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Basic Aspects





Error and Types of Errors

Types of Errors


Detection and Minimization of Errors

Calibration of Equipment and Purification of Reagents etc
Use of Blanks
Addition of a standard
Independent Analysis
Improvement in Methods


Accuracy and Precision



Reporting of Results
Chemical Expression of Results
Numerical Expression of Results



Significant Figures
Terminal Questions


A chemical analysis is usually more than a simple measurement. In a measurement the

operator mainly takes care of three components: the system, some property being
measured, and the instrument. Errors originate in all three components and need to be
considered in a measurement. It is a real fact that no single physical measurement is
perfectly accurate. The question of accuracy must, in general, receive attention both
before and after an analysis. The aspect which can answer the quality assurance is the
evaluation of analytical data.
The purpose of this unit is to provide sufficient information to the student to enable
him to examine the factors affecting the reliability of results and understand the
contributions of errors, their types, their minimization for accuracy and precision of
the measurement and the proper use of significant figures.

After studying this unit, you should be able to:

understand error and types of errors in measurements,

know the distinction between accuracy and precision,

express the final result of a measurement, and

find the proper use of significant figures in measurement and calculations.



The data obtained by a physical measurement should always raise the question of
errors and their nature. Various types of errors are caused in quantitative chemical


analysis. It is, therefore, worthwhile to account for these errors. Now first understand
what are error and its types.


Evaluation of
Analytical Data I


The error is an inverse measure of the accuracy of a result. Less the error, more
accurate the result is. Error is mathematically defined as the difference between the
observed value and the true value:


where E is the error (absolute error), O is the observed value of a measurement, and T
is the true value. It is with regard to sign, and it is reported in the same units as the
measurements. Let us consider, for example, for the capacity of a measuring flask
whose true value, as given by standard measurements, is 250 ml. For a series of 5
measurements done by an analyst the error is represented in Table 2.1.
Table 2.1: Expression of Error in Measurements in Volume of a Flask
Serial Number of

Observed value

True value (ml)

Error (E) (ml)













5 ml


1 ml

The error represented in the above table is the absolute error and the average
5 ml
Total error
error =
= 1 ml
Number of Observations
However, the absolute error is of little practical significance for a quantitative analysis.
It is the relative error, that is, the error relative to the true value (E/T) expressed in
suitable units, is of the practical importance as a measure of inaccuracy (or as an
inverse measure of accuracy). It is convenient to express relative error in terms of
percentage (parts per hundred), or parts per thousand (ppt), preferably.
To understand the importance of relative error let us consider the measurement of the
capacities of three standard flasks of 10, 100 and 1000 ml by three analysts A, B and C
respectively represented as follows:


10 ml

100 ml

1000 ml


11 ml

101 ml

1001 ml


1 ml

1 ml

1 ml

Relative Error = E/T

1/10 = 0.1

1/100 = 0.01

1/1000 = 0.001

% R.E. = (E100)/T





Basic Aspects

You see that the absolute error in all the three cases is the same (1 ml), but the
comparison of the relative errors tells that the error (inaccuracy) in case of the analyst
C is the least and hence his result is the most reliable out of all the three.
However, for a finite measurement the true value is, usually, not known and the scatter
is measured in terms of deviation which is the difference between the observed value
and the mean of the given set of data. You will study about the deviation in detail in
the next unit (Unit 3) of this block.

2.2.2 Types of Errors

For a practical point of view, it is useful to classify errors into two categories: (i)
determinate errors, and (ii) indeterminate errors.

