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Tingxiu Wang, Ph.D.

Professor of Mathematics

Oakton Community College

1600 East Golf Road, Des Plaines, IL 60016

Phone: 847-635-1751, Email: tingxiu@oakton.edu

Abstract: Since graphing calculators (such as TI-89) and computer algebra systems can do

Partial Fraction Decomposition (PFD), some teachers pay less attention on PFD. Although PFD

is quite technical, we believe PFD also enable students to learn mathematical ideas and methods.

Recently, there have been some papers discussing about PFD [1, 2, 3]. The standard method of

PFD is the Method of Undetermined Coefficients (MUC), with which the calculation is often

tedious. However, we can formulize the process of partial fractions, and then all calculations of

partial fractions simply are related to three formulas. In addition, PFD obtained by MUC is often

not ready for integration. We proposed a different format of PFD that can be for immediate

integration. The techniques discussed here have not been found in textbooks, and these

alternative techniques can inspire students to explore and understand partial fractions.

Technique 1: All decompositions of partial fraction can be done by applying the following three

formulas:

Formula I:

1

1

1

1

, a b

=

[ p ( x) + a][ p( x) + b] b a p( x) + a p( x) + b

Formula II:

1

( x a )( x + bx + c)

2

1 1

x+a+b

f (a) x a

f ( x)

x+m+

1

1

x+m+b

,

2

=

2

2

( x + x + )( x + bx + c) ( b) f 1 (m) x + x + x + bx + c

c

, f1 ( x) = x 2 + x + , and f1 (m) 0 .

where b , m =

b

Formula III:

Technique 2: When we integrate a rational function, we can break the rational function into

partial fractions in terms of derivatives of denominators:

Tingxiu Wang

American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges, http://www.amatyc.org/

factorable in real numbers and a 0 , then we can have the following partial fractions:

An f ( x) + Bn

A1 f ( x) + B1 A2 f ( x) + B2

+

+

+

.

f ( x)

f 2 ( x)

f n ( x)

2. Proof of Formulas

1

1

1

1

, a b.

=

[ p( x) + a][ p( x) + b] b a p( x) + a p( x) + b

Formula I was discussed in [3] by Huang and examples can be found there. The next two

formulas have not been seen in any publications.

1

1 1

x+a+b

,

=

Formula II.

2

f ( x)

( x a )( x + bx + c) f (a) x a

Formula I.

Proof of Formula II by derivation: Let

x+

1

=

+ 2

.

2

( x a )( x + bx + c) x a x + bx + c

Then the numerators satisfy

1 = ( x 2 + bx + c) + ( x + )( x a ).

1

Take x = a, then 1 = (a 2 + ab + c) = f (a), or =

.

f (a)

1

c

1

Take x = 0, then 1 = c a =

c a , so =

.

f (a)

af (a) a

Take x = 1, then 1 = (b + c + 1) + ( + )(1 a), or

1=

Solve for , we get =

c

1

1

(1 a ).

(b + c + 1) + +

f (a )

af (a) a

1

. Therefore

f (a)

1

( x a )( x + bx + c)

2

c

1

1

x+

f (a)

af (a) a

2

x + bx + c

1

1

+

f (a) x a

x+a+b

1 1

f (a) x a

f ( x)

x+m+

1

x+m+b

1

2

,

2

=

2

( x + x + )( x + bx + c) ( b) f1 (m) x + x + x + bx + c

c

, f1 ( x) = x 2 + x + , and f1 (m) 0 .

where b , m =

b

Formula III.

Tingxiu Wang

American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges, http://www.amatyc.org/

in the above formula implies that f 2 (m) 0 . We can switch the positions of f1 ( x) and f 2 ( x) if

evaluating f 2 (m) is easier. If = b , people can apply Formula I.

Proof of Formula III by derivation. Let the fraction have the following decomposition:

1

x+u

x+v

,

2

= A 2

2

2

( x + x + )( x + bx + c)

x + x + x + bx + c

where A, u, v are undetermined coefficients. By completing the subtraction of the right hand

side, we get

1 = A [(b + u v) x 2 + (c + ub v ) x + uc v ].

Therefore

(1)

uv+b = 0

ub v + c = 0 (2)

A(uc v ) = 1

(3)

1

. Multiplied by b, Equation (1) becomes

uc v

ub vb + b 2 b = 0 (4)

Equation (4) minus Equation (2), we get v( b) + b 2 b c + = 0 , or

b2 b c +

c

=b+

, and

b

b

c

c

u = v+ b = b+

+ b = +

.

b

b

c

c

c b +

uc v = +

b

b

v=

= c b +

c

(c )

b

= c bc + bc b +

(c ) 2 ( b)

( b) 2

c

c

+ ( b)b

= ( b)

+ ( b)c

b

b

= ( b) f 1 ( m)

c

= x+m+

b

c

= x+m+b

x+v = x+b+

b

x+u = x+ +

Therefore

Tingxiu Wang

American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges, http://www.amatyc.org/

x+u

x+v

1

= A 2

2

2

( x + x + )( x + bx + c)

x + x + x + bx + c

x+m+b

1 x+m+

2

=

2

uc v x + x + x + bx + c

This completes the proof of Formula III.

2

x+m+

1

x+m+b

2

2

( b) f1 (m) x + x + x + bx + c

=

m ( c ) + c b

1

2

2

( b) f1 (m) ( x + x + )( x + bx + c)

m(c ) + c + b

1

( b) f1 (m) ( x 2 + x + )( x 2 + bx + c)

m(c ) + (c ) + ( b )

1

2

( b) f 1 ( m)

( x + x + )( x 2 + bx + c)

c

1 c

1

+ 2

+

m

2

f 1 ( m) b

b

( x + x + )( x + bx + c)

1

= 2

.

