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Differentiation of a function, say f(x), is a mathematical operation which yields a second function called the derivative of f [symbolized by f '(x) or dy/dx]. This procedure is represented in the diagram, which shows
Input Differentiation Operation Output
f(x) → f ' (x) = df/dx
the function f(x) being input to an "analytical machine" that manufactures as output the derivative of f. A detailed mathematical prescription for the differentiation operation is nontrivial. It usually involves a quarter or semester course, which requires time, attention, and effort on the student's part.