Determinate Errors

As the name implies, determinate errors are those whose magnitude can be determined
after assigning a definite cause and thereby they can be corrected for. For example,
weighing of a hygroscopic salt like calcium chloride. Its weight will vary according to
water absorbed by it from atmosphere if it were weighed in open. The error caused due
to absorption of water by the salt can be corrected for if the salt were weighed after
drying and keeping in a desiccator.
The determinate errors may be constant or variable. When the determinate error
possessed the same value from one measurement to another under a variety of
conditions, is called a constant error, for example, error due to uncalibrated weights.
On the other hand, in certain cases the determinate errors may vary in magnitude with
conditions, for example, the errors caused due to expansion or contraction of
volumetric solutions with a change in temperature. The magnitude of the change in
volume can be determined by noting the temperature. These variable determinate
errors are sometimes called systematic errors. Commonly people do not use this
designation of systematic error only for variable errors but frequently call both types
of determinate errors (constant or variable) as systematic errors and we shall also
follow the same nomenclature.
Sources of Determinate Errors
Determinate errors may be caused by numerous sources. It is not needed to enumerate
them all but more important ones are given as follows:



Errors due to equipment: These types of errors arise due to faulty or

uncalibrated devices, for example inequality of the balance arms or insufficient
accuracy of the balance, uncalibrated measurement vessels, or uncalibrated
weights etc.


Errors due to reagents: The quality of the reagents is very important in the
quantitative analysis. Certain reagents may possess impurities that will
interfere in a particular quantitative analysis. Errors are also caused by the use
of incorrectly standardized solutions for titration.


Personal errors: These errors are caused due to constitutional inability of an

analyst to make certain observations accurately, that is, they are caused due to
some natural weakness of the analyst. For example, some persons always detect
the end point a little past in titration because their inability to judge colour
changes exactly. Personal errors also include the so called psychological errors,
due to certain bias often met within students, for example, some students often
tend to choose in a burette reading the division which is closer to the previous
determination or even to those found by his fellow students rather than the
actual one. Obviously, this makes the results less accurate.


Operational errors: The operational errors are associated with the operation of
an analysis. These errors are independent of the instrument and the apparatus
employed, also these errors are not related to the chemical properties of the
system in hand. Their magnitude depends more upon the analyst himself than
on any other factor. They are mainly caused by carelessness of the operator in a
quantitative work, for example, loss in bumping of uncovered solution while
heating, failure to remove precipitate quantitatively from vessels, underwashing
or overwashing of precipitate, etc.


Methodic errors: Sometimes a particular method for the determination of a

particular constituent in the given sample may not be accurate because of
improper selection of the procedure in the required range and will give the
inaccurate result. For example, in the determination of iron (present in traces) in
water, the gravimetric method will not give the correct result, and a method
suitable for trace contents, say, a spectrophotometric method should be
selected. The methodic errors are inherent in the method, and cannot be
corrected unless the correct method is applied.


Indeterminate Errors

Evaluation of
Analytical Data I

Indeterminate errors are the errors for those no exact cause can be assigned, hence
they cannot be corrected. The sources of these errors may be similar to those for the
determinate errors but no definite causes out of these can be assigned for
indeterminate errors. Even after applying every correction for the possible determinate
errors the replicate observations may vary. Such a variation in observations is due to
the indeterminate errors. These errors follow the rules of chance or the laws of
probability and are also known as Random Errors. These errors, which accompany
every determination, are quite irregular and generally small.
Indeterminate errors cannot be prevented or eliminated by corrections. However, they
can be considerably reduced by increased care in work, and increase of the number of
replicate determinations. Their pattern of occurrence can be analyzed by the
techniques of statistics in order to secure a worthwhile insight into their magnitudes,
frequencies of occurrence, and effects on the final expression of results (see Unit 3). A
plot of the normal distribution of occurrence of indeterminate errors can be prepared.

In an analysis the observed value is 5.24 g compared with the accepted (true) value of
5.28 g. What is the relative error in parts per thousand?



It has been shown in the preceding section that the results are affected by various types
of errors. Now, we will se how the various types of errors are detected and minimized.
Correction of errors of the determinate type can be accomplished through increased
care in the mechanics of analysis, application of theoretical considerations so as to
eliminate inherent weakness of method, and checking of measurements under varying
conditions and with different accepted techniques. However, no correction can be
made in the case of indeterminate errors, but it is possible to use statistical methods to
deduce the most probable value of a series of measurements and the degree of its


Basic Aspects

The most important thing for analyst is to give a careful thought to the selection of a
method for the particular analysis keeping in mind the relative amount of analyte and
the composition of the sample. The different means of minimizing errors and
improving the accuracy can be discussed in the following paragraphs.