( x + x + )( x 2 + bx + c)

3. Examples

1

1

1

=

2

( x 3x + 4)(2 x x + 1) 2 ( x 2 3x + 4)( x 2 1 x + 1 )

2

2

1

1

c 7

= and f1 ( x) = x 2 3x + 4 .)

(by Formula III, let = 3 , = 4 , b = , c = , m =

2

2

b 5

Example 3.1.

7 1

7

x + + (3) x + +

1

1

5 2

2 5

=

5

44

1

2

( x 3 x + 4) 2 1

x x +

2 25

2

2

8

9

x

x+

5

10

5

=

1

1

44 x 2 3 x + 4

x2 x +

2

2

Tingxiu Wang

American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges, http://www.amatyc.org/

A

Bx + C

and 2

, where m and n are positive integers and

expressions like

m

( x a)

( x + bx + c) n

3x 2 + 4 x + 4 3x 2 + 4 x + 4

=

Example 3.2.

x3 + 4x

x( x 2 + 4)

Example 3.3.

3( x 2 + 4) 12 + 4 x + 4

=

(plus 12 and minus 12)

x( x 2 + 4)

3

4

8

= + 2

(decomposition)

2

x x + 4 x( x + 4)

x

3

4

1

(by Formula III)

= + 2

2 2

x x +4

x x + 4

1 2x + 4

= + 2

x x +4

x

x +11

=

(plus 1 and minus 1)

2

2

( x + 1)( x + x + 2)

( x + 1)( x 2 + x + 2) 2

1

1

1

2

(separating the fractions)

= 2

2

( x + x + 2)

( x + x + 2) ( x + 1)( x 2 + x + 2)

1

1

x 1+1

1 1

2

= 2

2

2

( x + x + 2)

( x + x + 2) 2 x + 1 x + x + 2

1

1

1

x

1

+

= 2

2

2

2

2 ( x + 1)( x + x + 2) 2 ( x + x + 2) 2

( x + x + 2)

1

x 1+1 1

x

1 1 1

= 2

(by Formula II)

+

2

2

2 2 x + 1 x + x + 2 2 ( x + x + 2) 2

( x + x + 2)

x

1 1 1

1

1

x

+

.

=

+ 2

+ 2

2

2

4 x + 1 4 x + x + 2 ( x + x + 2)

2 ( x + x + 2) 2

The common format of partial fractions with a quadratic factor, (ax 2 + bx + c) n , which is

not factorable in real numbers, is

An x + Bn

A1 x + B1

A2 x + B2

.

(1)

+

++

2

2

2

ax + bx + c (ax + bx + c)

(ax 2 + bx + c) n

But integrating a rational function with this format, students can still be frustrated because it is

not ready for integration. For example, by decomposing the rational function,

3

3

x +1

x 1

2

2

(2)

( x 2 + 2 x + 2)( x + 2)dx = x 2 + 2 x + 2 x + 2 dx .

Techniques on Partial Fractions

Tingxiu Wang

American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges, http://www.amatyc.org/

3

x +1

2

Many students still have difficulties to finish 2

dx . Almost all calculus textbooks use

x + 2x + 2

this format of partial fractions. To make the decomposition ready for integration by substitution,

I taught students with an alternative format:

If the denominator has a factor, (ax 2 + bx + c) n , where f ( x) = ax 2 + bx + c is not factorable in

real numbers and a 0 , then we can have the following partial fractions:

A f ( x) + Bn

A1 f ( x) + B1 A2 f ( x) + B2

+

++ n n

.

(3)

2

f ( x)

f ( x)

f ( x)

Formats (1) and (3) are equivalent. But (3) has the following advantages:

It is ready for integration by substitution.

Finding undetermined coefficients of (3) is easier than (1) because we can use the zero

of f ' ( x) .

x 1

dx .

Let us revisit Equation (2): find 2

( x + 2 x + 2)( x + 2)

Solution:

x 1

A(2 x + 2) + B

C

+

= 2

x+2

x + 2x + 2

( x + 2 x + 2)( x + 2)

2

x 1 = [ A(2 x + 2) + B ](x + 2) + C (x 2 + 2 x + x )

3

Let x = 2 , 3 = 2C , C = .

2

3

1

Let x = 1 (the zero of f ' ( x) ), 2 = B + C , or 2 = B , and B = .

2

2

3

Let x = 0 , 1 = 2(2 A + B ) + 2C , A = .

4

Thus,

x 1

2x + 2

1

1

3 1

3

( x 2 + 2 x + 2)( x + 2)dx = 4 x 2 + 2 x + 2 2 x 2 + 2 x + 2 2 x + 2 dx ,

and the integral can be finished more effectively than (2).

Reference:

1. Brazier, Richard and Boman, Eugene (2007), How to Compute the Partial Fraction

Decomposition Without Really Trying, The AMATYC Review, Vol. 29, No.1, 20-29.

2. Cherif, Chokri (2007), An Alternative Method to the Classical Partial Fraction

Decomposition, The AMATYC Review, Vol. 29, No.1, 31-37.

3. Huang, XunCheng (1991), A Shortcut in Partial Fractions, College Mathematics Journal,

Vol. 22, No.5, 413415.

Tingxiu Wang

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