Question: Significant digits?

Subject: Question: Significant digits?
From: Jennifer Kraus <jlkraus -at- AMETEKWATER -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 21 May 1997 14:19:36 -0500

Thanks to everyone who gave their input on the Caps after Warning corroborated my position that they should be capitalized, and helped me plead my case with someone who disagreed with me. And may I simply say, in light of Eric's intelligent and thoughtful comments about learning and contributing...the knowledge and advice that I have received from this list has been a godsend to me. AS the only tech writer where I work, I can rarely find anyone to answer my writing-related questions or to help corroborate me on writing/editing issues. And, as a beginning techwhirler, I have a lot of questions, and need advice about some issues. I recently joined STC and hope to attend my first meeting soon, but while that while help with mentoring, it won't help with my daily quandries. So...this list has been and continues to be a great resource for me, and I thank everyone for making it so.

Now I have a new question (now that I've buttered you up) ...I'm editing a manual with measurements expressed in both "American" and SI units. Our product manager wants to go by "significant digits," because he says that will help conversions to remain consistent. So, in his thinking, this is how the following conversions would be expressed:

250 gallons=940 liters as opposed to 946 Liters
500 gallons=1890 liters as opposed to 1893 Liters
30-125 psi=2.1-8.62 bar as opposed to 2.06-8.62 bar

This looks weird to me, but if it's a standard way of doing things, I can go with it. But here's where I get confused. A lot of our literature expresses flow rates in gallons per minute...commonly without using a decimal. So do I just round up the liters? That seems so sloppy.

To complicate things further...I have two separate flow rates listed in two different areas of a performance data sheet. One flow rate is 0.6 gpm, the other is 1 gpm. How do I apply significant digits in this situation? Do I treat each individually, using decimals for the first conversion to liters and no decimals for the second? Or do I go by the 0.6 gpm and use decimals for both metric conversions?

I may be making a mountain of a molehill here...but I'm trying to set standards for our literature, and I want to make sure I understand the principle on which this idea of significant digits is based. I looked in Chicago, Brusaw's Handbook of Technical Editing, and Eisenberg's Guide to Technical Editing, and couldn't find anything that helped me.

So...anyone used this system? Anyone used an alternative system? Anyone know of a reference that could help me out here? I would be very greatful (as always) for your help.

Trying to implement standards/styles where none have ever before existed,
Jennifer Kraus
Technical Writer/Web Wonk/Consistency Hobgoblin
Ametek Water Filters
jlkraus -at- ametekwater -dot- com

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