2.3.1 Calibration of Equipment and Purification of Reagents etc

The determinate errors due to equipment and reagents can be minimized in a
quantitative estimation by the self evident means of reducing errors as (i) calibration
of weights, (ii) calibration of volumetric glasswares (iii) use of purified reagents (iv)
use of samples of proper size etc. After calibrating the devices the correction should be
properly applied. The equipment should be recalibrated frequently. The reagents of
desired purity should be taken and purification should be performed whenever
necessary. A comparison should be made with high purity marked reagents, for
example, AnalaR reagents.
Determinate errors are frequently caused in the use of measuring devices powered by
electricity due to the variation in voltage, change in resistance by dirty electrical
contacts and temperature effect. These errors are detectable and correctable.
The use of instrument of adequate sensitivity and reproducibility is essential. Special
methods of minimizing errors are applied in instrumental methods, for example, in
spectrophotometry by measuring absorbance between 0.1 to 1.0 on scale and in X-rays
by proper counting, etc. The size of the sample and the relative amount of the analyte
is also worth to be considered. Trace determinations are almost always carried out by
instrumental methods. At present, modern instruments of high sensitivity and low
detection limit are being developed where many errors are automatically omitted.
Sometimes, the constant errors may be decreased by variation in sample size.

2.3.2 Use of Blanks

The errors caused due to certain sources as reagents, vessels, solubility of precipitate
etc., can be minimized by the proper use of blanks. Of course in refined work a blank
run is always preferred. A blank contains all other reagents required for a particular
determination except the material to be analyzed and a blank run involves all steps of
the actual analysis as of the sample. The correction is then made in the results known
as blank correction. For example, in a volumetric determination the titrant reading is
often corrected for the volume of the titrant required to cause an indicator (indicator
blank) to change the colour. The blank run is best carried, simultaneously, along with
the sample. The use of blank is not necessary in every determination. In some a blank
can safely be omitted, while in others it is essential. For example, a gravimetric
determination of chloride with silver nitrate hardly requires a blank, on the other hand
the volumetric determination of chloride by silver nitrate using potassium chromate as
indicator essentially requires the correction due to indicator blank.

2.3.3 Addition of a Standard

This method involves addition of a known amount (standard) of constituent to a
sample, which is then analysed for the total amount (sample + standard) of constituent
present. The measurement (of sample + standard) is compared with the reading taken
on the sample (alone) to be analyzed. The correct amount of analyte in the sample is
determined by simple calculation. It has been proved to be very useful in a few
instrumental methods (e.g., radiometric analysis, polarography, etc.).
An important use of standard addition is made in isotopic dilution method. The
technique is suitable where a compound can be isolated in a pure state but with only a
poor yield. A known amount of the same substance (as analyte) containing an active
isotope is added to the unknown (sample) and thoroughly mixed with it. The desired


constituent its isolated in a pure form from the mixture (active + inactive sample) and
is activity is measured. The quantity of the desired substance in the sample can be
determined by simple calculation. This technique has the great advantage that the
standard and the unknown are measured under identical conditions.


Evaluation of
Analytical Data I

Independent Analysis

Detection of methodic errors is rather difficult. There may be more than one way to
cause these errors. In one way the determinate errors of method can be detected by
analysis of a synthetic sample whose overall composition is known and closely
resembles that of the analyte. In an other way, to minimize the methodic errors often
analysis of the sample is done by a method of established reliability. Here the results
of one method may be compared by the results of an entirely different method. If the
results obtained by the two radically different methods are concordant, there is high
probability of values being correct within small limits of error.
In some instances the determinate error of the method may be minimized by carrying
out the analysis by a method of high accuracy. For instance, for gravimetric
determination of aluminium, the old procedure involves the precipitation of aluminium
as hydrous aluminium oxide and ignition of precipitate at high temperature to
aluminium oxide and weighed. In the newer procedure aluminium is precipitated as
aluminium 8-hydroxyquinolinate, precipitate is dried at (low temperature) 130C and
weighed as hydroxyl quinolinate. The newer method requires a much lower
temperature heating as compared to the older method. The high molecular weight
weighing form of the quinolinate precipitate reduces the weighing error increasing the
accuracy as is evident by the calculation ratios:
2 Al
= 0.5291
Al 2 O 3



