponential notation, or use a different software that can handle more digits.
- Excel also has a limit for the exponent value, which is -308 to +308. If you try to enter or calculate a number with an exponent outside this range, Excel will return an error value such as #NUM! or #DIV/0!.
- Some Excel functions may not work well with numbers in exponential notation, especially those that involve rounding or truncating. For example, the INT function will return 0 for any positive number less than 1 in exponential notation, regardless of its decimal places. To avoid this, you can use other functions that can handle decimals better, such as FLOOR or ROUND.
Benefits and Limitations of Using Exponential Notation
Using exponential notation in Excel can have some benefits and limitations, depending on your needs and preferences. Here are some of them:
- Exponential notation can make large or small numbers easier to read and write, by reducing the number of digits and zeros.
- Exponential notation can also make it easier to compare the orders of magnitude of different numbers, by looking at their exponents.
- Exponential notation can help you avoid errors or confusion caused by decimal separators or thousand separators, which may vary depending on your regional settings or language.
- Exponential notation may not be familiar or intuitive for some users or audiences, especially those who are not used to scientific or mathematical contexts.
- Exponential notation may also lose some information or accuracy for very large or very small numbers, due to the limits of Excel’s number precision and exponent range.
- Exponential notation may not work well with some Excel functions or features, such as charts, pivot tables, or data validation, which may require normal notation or specific number formats.