# Sequences - Finding a Rule

To find a missing number in a Sequence, first we must have a** Rule**

## Sequence

A Sequence is a set of things (usually numbers) that are in order.

Each number in the sequence is called a **term** (or sometimes "element" or "member"), read Sequences and Series for a more in-depth discussion.

## Finding Missing Numbers

To find a missing number, first find a **Rule** behind the Sequence.

Sometimes we can just look at the numbers and see a pattern:

### Example: 1, 4, 9, 16, ?

Answer: they are Squares (1^{2}=1, 2^{2}=4, 3^{2}=9, 4^{2}=16, ...)

Rule: **x _{n} = n^{2}**

Sequence: 1, 4, 9, 16, **25, 36, 49, ...**

Did you see how we wrote that rule using "x" and "n" ?

**x _{n}** means "term number n", so term 3 is written

**x**

_{3}

And we can calculate term 3 using:

x_{3} = 3^{2} = 9

We can use a Rule to find any term. For example, the 25th term can be found by "plugging in" **25** wherever **n** is.

x_{25} = 25^{2} = 625

How about another example:

### Example: 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, ?

After 3 and 5 all the rest are the **sum of the two numbers before**,

That is 3 + 5 = 8, 5 + 8 = 13 etc, which is part of the Fibonacci Sequence:

3, 5, 8, 13, 21, **34, 55, 89, ...**

Which has this Rule:

Rule: **x _{n} = x_{n-1} + x_{n-2}**

Now what does **x _{n-1}** mean? It means "the previous term" because the term number (

**n**) is 1 less (

**n-1**).

And **x _{n-2}** means the term

*before that one*.

Let's try that Rule for the 6th term:

x_{6} = x_{6-1} + x_{6-2}

x_{6} = x_{5} + x_{4}

So term 6 equals term 5 plus term 4. We already know term 5 is 21 and term 4 is 13, so:

x_{6} = 21_{} + 13 = 34

## Many Rules

One of the troubles with finding "the next number" in a sequence is that mathematics is so powerful we can find more than one Rule that works.

### What is the next number in the sequence 1, 2, 4, 7, ?

Here are three solutions (there can be more!):

Solution 1: Add 1, then add 2, 3, 4, ...

So, 1+**1**=2, 2+**2**=4, 4+**3**=7, 7+**4**=11, etc...

**Rule: x _{n} = n(n-1)/2 + 1**

Sequence: 1, 2, 4, 7, **11, 16, 22, ...**

(That rule looks a bit complicated, but it works)

Solution 2: After 1 and 2, add the two previous numbers, plus 1:

**Rule: x _{n} = x_{n-1} + x_{n-2} + 1**

Sequence: 1, 2, 4, 7, **12, 20, 33, ...**

Solution 3: After 1, 2 and 4, add the three previous numbers

**Rule: x _{n} = x_{n-1} + x_{n-2} + x_{n-3}**

Sequence: 1, 2, 4, 7, **13, 24, 44, ...**

So, we have three perfectly reasonable solutions, and they create totally different sequences.

Which is right? **They are all right.**

... it may be a list of the winners' numbers ... so the next number could be ... anything! |

## Simplest Rule

When in doubt choose the **simplest rule** that makes sense, but also mention that there are other solutions.

## Finding Differences

Sometimes it helps to find the **differences** between each pair of numbers ... this can often reveal an underlying pattern.

Here is a simple case:

The differences are always 2, so we can guess that "2n" is part of the answer.

Let us try **2n**:

n: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

Terms (x_{n}): |
7 | 9 | 11 | 13 | 15 |

2n: | 2 | 4 | 6 | 8 | 10 |

Wrong by: | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 |

The last row shows that we are always wrong by 5, so just add 5 and we are done:

Rule: x_{n} = 2n + 5

OK, we could have worked out "2n+5" by just playing around with the numbers a bit, but we want a **systematic** way to do it, for when the sequences get more complicated.

## Second Differences

In the sequence **{1, 2, 4, 7, 11, 16, 22, ...} **we need to find the differences ...

... and then find the differences of **those** (called *second differences*), like this:

The **second differences** in this case are 1.

With second differences we multiply by \frac{n^{2}}{2}

In our case the difference is 1, so let us try just \frac{n^{2}}{2}:

n: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

Terms (x_{n}): |
1 |
2 |
4 |
7 |
11 |

\frac{n^{2}}{2}: | 0.5 |
2 |
4.5 |
8 |
12.5 |

Wrong by: | 0.5 | 0 | -0.5 | -1 | -1.5 |

We are close, but seem to be drifting by 0.5, so let us try: \frac{n^{2}}{2} − \frac{n}{2}

\frac{n^{2}}{2} − \frac{n}{2} | 0 |
1 |
3 |
6 |
10 |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

Wrong by: | 1 | 1 | 1 | 1 | 1 |

Wrong by 1 now, so let us add 1:

\frac{n^{2}}{2} − \frac{n}{2} + 1 | 1 |
2 |
4 |
7 |
11 |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

Wrong by: | 0 | 0 | 0 | 0 | 0 |

We did it!

The formula **\frac{n^{2}}{2} − \frac{n}{2} + 1** can be simplified to **n(n-1)/2 + 1**

So by "trial-and-error" we discovered a rule that works:

Rule: **x _{n} = n(n-1)/2 + 1**

Sequence: 1, 2, 4, 7, 11, 16, 22, **29, 37, ...**

## Other Types of Sequences

Read Sequences and Series to learn about:

And there are also:

And many more!

In truth there are too many types of sequences to mention here, but if there is a special one you would like me to add just let me know.