= 0.05872
Al (C 9 H 5 ON ) 3

Improvement in Methods

You can recall about the determinate errors where we considered that such errors can
be minimized by proper control of conditions but requires an understanding of the
effect of variables on the analytical systems. We can, therefore, make the
improvements in the analytical methods in which determinate errors can be reduced in
magnitude. Such work is chiefly the task of analytical chemist to modify the methods
in the light of demands. Especially in applied analysis, methods are essentially needed
to be modified to minimize the errors. For example, suitable separations may be
adopted in the given procedure for the determination of analyte. The proper
combination of methods of separation and determination can do much to minimize the
errors due to interferences.



You have experienced that a single measurement cannot be taken as an accurate result.
A single result could be in error of one kind or the other. Our confidence in an
analytical result is increased by increasing the number of parallel determinations
(replicate determinations). When assessing the final results it is necessary to judge
(i) their accuracy, and (ii) their precision. It will be worth while to understand the
meanings of these two terms while evaluating the analytical data.



The term accuracy is defined as the nearness of a measurement to its true value
(or accepted value). It is expressed in terms of error. Error (defined in section 2.2) is
an inverse measure of accuracy. Less the error greater is the accuracy. Thus, after
knowing the relative error the loss in accuracy can be estimated.


Basic Aspects

There are various ways and units to express the accuracy of a measurement. The most
common being either in terms of percent relative error or in terms of relative accuracy
in percentage. Consider the illustration.
Example 2.1
A sample was analyzed for desired constituent having 2.62 g as the true value. The
results of three measurements were 2.50 g, 2.54 g, and 2.52 g. Find the error of the
mean (mean error), the percent relative error and the relative accuracy of the mean of
the measurements.
Measurement (O)

True Value (T)

Error (O-T)

2.50 g

2.62 g

0.12 g

2.54 g

2.62 g

0.08 g

2.52 g

2.62 g

0.10 g

Total 7.56

Total 0.30 g

Mean 7.56/3 =2.52g

Mean Error = 0.10g

% Relative Error =

Mean Error
100 =
100 = 3.8%
True Value

Relative Accuracy (%) =

100 =
100 = 96.2%
True Value

Also it can be calculated from % R.E. as = 100 3.8 = 96.2%

2.4.2 Precision
Precision is defined as the reproducibility of measurements. It tells an agreement
between the numerical values of replicate measurements. The magnitude of random
errors determines the precision of the analytical results. It follows that the closer the
results of replicate determinations are to each other, the more precise is the analysis
considered to be. Precision in a common way is expressed in terms of deviation. Less
the deviation more precise the result is. Deviation or apparent error is defined as the
difference between the measured value and the mean (average) of the series of
measurements. The deviation bears a relationship to the mean value of a series similar
to that which exists between the absolute error and the true value. Mathematically,

d = Xi x


where, d is the deviation, xi is the observation, and x is the mean of series of

x + x + ...+ xn
measurements, x = 1 2
where symbol represents summation
(add all). Deviation is, generally, taken without regard to sign.

It is more informative to express the precision in terms of relative deviation which is

deviation relative to the mean expressed in suitable units.
( xi x)
d + d2 + dn
Thus, average deviation (a.d.) = 1


and % a.d. =



The most important measures of precision are the standard deviation and the variance.
The standard deviation s of a measurement is theoretically given by:

d12 + d 22 + ... + d n2
n 1

Evaluation of
Analytical Data I


where, n is the number of observations and (n 1) is known as the degree of freedom.

