E in Excel

While working with Excel, you may have noticed that sometimes the letter E appears in the calculation. In some cases, after the letter E there was a positive number, and sometimes a negative one.

This is called scientific notation. Excel uses this notation to display a result in a shorter form, otherwise, it would have to display only part of a number as it does with text.

What does scientific notation do?

When Excel displays a number in scientific (exponential) notation, it means that it takes part of a number before E and multiplies it by 10 to the power of a number after E.

Here’s a simple example to illustrate it.

123,456,789 = 1.23 * 10^8

The number will stay the same, but it will show it in a shortened, less precise form. So when you write the formula = 1.23 * 10^8 it will display it as 123,000,000.

But you can also find less precise notations:

=1.2 * 10^8 (120,000,000)

=1*10^8 (100,000,000)

It all depends on the amount of space you have inside your cell.

Let’s take a look at a practical example in Excel.

Example explanation

In column A you have numbers that are multiplied by numbers in column B. In columns: C, D, and E you have the same result. The only difference is the different amount of space in cells.

Column C – all results fit inside this column.

Column D – the 2 first results (D2 and D3) fit inside cells. The other 3 use scientific notation.

Column E – Only the first result fits inside a cell, the other results use the scientific notation. What’s also interesting, to save space Excel uses even less precise notation – 1.6 is rounded to 2.

You can also use scientific notation for fractions.

This time instead of plus (+) after E, you have the minus sign (-).

Tomasz Decker is an Excel specialist, skilled in data analysis and financial modeling.