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9.1 Introduction to Sequences and Series

Learning Objectives

  1. Find any element of a sequence given a formula for its general term.
  2. Use sigma notation and expand corresponding series.
  3. Distinguish between a sequence and a series.
  4. Calculate the nth partial sum of sequence.


A sequenceA function whose domain is a set of consecutive natural numbers starting with 1. is a function whose domain is a set of consecutive natural numbers beginning with 1. For example, the following equation with domain {1,2,3,} defines an infinite sequenceA sequence whose domain is the set of natural numbers {1,2,3,}.:


The elements in the range of this function are called terms of the sequence. It is common to define the nth term, or the general term of a sequenceAn equation that defines the nth term of a sequence commonly denoted using subscripts an., using the subscritped notation an, which reads “a sub n.” Terms can be found using substitution as follows:


This produces an ordered list,


The ellipsis (…) indicates that this sequence continues forever. Unlike a set, order matters. If the domain of a sequence consists of natural numbers that end, such as {1,2,3,,k}, then it is called a finite sequenceA sequence whose domain is {1,2,3,,k} where k is a natural number..

Example 1

Given the general term of a sequence, find the first 5 terms as well as the 100th term: an=n(n1)2.


To find the first 5 terms, substitute 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 for n and then simplify.


Use n=100 to determine the 100th term in the sequence.


Answer: First five terms: 0, 1, 3, 6, 10; a100=4,950

Sometimes the general term of a sequence will alternate in sign and have a variable other than n.

Example 2

Find the first 5 terms of the sequence: an=(1)nxn+1.


Here we take care to replace n with the first 5 natural numbers and not x.


Answer: x2,x3,x4,x5,x6

Try this! Find the first 5 terms of the sequence: an=(1)n+12n.

Answer: 2, −4, 8, −16, 32.

One interesting example is the Fibonacci sequence. The first two numbers in the Fibonacci sequence are 1, and each successive term is the sum of the previous two. Therefore, the general term is expressed in terms of the previous two as follows:


Here F1=1, F2=1, and n>2. A formula that describes a sequence in terms of its previous terms is called a recurrence relationA formula that uses previous terms of a sequence to describe subsequent terms..

Example 3

Find the first 7 Fibonacci numbers.


Given that F1=1 and F2=1, use the recurrence relation Fn=Fn2+Fn1 where n is an integer starting with n=3 to find the next 5 terms:


Answer: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13

Figure 9.1

Leonardo Fibonacci (1170–1250) Wikipedia

Fibonacci numbers appear in applications ranging from art to computer science and biology. The beauty of this sequence can be visualized by constructing a Fibonacci spiral. Consider a tiling of squares where each side has a length that matches each Fibonacci number:

Connecting the opposite corners of the squares with an arc produces a special spiral shape.

This shape is called the Fibonacci spiral and approximates many spiral shapes found in nature.


A seriesThe sum of the terms of a sequence. is the sum of the terms of a sequence. The sum of the terms of an infinite sequence results in an infinite seriesThe sum of the terms of an infinite sequence denoted S., denoted S. The sum of the first n terms in a sequence is called a partial sumThe sum of the first n terms in a sequence denoted Sn., denoted Sn. For example, given the sequence of positive odd integers 1, 3, 5,… we can write:


Example 4

Determine the 3rd and 5th partial sums of the sequence: 3,−6, 12,−24, 48,…



Answer: S3=9; S5=33

If the general term is known, then we can express a series using sigmaA sum denoted using the symbol Σ (upper case Greek letter sigma). (or summationUsed when referring to sigma notation.) notation:


The symbol Σ (upper case Greek letter sigma) is used to indicate a series. The expressions above and below indicate the range of the index of summationThe variable used in sigma notation to indicate the lower and upper bounds of the summation., in this case represented by n. The lower number indicates the starting integer and the upper value indicates the ending integer. The nth partial sum Sn can be expressed using sigma notation as follows:


This is read, “the sum of ak as k goes from 1 to n.” Replace n with ∞ to indicate an infinite sum.

Example 5

Evaluate: Σk=15(3)n1.