Variance V is the square of the standard deviation,
V = s2 =


n 1

Distinction between Accuracy and Precision

The accuracy should not be confused with the precision. Good agreement in parallel
determinations signifies that the determinations have been made under closely similar
conditions, it does not guarantee the accuracy of the results. A method may be precise
but may not be accurate if a large systematic error is made. On the other hand it is
nearly impossible to have accuracy without good precision. The difference of the
terms accuracy and precision can be illustrated by considering the shooting of series of
bullets on the targets by three riflemen (A, B, C), shown in Figure 2.1

Both Accurate and Precise

Precise but not accurate



Neither precise nor

Fig. 2.1: Shooting by three Riflemen.

Rifleman A has the ideal marksmanship. His all hits are in centre. His results are both
accurate and precise. The shooting by rifleman B shows a good grouping of hits which
indicate that the marksman is undoubtedly consistent, but in this target the grouping is
centered at 3 Oclock hence cannot be considered as representing accurate shooting.
His results agree well mutually means precise, but the final result (obtained as their
mean value) differs somewhat from the actual value, therefore not accurate. This
illustrates the effect of a constant error such as poorly adjusted sights and, since
precise marksmanship is evidenced, it is reasonable to assume that if the source of
error can be located and corrected, accurate shooting should be forthcoming.
The shooting by rifleman C shows that the hits are spotted all over the face of the
target in a display of poor reproducibility. It seems that the rifleman has no experience
of shooting, his hits result only as an accident. We say that the mean value is of low
reliability. Hence, these results are neither precise nor accurate. Also we see that good
precision is needed for good accuracy.
Of course the most favourable methods are those which give precise and at the same
time accurate results. In practice results that are precise but subject to small systematic


Basic Aspects

error are often more useful than results with an accurate mean value but low precision,
since in first case we can actually find out how much they differ from the true value,
while in the second case we know nothing but that the mean value is of low reliability.
In the following example you can see the difference of accuracy and precision for the
results of burette reading of a titration.
Example 2.2

The burette readings of titrations carried out by three students A, B and C are given
below. Compare the accuracy and precision of the three students, if the true reading is
22.22 ml.

Burette readings






















Mean value

You can understand from the observed values and calculated mean values of titrations
of three students that the results of student A are reproducible and the mean value
resembles the true value. Hence the results of student A are both precise and accurate.
A look of the titration results of student B shows that his results are reproducible but
the mean value is slightly on the higher side than the true value. May be he might be
taking the end point (colour change) on the higher side. Therefore, the results of
student B are precise but not accurate. The readings of students C are spread in a wide
range with a poor reproducibility. Hence his results are neither precise nor accurate.

Define accuracy and precision.



An analytical result is reported in two parts: (i) chemical, and (ii) numerical.

2.5.1 Chemical Expression of Results

As far as possible, the result of the element determined should be reported in the
chemical form in which it is present in the sample analyzed. For example, in reporting
the result of a determination of nitrogen, it should be reported as nitrate, nitrite or
ammonia depending upon the chemical form in which the element (nitrogen) is
present. The analysis of a solution of electrolytes is generally expressed in terms of
the ions present (as Fe3+, Ca2+, Cl , CO32, etc.).


However, when the actual form is not known or some other specific purpose is to be
solved, the expression may be modified. Often the purpose for the analysis decides the
form in which the constituents are reported. For example, when limestone is used for
the purpose of manufacture of lime, its calcium content is expressed as calcium oxide.
The hardness of water is usually expressed in terms of calcium carbonate (although a
number of ions other than calcium are present in water).


