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?
    – 410 gone
    Aug 29, 2014 at 9:41
  • 1
    Is it okay — To whom? It's certainly fine with me, but why should my opinion matter?
    – JeffE
    Aug 29, 2014 at 23:21
  • 3
    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, 2014 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. Aug 31, 2014 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, 2014 at 20:17

2 Answers 2


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, 2014 at 11:57

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.

  • 1
    +1 for the introduction before the subsections in your answer. :) Aug 29, 2014 at 11:35

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