Answer: 61

When working with sigma notation, the index does not always start at 1.

Example 6

Evaluate: Σk=25(1)k(3k).


Here the index is expressed using the variable k, which ranges from 2 to 5.


Answer: −6

Try this! Evaluate: Σn=15(159n).

Answer: −60

Infinity is used as the upper bound of a sum to indicate an infinite series.

Example 7

Write in expanded form: Σn=0nn+1.


In this case we begin with n=0 and add three dots to indicate that this series continues forever.


Answer: 0+12+23+34+

When expanding a series, take care to replace only the variable indicated by the index.

Example 8

Write in expanded form: Σi=1(1)i1x2i.



Answer: x2x4+x6

Key Takeaways

  • A sequence is a function whose domain consists of a set of natural numbers beginning with 1. In addition, a sequence can be thought of as an ordered list.
  • Formulas are often used to describe the nth term, or general term, of a sequence using the subscripted notation an.
  • A series is the sum of the terms in a sequence. The sum of the first n terms is called the nth partial sum and is denoted Sn.
  • Use sigma notation to denote summations in a compact manner. The nth partial sum, using sigma notation, can be written Sn=Σk=1nak. The symbol Σ denotes a summation where the expression below indicates that the index k starts at 1 and iterates through the natural numbers ending with the value n above.

Topic Exercises

    Part A: Sequences

      Find the first 5 terms of the sequence as well as the 30th term.

    1. an=2n

    2. an=2n+1

    3. an=n212

    4. an=n2n1

    5. an=(1)n(n+1)2

    6. an=(1)n+1n2

    7. an=3n1

    8. an=2n2

    9. an=(12)n

    10. an=(13)n

    11. an=(1)n13n1

    12. an=2(1)nn+5

    13. an=1+1n

    14. an=n2+1n

      Find the first 5 terms of the sequence.

    1. an=2x2n1

    2. an=(2x)n1

    3. an=xnn+4

    4. an=x2nx2

    5. an=nx2nn+1

    6. an=(n+1)xnn2

    7. an=(1)nx3n

    8. an=(1)n1xn+1

      Find the first 5 terms of the sequence defined by the given recurrence relation.

    1. an=an1+5 where a1=3

    2. an=an13 where a1=4

    3. an=3an1 where a1=2

    4. an=2an1 where a1=1

    5. an=nan1 where a1=1

    6. an=(n1)an1 where a1=1

    7. an=2an11 where a1=0

    8. an=3an1+1 where a1=1

    9. an=an2+2an1 where a1=1 and a2=0

    10. an=3an1an2 where a1=0 and a2=2

    11. an=an1an2 where a1=1 and a2=3

    12. an=an2+an1+2 where a1=4 and a2=1

      Find the indicated term.

    1. an=27n; a12

    2. an=3n8; a20

    3. an=4(5)n4; a7

    4. an=6(13)n6; a9

    5. an=1+1n; a10

    6. an=(n+1)5n3; a5

    7. an=(1)n22n3; a4

    8. an=n(n1)(n2); a6

    9. An investment of $4,500 is made in an account earning 2% interest compounded quarterly. The balance in the account after n quarters is given by an=4500(1+0.024)n. Find the amount in the account after each quarter for the first two years. Round to the nearest cent.

    10. The value of a new car after n years is given by the formula an=18,000(34)n. Find and interpret a7. Round to the nearest whole dollar.

    11. The number of comparisons a computer algorithm makes to sort n names in a list is given by the formula an=nlog2n. Determine the number of comparisons it takes this algorithm to sort 2×106 (2 million) names.

    12. The number of comparisons a computer algorithm makes to search n names in a list is given by the formula an=n2. Determine the number of comparisons it takes this algorithm to search 2×106 (2 million) names.

    Part B: Series

      Find the indicated partial sum.