Evaluation of
Analytical Data I

Numerical Expression of Results

In most of the analyses, it is the relative amount of the constituent in a sample that is
of importance. Therefore, the numerical expression represents the amount of the
desired constituent as parts of the amount of the sample in suitable units. Thus, if Wi is
the amount of the constituent of interest, Ws is the amount of the sample, and C is a
factor required to express the results in suitable units, the expression i C is useful
for the numerical expression of results of an analysis.
For example, if Wi and Ws are in grams and C is 100, the result is given in percent (%)
by weight of the constituent in the sample. If C is set equal to 1000 and Wi and Ws in
same units, the answer is in parts per thousand (ppt) by weight of the constituent in the
sample. And if C is set equal to 1,000,000 the answer is in parts per million (ppm) by
weight of the constituent in the sample, and so on. The quantities Wi and Ws may also
be expressed in volume units. Way of numerical expression of the results also depends
on the physical state (solid, liquid, or gas) of the constituent and of the sample.

In case of the solid sample, usually, the weight constituent of interest and that of
sample are taken in the same weight units and the result is expressed as percentage by
weight (weight of constituent 100/ weight of sample) to give the number of parts of
analyte in 100 parts of the sample.

The percentage in liquid samples is expressed in three ways:


Weight percentage: It is expressed in the same way as in solids and

Weight of constituen t 100
gives the number of parts of the desired constituent
Weight of sample
in 100 parts of the sample. Both weights are taken in same units.


Weight-volume percentage:


Weight of constituen t in g 100

gives the number
Volume of sample in mL
of parts by weight of constituent in 100 parts by volume of the sample. The
temperature should be mentioned.

Volume of constituen t
100 gives the number of parts of
Volume of sample
volume of desired constituent in 100 volumes of the sample. Both the volumes
should be taken in the same units and the temperature should be specified.

Volume percentage:


The composition of a gaseous mixture is usually expressed in percentage by volume,

Volume of constituen t
that is,
100. Both the volumes should be taken in the same
Volume of sample
units and the temperature should be specified.


Basic Aspects

The percentage representation is very common, but it is useful mainly for major
constituents. When the constituent is in traces, it is advantageous to express in parts
per million by weight or volume. For further lower amounts, parts per billion or parts
per trillion may also be used.



In the preceding section you learnt how to report the results of measurements of an
analysis. In this section you will learn about the use of correct number of significant
figures. The correct number of significant figures in measurement and calculations is
critical in giving the proper significance to an analysis.
You know that a number is a mathematical expression of a quantity. A figure, or digit,
is any one of the characters 0, 1, 2,, 9 which, alone or in combination, serves to
express a number. The digits of a number which are needed to express the precision of
the measurement from which the number was derived are known as significant figures.
Digits from 1 to 9 are always a part of significant figures, while 0 may or may not be a
significant figure. A digit signifies the amount of the quantity in the place in which it
stands. In case of the number 542, the figures signify that there are five hundreds, four
tens, and two units and are therefore all significant.
The character zero (0) is used in two ways, it may be used as a significant figure or it
may be used merely to locate the decimal place. When zero is the part of the
measurement it is significant. For example, the weight of a crucible is found to be
12.610 g. The terminal zero is significant meaning that the weight can be measured
correctly upto third place of decimal. The zero after 1 is significant because this is the
part of the measurement. Similarly, expressing the concentration of a copper sulphate
solution as 0.1000 N, the three zeros after 1 are all significant.
Consider the number 107.2 cm. The zero between 1 and 7 is significant because zero
placed between two significant figures is significant. This number has four significant
figures regardless of where the decimal point is placed, say 1072 mm, 10.72 dm, 1.072
m and 0.001072 km all have four significant figures, they simply represent the result
in different units. In the last number 0.001072 km, the zeros before 1 are just to locate
the decimal point and therefore are not significant.
To write a result with some degree of certainty the correct use of significant figures
must be made, which depends on various rules for computation. The student should be
familiar about these (the rules have got the limited validity), i.e.

Observed quantities should be recorded with one uncertain figure retained. That
is, there must be as many significant figures in a result or in any data as will
give only one uncertain figure. Thus, in most analyses represent the last
retained significant figure by 1. For example, a value 22.6 ml represented as
22.61 means that this is known to be between 22.5 ml and 22.7 ml.


