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I run into a situation where the logical division the material in the thesis I'm writing forces me to create sections of very different lengths. Matters are further complicated by the fact that the short section does not naturally divide into subsections.

Is this bad style to divide material like that? If so, what are some good techniques for correcting it?

Also, should the shorter section have exactly one subsection, or should it not have subsections at all?


The layout I have right now looks perhaps somewhat like this:

Section 1 (where I prove Theorem 1)

  • subsection 1 [10 pages]
  • subsection 2 [10 pages]
  • subsection 3 [10 pages]

Section 2 (where I prove Theorem 2)

  • subsection 1 [10 pages]
  • ...
  • subsection 4 [10 pages]

Section 3 (where I prove Theorem 3) [8 pages total]

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    What is bad is if the formal structure doesn't match the logical structure of the material, or if one section is extremely short (like one paragraph). – Jessica B Jan 26 '16 at 19:51
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There's typically a great deal of flexibility in your thesis presentation, and as long as the lengths don't disturb you or your committee, there is no reason to force your work into some Procrustean bed of perceived length balance.

In my own thesis, the number of pages per chapter were approximately: 12, 4, 8, 8, 36, 12, 44, 16, and 6 pages, respectively. While there may have been problems in the document, chapter length was not one that either I or anybody who encountered it ever had any complaint around.

In short: let the sections be the length that is best for them, and don't worry if they are different.

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There is simply no problem here. You're writing an academic paper, not a poem. There is no expectation or need that different sections have the same length or the same number of subsections. If you're in doubt, just read some other theses and other academic papers, and you'll see this for yourself.

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    Most poems won't have a problem with different section length either. – jakebeal Jan 27 '16 at 10:17
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    @jakebeal: Perhaps I should have said "sonnet" or "villanelle" (although in the latter the sections must be mildly unequal). Anyway... – Pete L. Clark Jan 27 '16 at 13:15
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    Yeah, I put on my pedantic hat, but still voted you up. – jakebeal Jan 27 '16 at 14:11
  • Maybe limerick or haiku. – Tobias Kildetoft Jan 29 '16 at 9:11
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In short, for your particular case,

It is OK

Each section of a thesis should bear a logical coherence connected to a single topic. Each subsection would relate to subtopics. There is no hard and fast rule stating the distribution of volume of pages for sections of a general thesis. But it would be advisable to consult your advisor for any other guidelines set by your University.

Just to ease mind and get a clarity for what and how to include sections, you may envision your thesis like a tree structure with the root being your main title of research on which you write an abstract about. Then you diverge to branches of topics that your research is built upon. These might become your sections. Each topic is bound to have subtopics which might further divide amongst themselves giving rise to subsections and sub-subsections (if necessary).

So if you have a topic that is not much connected to the topics under the existing section, it ought be presented as a separate section per se -- even if the content is comparatively smaller to that of the other sections.

But if you still feel that your sections might look better when balanced, there is always something you could add to; algorithms could always be expanded and well explained, figures can be textually illustrated more and results can be thoroughly discussed. In such ways, you can extend the overly small section to a more pleasing volume (provided you do not exceed your page limit if set so by your University/advisor).

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