In an earlier post, I described a strategy for approaching integrals and how to decide what technique to use. One question I suggested you ask yourself is “Can I use integration by parts?” In this post, I describe how you decide when integration by parts is the right approach, and how you decide which term will be u and which will be dv.

There is no product rule for integrals, but when you see an integrand that is the product of two functions [and u substitution has been ruled out], integration by parts is often the right approach. For example, each of the following integrals should be solved using integration by parts:

Once you decide that integration by parts is the correct technique, does it matter which factor you make u and which you make dv? Usually, yes. But don’t worry if you make the wrong choice—you’ll know that pretty quickly. Remember that the purpose of integration by parts is to take a complicated integrand and make it simpler. If you choose your u and dv incorrectly, your integrand will get more complicated. When you find your integral getting worse, just start again and switch your choices for u and dv. (If switching choices doesn’t make your integral look better, perhaps integration by parts isn’t the proper technique for the integral.)

Here’s a trick to help you decide which factor should be the u term: LIPET. This is a mnemonic to help you determine the priority for assigning factors to be u. The acronym stands for the following:

L: logarithmic functions

I: inverse trigonometric functions

P: polynomials

E: exponential functions

T: trigonometric functions

For example, the first integral above is the product of a polynomial and an exponential function. P precedes E in LIPET, so make x^{2} the u term and e^{x} the dv term. The third integral above is the product of a polynomial and an inverse trig function, so let tan^{-1 }x be the u term and x will be the dv term.

Finally, note that even though integration by parts creates a simpler integral, it won’t always create an integral you can evaluate by inspection. Often, you will need to use another technique to integrate the new integrand, or perhaps you will need to do integration by parts a second time.