In rounding off quantities to desired number of significant figures by dropping

the superfluous figures, increase the last retained figure by one if the following
figure (which is dropped) is greater than 5. For example, the number 46.2368
rounded off to four significant figures becomes 46.24.
If the dropped digit is exactly 5 (not 51, 524, etc. which are treated as greater
than 5), the last retained figure is rounded off to the nearest even digit. Thus,
3.55 is rounded off to two significant figures = 3.6
3.65 is rounded off to two significant figures also = 3.6


Evaluation of
Analytical Data I

14.75 rounded off to one decimal place = 14.8

2.652 rounded off to one decdimal place = 2.7
If the dropped figure is less than 5 the last retained figure is not changed. Thus,
26.4332 ronded off to four significant figures = 26.43.

In addition or subtraction the answer is rounded off to the significant figures in

terms of the least significant unit. It is mainly for decimal places in the numbers
and the number having the fewest decimals is thus the least significant unit.
Thus, the result of sum or difference should have the number of decimals equal
to the number of decimals present in the least significant unit (means the
number having the fewest decimals). Although, all numbers being added or
subtracted can be rounded off to the least significant unit. But again for the
consistency in the answer in practice we keep an extra figure during stepwise
calculations and then the final result is rounded off to one less figure. For
example, summing the numbers: 26.234 + 3.223 + 143.4 + 2.2260, the third
number 143.4 is the least significant unit which contains only one decimal
place. Therefore, all other numbers are rounded off to two decimal places and
the final result is then rounded off to one decimal place (equal to the number
having least decimal places).
26.234 is rounded off to
3.223 is rounded off to
143.4 is retained as
2.2260 is rounded off to


Sum =


Finally rounded to one decimal place the sum = 175.1 Answer


In multiplication or division you can retain in each factor one more significant
figure than that of a factor having the least significant figures (that is significant
figures contained in the least precise factor). After calculations the answer is
rounded off to the number of significant figures contained in the least precise
factor. For example, in the multiplication
7.0783 0.00305 6.602
the middle factor has got the least (=3) significant figures hence the values will
be written as
7.078 0.00305 6.602 = 0.1425233
The answer rounded off to 3 significant figures is = 0.143


If a calculation involves addition / subtraction and multiplication /division then

the individual steps must be treated separately. As good practice one extra
figure may be retained in the intermediate calculations and the final result is
then rounded off by dropping the superfluous figures.


When a calculator or computer is used, insert all available digits in the

calculation. The final result is rounded off as desired.


One extra figure may be included in the average.


In logarithm calculations as you understand a logarithm of a given number is

composed of two parts (i) the characteristic which is a whole number and is
indicative of the position of the decimal in the given number and hence is not a
significant figure, (ii) the mantissa which is a decimal fraction and is the same
regardless of the position of decimal in the given number. For example, to
express properly the logarithm of 2.4 104, characteristic is 4 and mantissa is


Basic Aspects

0.3802 and the logarithm is 4.3802. The result is rounded to 4.38 since the
given number (2.4 104) has only two significant figures.

Calculate the pH of a 4.0 103 M solution of hydrochloric acid.


pH = log [H+] = log 4.0 103

The 3 is the characteristic (from 103). The mantissa is 0.6010 (from the logarithm of
4.0). But the concentration is known only upto two significant figures, hence
pH = ( 3 + 0.6010) = 3 0.60 = 2.40 Answer.

List the proper number of significant figures in the following numbers
i) 0.162
ii) 10.06
200.0 iv) 0.0260



In this unit you have learnt that the errors may be classified as determinate and
indeterminate. The reasons for the determinate errors can be assigned and hence can
be corrected for, whereas no definite reason can be assigned for indeterminate errors
and they follow the rules of chance. The two terms: accuracy and precision are
frequently used in evaluation of analytical data. The accuracy tells the nearness to the
true value and the precision tells the reproducibility of replicate determinations. The
smaller the determinate error in the determination, the more accurate is the result
considered to be. A result may be precise even without being accurate. On the other
hand a result cannot be accurate unless it is precise. Correct use of significant figures,
which is dependent on the application of various computation rules, is of fundamental
importance in the reporting of analytical results. The important computation rules for
correct use of significant figures are discussed.




