Accurate vs. Precise

The words “accurate” and “precise” are used interchangeably as synonyms by the general populace, but we scientists and engineers should obey the fine distinction between them.

Accurate means true, free from error due to reasonable care being taken.
The scales are accurate, because they accurately reflect the correct weight.

Precise means minutely exact or sharply defined.
The precise scale says I weigh precisely 132 lb 6 oz.
(In my dreams!)

You can never be too accurate, but you can be too precise if you exceed the number of significant figures (Sig Figs, my teacher used to call them) in your calculations.


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