Order of Operations: Trigonometric Functions

(An archive question of the week) Last time we looked at some details that are rarely mentioned in stating the conventions for interpreting algebraic expressions. I couldn’t fit a discussion of the most complicated case: trigonometric functions, which when written without parentheses, as they traditionally have been, can raise several issues. (Much of the same …

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Three Meanings of “Percentile”

(An archive problem of the week) Having just discussed quartiles, I want to look at related issues concerning percentiles. There, I briefly mentioned different perspectives on the concept of quartile, and focused on differences in the details of the calculations; here I will focus mostly on the different perspectives, and then touch on variations in …

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The Many Meanings of “Quartile”

Some time ago I discussed various issues pertaining to the concept of median in statistics. The same issues, and more, affect the concept of quartile (the median being the second quartile), so much so that different statistical software packages produce many different answers for quartiles. I have seen this affect students, who are taught one …

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What is a Diamond?

(Archive Question of the Week) Having discussed various issues involving categorizing shapes, let’s take a look at a very different shape question, which didn’t fit into the last post. Is “diamond” appropriate? The word “diamond” is not a formal mathematical term; some people take it as equivalent to “rhombus”, while others equate it to “kite”, …

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Ranges of Inverse Trig Functions

(Archive Question of the Week) We have had a number of questions over the years about inverse trig functions and their ranges. For today’s question, I have chosen one from 2011, which will link to a number of others that I will not quote in detail.

Is a Square a Rectangle? Classifying Shapes

We get many questions about classifying shapes, from both elementary and high school students (or their parents or teachers). They often have trouble with the very idea of classifying items by applying definitions, and also with the fact that definitions can vary, both between everyday and technical usages, and from one textbook to another.

What is the Median, Really?

From time to time we get questions about finding the median in statistics. Some are entirely routine; but the three I want to discuss today take us gradually deeper into a morass of ambiguity. A recurring theme of my experience in Ask Dr. Math has been that definitions are not always what they seem – …

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