Crystalline barium chloride was found to contain 14.70% water of

crystallization as against the formula BaCl2.2H2O the true value of 14.75%.
Estimate the absolute error, relative error and the relative accuracy.


An analyst reported the following percentages of FeO in a sample: 16.65,

16.70, 16.68, 16.60, 16.58 and 16.63. The true value of FeO in the sample was
reported to be 16.55%. Calculate the mean error and the relative error in parts
per thousand.


How many significant figures area there in the following:

a) 0.062005


c) 0.00625

d) 1.008

e) 6.111

Express the result of each of the following calculations to the proper number of
significant figures.


b) 31.4

4.1374 + 2.81 + 0.603



4.1374 0.0603


4.1374 2.81


14.37 6.44

Evaluation of
Analytical Data I

Analysis of a sample of brass gave the following percentages:

2.47 Sn, 7.60 Pb, 62.08 Cu, 0.027 Fe & 27.86 Zn.
Calculate the total percentage determined. Apply the rules for correct use of
significant figures.


Express the result with the maximum number of significant figures.

40.36 0.0999 51.9961



Express the result of each of the following calculations to the proper number of
significant figures:

4.178 + 4.032


14.276 0.00202 0.5503



(6.3194 4.1387) ( 204.2)



Self Assessment Questions


E = 5.24 5.28 = - 0.04 g

RE (ppt) =
1000 = 7.58 ppt


The accuracy is nearness to true value and the precision tells the reproducibility
of replicate determinations. A result may be precise even without being
accurate. On the other hand a result cannot be accurate unless it is precise.


i) 3

ii) 4

iii) 4

iv) 3

Terminal Questions

Absolute error E = O T = 14.70 14.75 = 0.05%

Relative Error (% R.E.) = 100 =
100 = 0.34%
Relative accuracy =
100 = 99.66%


Mean of the Observation is

16.65 + 16.70 + 16.68 + 16.60 + 16.58 + 16.63
= 16.64% FeO
Error of the mean (Mean Error) = 16.64 16.55 = 0.09% FeO
Relative error (ppt) =
1000 =
True Value
= 5.438
Rounded off to two decimal places = 5.44 ppt


a) 5

b) 3

c) 3

d) 4

e) 4


Basic Aspects



Fewest decimals are in the second number = 2. Therefore, all other

numbers can have to a maximum 3 decimal places and then the result will
be rounded off to two decimal places. Thus,
4.1374 is rounded to
2.81 is retained as
0.0603 is rounded to


Rounded off to 2 decimals = 7.01 Answer


4.1374 is retained as
0.603 is retained as
= 4.0771



4.1374 is rounded off to

2.81 is retained as
= 1.327
= 1.33
Since the number 2.81 has only 2 decimal places hence the answer is
rounded off to 1.33.


14.37 6.44
= 14.37 6.44
= 92.5428
= 92.5

(keeping an extra figure)

(as rounded to 3 significant figures)


The least significant unit has 2 decimal places. Therefore, the sum is = 2.47 +
7.60 + 62.08 + 0.027 + 27.86 = 100.037 = 100.04%


According to the rules of multiplication and division the various factors are
written as
40.36 0.0999 51.996
= 0.6048643
Rounded off to 3 significant figures, the answer is = 0.605



The question has sum and division to be treated separately

4.178 + 4.032 = 8.210
Then, 8.210/1.217 = 6.7460969
Rounded off to 4 significant figures, the answer is = 6.746


First the difference is 6.3194 4.1387 = 2.1807

2.1807 204.2
= 2073.0863
Rounded off to 4 significant figures the answer is = 2073


The number 0.00202 has the least number of significant figures = 3, hence
all other factors can have upto 4 significant figures and the answer should
have 3 significant figures
14.28 0.00202 0.5503
= 0.0068391

Rounded of to 3 significant figures the answer is = 0.00684