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In research papers, should Introduction and Conclusion sections be numbered or non-numbered? What does the scientific paper etiquette suggest? Furthermore, in either case, should they appear in the Table of Contents?

If the answer depends on the research field, please elaborate. I'm in electrical engineering, but do occasionally write mathematical papers as well, so those two fields are personally of highest interest.

On a side note, in case someone confuses it with the Introduction section, I am quite sure that the Abstract section should be non-numbered either way.

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Nitpick: I don't think etiquette is the mot juste here. Etiquette is about manners. –  Faheem Mitha Apr 23 at 15:24

2 Answers 2

up vote 17 down vote accepted

It's not field-dependent, it's a journal-dependent issue. Some use a format where everything is numbered, some use a format where nothing is numbered, and still others leave it up to the authors to decide.

However, when sections are numbered, everything in the main text should be numbered, including the introduction and conclusions. You don't skip numbering those sections but add numbers for the rest. That doesn't make any sense. (End matter such as acknowledgments and supporting information may be handled separately.)

The best advice is check the style guide for your journal.

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If you really want to make sure how things are, just open your journal of preference and see if they are numbered. –  Davidmh Apr 23 at 9:26
However, when sections are numbered, everything should be numbered - not necessarily. in IEEE format, all sections are numbered except Acknowledgements section. –  ff524 Apr 23 at 12:55
Acknowledgments aren't normally considerEd part of the main text--just as in a book. –  aeismail Apr 23 at 16:01
It isn't necessarily obvious to newbies whether Acknowledgments are more part of the "main text" than the Introduction or Conclusion. I think the edit clarifies this point :) –  ff524 Apr 23 at 16:25

Certainly, they are numbered in mathematics and related fields. Why? Because often you state theorems and formulas in Introduction or Conclusions: How would you label these to allow citing them, if their parent (=section) is not numbered?

(With my Copy Editor hat on) I allow only three unnumbered sections: List of notation, Acknowledgements, References. They come in this order (if present) and they are at the very end of the paper.

Nonetheless, as aeismail pointed out, it's field- and journal-dependent.

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"How would you label [theorems and formulas in the introduction or conclusions] to allow citing them, if their parent (=section) is not numbered?" Theorem 1, Theorem 2, ... Not every journal includes the section number in theorem numbers. –  David Richerby Apr 23 at 20:29
No, they don't. However, in such case, I wouldn't publish my 60-page article there. I want an article, not a mess. –  tohecz Apr 24 at 5:38

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