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My team has an editable numeric text field in an application. The numbers have a wide dynamic range (e.g. 0.000000421 and 1360000 are both possible) so computerized scientific notation is something we want to support.

Is it clearer to use lowercase or uppercase e for displaying scientific notation? (or does it not matter)

4.21e-7
1.36e6

vs

4.21E-7
1.36E6

The scenario I am most concerned about is a new user who looks at a screen and sees a number in scientific notation. Our existing version of software had a field that said 2E4 and this immediately jumped out to me as a potential problem. (not that 2e4 is much better, but I want to see numbers that are displayed in such a way as to make them most clear that they are in scientific notation, and even a slight increase in readability would be helpful. Because they are editable, the mathematical 1.36 × 106 is not an option.)

  • my thinking was that 1e6 is slightly better than 1E6 because the lowercase e stands out because of its different height than numbers. – Jason S Dec 5 '16 at 16:55
  • Anecdotal, but capital E is more widely-used in scientific print, I would say. To @Jason's point, for display purposes, a compromise might be to use a small-caps E, like some calculators do. For input purposes, it seems like accepting either upper or lower case would be the most accommodating thing to do. – calum_b Dec 5 '16 at 17:09
  • I have a personal preference for lowercase e, for the same reason as @JasonS. There doesn't appear to be a consistent standard representation (Excel uses "E", browsers use "e" (though not always -- see stackoverflow.com/questions/33132933/…), Mathematica uses "^". Accept input in any of those formats, to be sure; probably you can take your pick of how you choose to display output. – Daniel Beck Dec 5 '16 at 19:02
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Given the audience, it is unlikely the either representation has any significant advantage or disadvantage. Your users likely understand (1) what they're looking at, (2) how you're representing it, and (3) that E and e are notational equivalents. Use what works in your use case.

However, e also represents a mathematical constant or exponential function. Using E helps to avoid any confusion as to what you're refering to. Always remember your audience though... what's the likelihood of that happening?

Because they are editable, the mathematical 1.36 × 106 is not an option.)

That's true only because of how you're making it editable. There is most certainly a solution to display and edit the numbers in a way that avoids the use of e/E. It's first a matter of discovering that, given your work flow, and if that method is superior to using e/E.

  • 'e to the x' has its own meaning. Big E is the official notation. If you have space to display it, I'd give users the option to display in either scientific or full display. – PhillipW Dec 5 '16 at 17:41

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