Can the word "subsubsection" be used in a thesis?

For example:

The next subsubsection discusses so and so.

It is not listed in English dictionaries.

What do you think?

Thank you

  • 10
    No. Don't do that. Rather give the section a number and refer to that, e.g. "for blaa blaa please refer to section 2.1.3."
    – mmh
    Jun 28, 2014 at 20:48
  • 1
    @mmh, isn't your comment an answer to the question?
    – adipro
    Jun 28, 2014 at 20:49
  • I recently encountered a mathematics paper where one part of the reasoning required a careful division into different cases, then division of those, and so on. The word "sub-sub-sub-case" was used.
    – Senex
    Jun 29, 2014 at 8:32
  • 2
    @Senex: probably there's a difference between inventing terminology that refers to the domain of discourse of the paper, and inventing terminology that refers to the paper itself. A thesis about the structure of theses could define and use "subsubsection" ;-) Jun 29, 2014 at 12:34
  • 1
    Isn't that highly field-specific? I can see at least borderline-nerdy IT people (uh, like myself) to be much more willing to deal with neologisms if they are logical and concise replacements for otherwise inefficient expressions for which no single official word exists than, say, some people from literature-oriented fields that may apply a stricter framework of stylistic rules on how to use a given language. Jun 29, 2014 at 16:03

4 Answers 4


One very important point has yet to be touched on. Indeed, subsubsection is not a dictionary word -- and even if it were, it's awfully cumbersome. Saying "section 1.2.3" is neater and more informative, as it tells the reader exactly where to go.

The most important reason to use numbered references is if the order of your text changes. For example, if you move a particular subsection to another section or chapter, any references to it in the form of "the next subsection" will now be invalid. By using numbered references and attaching these to either the subsection header or a key sentence (as appropriate), the numbers will automatically update and your referencing will remain correct.

The above is applicable to references to anything. It is very dangerous to write such things as "in the following...", "in the previous section we introduced...", etc. Such phrases do not refer to an exact place, and they can easily became invalid as you add, remove, or change parts of the text. Proof-reading will also be more difficult.

  • Could please tell me how I can make the numbers of subsection inside the text update automatically? Jun 29, 2014 at 11:56
  • 5
    @HifaMo If you write in LaTeX, the \label{xx} and \ref{xx} commands update automatically. If you use Microsoft Word, try this (though I have only rudimentary knowledge of the program myself). If your chosen typesetter or word processor doesn't support this, then it is probably woefully unsuitable to write a thesis with.
    – Moriarty
    Jun 29, 2014 at 12:24
  • Should I call it a section even though it is a subsubsection, for example. (eg Section Jul 2, 2014 at 21:20
  • 2
    @HifaMo Yes, I think so. Perhaps one of the style manuals has a more authoritative answer. But it's the neatest way I can think of to write it, and it's still correct -- a subsubsection is a section, after all.
    – Moriarty
    Jul 3, 2014 at 7:33

It's better to avoid it if you can. Rephrase it with something like "Later we will...", "further in the text...", "in the following we will...", etc. You can also refer to it specifically as "in Sec. X.Y."

  • 3
    How about a rationale as to why this is better avoided? @mmh, ditto. Jun 28, 2014 at 20:57
  • 5
    The absence of this word from general dictionaries seems a sufficient rationale to me. Jun 28, 2014 at 21:28

By definition, (although the word is not in the dictionary), subsection is a division of a section, hence, does not have a meaning of its own. Section, however, if isolated, has a meaning of its own. Each section can be read and understood without reading the other sections. If necessary, other sections can be referred.

In this experiment, we validate the theorem presented in Section 4.

is a fine sentence. Whereas, a subsection might be entitled Experiments with Abnormal Data, such that one cannot understand before reading the definition of abnormal data (which is probably given at the beginning of the section).

Therefore, instead of

The next subsection discusses the effects of abnormal data to our super-duper proposed solution

I'd prefer

We examine the effects of abnormal data to our super-duper proposed solution in detail, in Section 4.3


I think the problem with "subsubsection" is that it leads to troublesome situations for the reader.

In your case, if you are in a section, then you will introduce a subsection.

If you are in a subsection, then you will introduce a subsubsection.

If you are in a subsubsection, then you will introduce a subsubsubsection.

And so on.

This is a situation you are going to get into if you want to be consistent in your thesis, and as it is not convenient, I suggest you to avoid it early. Use labels for referencing portions of your work. Just like Dimitry says in his answer.

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