5

Let's say we have a thesis/scientific paper with a sectioning depth of three [chapter, section, subsection]. I already often wondered:

Is it okay to have text outside of the lowest level, i. e. subsections?

For instance giving the introduction to / overview of a chapter is that done right after the chapters headline (or sections headline) or in the first subsection appearing in the same chapter?

  • 1
    What does the style guide of your target publication say? – EnergyNumbers Aug 29 '14 at 9:41
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    Is it okay — To whom? It's certainly fine with me, but why should my opinion matter? – JeffE Aug 29 '14 at 23:21
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    For what it’s worth, there are also people who hold the opinion that there must be some text between, e.g., a section header and a subsection header. – Wrzlprmft Aug 31 '14 at 6:59
  • If you'd looked at other theses in your institution (they're all in the library) or other papers in the venue you intend to publish in, you would have found your answer immediately. – David Richerby Aug 31 '14 at 8:10
  • I like both answers, just one remark: Please, don't create solitaires, i.e., subsections that don't have a sibling. – yo' Aug 31 '14 at 20:17
6

In my view, it is perfectly acceptable. It often helps readability, and logically it makes sense (a good example is the "introduction before subsections" that you cited).

That said, some people hate it, and I have already encountered referees who wanted me to change it. I haven't been able to infer a reasonable motivation up to now, so I would be interested in reading arguments in its favor.

Academic papers typically have no table of contents, so there is even less motivation for enforcing a strict tree-like structure.

  • Approval. I have read publications that felt like their main contents were introductions. After two pages my only though was: "bring it on". One surely should still focus on the content and add an introduction only if absolutely necessary. – fuesika Aug 29 '14 at 11:57
5

From my point of view, the answer to your question depends on the content that you refer to by introduction and overview as well as the actual number of sub-sections to a respective level. I consider a sub-section to be an actual subsection as stated in your question as well as a section within a chapter.
The actual content should always be placed within the respective sub-section. Sectioning is supposed to help a reader finding content of interest fast.

Kind of Introduction
Depending what you aim to introduce (specialties of a method vs. a rather general field of study), the introduction should be placed within or outside of the sub-section.

Kind of Overview
Usually, I would expect an overview to be outside of the specific sub-sections of content. One may say, that an overview works out to be the same as an introduction to a rather general field of study, cf. Kind of Introduction.

Number of Sub-sections
The more different sub-sections you have with regard to a level, the more important I find an overview to interrelate these. Since I do not know which sub-sections to read a-priori, I expected an overview that sketches and relates the entire content right after the chapter/section heading. Depending on how interrelated the topics in your sub-sections actually are, this introduction/overview may be longer or shorter.

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    +1 for the introduction before the subsections in your answer. :) – Federico Poloni Aug 29 '14 at 11:35

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