I'm wondering about how to refer to sections right above or below the piece of text referring. I know that I'm supposed to use section numbers almost all the time, but personally feel that this might be an exception.

I know that this question might be subjective, but that's what I want to find out: if it's subjective I can choose and write whatever I think is best. However, I want to check that what I think is right isn't 'not-done'.

Concider the following piece of pseudo-document:

Section 1: point-by-point problem description

Section 2.1: point-by-point solution description

Section 2.2: mapping problem points to solution and explain benefit

Referring text here

Right now, the referring text says something like "This section explains how the point-by-point problem description in section 1 maps to the point-by-point solution description above." Is this right? Because the alternative "This section explains how the point-by-point problem description in section 1 maps to the point-by-point solution description in section 2.1." seems wrong, since it is right under the thing it is referring to.

  • Also, lets say we have Section 3, that has the introductory text "In the section below, abcd is explained" which refers to section 3.1 starting directly under the referring text. Is that okay?
    – R. Bosman
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 16:16
  • 2
    The main issue with writing "the section above", "the next lemma" or whatever, is that when you reorganize the paper it becomes a complete mess.
    – user9646
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 16:21
  • @Najib that's why you use LaTeX! Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 19:11
  • 4
    @astronat ...I use LaTeX for everything. My point is precisely that if you write "in Section \ref{...}" the number will automatically change, but if you write "in the previous section" this will not automatically change if you reorder the sections / add a new section between the two.
    – user9646
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 19:28
  • Exactly, I'm using LaTeX as well :) So to draw the conclusion, it's not bad style, just a possible pain when reordering?
    – R. Bosman
    Commented Feb 27, 2018 at 20:45

3 Answers 3


This section explains how the point-by-point problem description in section 1 maps to the point-by-point solution description above, in section 2.1.

Being unambiguous and adding redundant information is good, because you might very well make a mistake when writing one of the references (but it is unlikely to make the same same mistake with all of them), and the reader might make a mistake when reading the references (but this is less likely when there are several things all pointing to the same direction).

If your sections have names in addition to numbers, you may refer to them using both, if this is a good stylictic choice, or only the name or only the number. Do not, however, alternate between using only the section number and only the section name, as this will only confuse the reader, who might not realize that the name and the number point to the same thing.

  • 1
    Thank you. Do you think that when referring to the sections by name, would it be better to italicize the section name?
    – Aqqqq
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 20:40
  • @Aqqqq Please see if the question has been asked before, and if not, go ahead and ask it, together with context that helps people answer.
    – Tommi
    Commented Nov 14, 2018 at 8:35

I'm not aware of any prescribed rules. But best practice is definitely to use the section number. You know that "above" refers to directly above, but to the reader it only narrows down the search to the first half of the document. Section numbers are unambiguous and I can't see any disadvantage to using them.


I think you should keep the automatic reference system generated by LaTeX to avoid the mess when rearranging your paragraphs. Also you could mention the name of the section (e.g. problem description) followed by the reference.

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