    1. 3, 5, 9, 17, 33,…; S4

    2. −5, 7, −29, 79, −245,…; S4

    3. 4, 1, −4, −11, −20,…; S5

    4. 0, 2, 6, 12, 20,…; S3

    5. an=27n; S5

    6. an=3n8; S5

    7. an=4(5)n4; S3

    8. an=6(13)n6; S3

    9. an=1+1n; S4

    10. an=(n+1)5n3; S3

    11. an=(1)n22n3; S5

    12. an=n(n1)(n2); S4


    1. k=153k
    2. k=162k
    3. i=26i2
    4. i=04(i+1)2
    5. n=15(1)n+12n
    6. n=510(1)nn2
    7. k=22(12)k
    8. k=40(13)k
    9. k=04(2)k+1
    10. k=13(3)k1
    11. n=153
    12. n=175
    13. k=23k(k+1)
    14. k=22(k2)(k+2)

      Write in expanded form.

    1. n=1n1n
    2. n=1n2n1
    3. n=1(12)n1
    4. n=0(23)n+1
    5. n=13(15)n
    6. n=02(13)n
    7. k=0(1)kxk+1
    8. k=1(1)k+1xk1
    9. i=0(2)i+1xi
    10. i=1(3)i1x3i
    11. k=1(2k1)x2k
    12. k=1kxk1k+1

      Express the following series using sigma notation.

    1. x+2x2+3x3+4x4+5x5

    2. 12x2+23x3+34x4+45x5+56x6

    3. 2+22x+23x2+24x3+25x4

    4. 3x+32x2+33x3+34x4+35x5

    5. 2x+4x2+8x3++2nxn

    6. x+3x2+9x3++3nxn+1

    7. 5+(5+d)+(5+2d)++(5+nd)

    8. 2+2r1+2r2++2rn1

    9. 34+38+316++3(12)n

    10. 83+164+325++2nn

    11. A structured settlement yields an amount in dollars each year, represented by n, according to the formula pn=10,000(0.70)n1. What is the total amount gained from the settlement after 5 years?

    12. The first row of seating in a small theater consists of 14 seats. Each row thereafter consists of 2 more seats than the previous row. If there are 7 rows, how many total seats are in the theater?

    Part C: Discussion Board

    1. Research and discuss Fibonacci numbers as they are found in nature.

    2. Research and discuss the life and contributions of Leonardo Fibonacci.

    3. Explain the difference between a sequence and a series. Provide an example of each.


  1. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10; a30=60

  2. 0, 32, 4, 152, 12; a30=8992

  3. −4, 9, −16, 25, −36; a30=961

  4. 1, 3, 9, 27, 81; a30=329

  5. 12, 14, 18, 116, 132; a30=1230

  6. 12, 15, 18, 111, 114; a30=189

  7. 2, 32, 43, 54, 65; a30=3130

  8. 2x,2x3,2x5,2x7,2x9

  9. x5,x26,x37,x48,x59

  10. x22,2x43,3x64,4x85,5x106

  11. x3,x6,x9,x12,x15

  12. 3, 8, 13, 18, 23

  13. −2, −6, −18, −54, −162

  14. 1, 2, 6, 24, 120

  15. 0, −1, −3, −7, −15

  16. −1, 0, −1, −2, −5

  17. 1, 3, 2, −1, −3

  18. −82

  19. −500

  20. 1110

  21. 32

  22. Year 1: QI: $4,522.50; QII: $4,545.11; QIII: $4,567.84; QIV: $4,590.68; Year 2: QI: $4,613.63; QII: $4,636.70; QIII: $4,659.88; QIV: $4,683.18

  23. Approximately 4×107 comparisons

  1. 34

  2. −30

  3. −95

  4. 124125

  5. 7312

  6. 2052

  7. 45

  8. 90

  9. 22

  10. 314

  11. −22

  12. 15

  13. 22

  14. 0+12+23+34+

  15. 112+1418+

  16. 35+325+3125+3625+

  17. xx2+x3x4+

  18. 2+4x8x2+16x3

  19. x2+3x4+5x6+7x8+

  20. k=15kxk
  21. k=152kxk1
  22. k=1n2kxk
  23. k=0n(5+kd)
  24. k=2n3(12)k
  25. $27,731

  1. Answer may vary

  2. Answer may vary