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Is it considered bad style if I have a section with multiple subsections and start my text only in the subsection (no text below the section heading)?

1. Section

1.1 First subsection

This is where the text starts …

1.2 Next subsection

This is where the text goes on …

  • That depends on the styleguide/venue. I have come across both recommendations in different styleguides, I think, with and without an introductory text. – O. R. Mapper Jun 30 '16 at 7:57
  • I don't see why. Many papers start without text before the first section, which seems no different. (Though having only 1 section would be weird.) – Kimball Jun 30 '16 at 8:59
  • @Kimball: The crucial point is that sometimes, having two consecutive numbered headlines without any text in between is considered "ugly". – O. R. Mapper Jun 30 '16 at 9:45
  • @O.R.Mapper Maybe I've just seen it so often that I don't think it's ugly. I suppose also it may look worse in certain document styles. – Kimball Jun 30 '16 at 9:59
4

I asked my supervisor the exact same question while writing my master thesis. He said that it is a matter of style, he preferred putting an introductory text under each heading. I looked over some articles in my field as well, and they were pretty divided on it.

If you have a style guide from your university/publisher, or if you have examples available, I would say, follow those. Otherwise it's up to you.

I found it good practice, because those are the places where you write a short summary/introduction for that chapter, which could help you organize your thoughts.

  • 2
    "those are the places where you write a short summary/introduction for that chapter" - true, although it can quickly become very repetitive if you are like me and tend to subdivide texts into finely-grained, deeply nested subsections. – O. R. Mapper Jun 30 '16 at 12:33
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I guess a general answer will be opinion based (not a vote to close), but one general suggestion I would give is: ask your supervisor or a conference chair. (but last of them could be not responding, busy ppl. you know)

I had different supervisors during B.Sc. M.Sc.-Thesis and paper writings. Some of them were okay with headings and subheadings without "glue" text between, some really made a mass of it, that it would be the ugliest writing style they could imagine.

I have the habit to write those introducing glue paragraphs between headings (as @mwormser suggests too) just telling the reader what will come in the following subsections. But I would always ask a supervisor for what he/she likes more. In case of anonymous blind reviews you may chance 50/50 with the likes of the reviewers. Maybe the journal/conference/etc. offers a style guideline that makes suggestions to this question too, just have a look at the submission pages.

Anyway an introduction paragraph that has no "hard-fact / result / discussion" content - but is only a meta-text about what to come - should be short. Give the reader the chance to decide at this point if he/she is in need to deep-read the next (sub)sections or if he/she is familiar enough (eg. obligatory method describing intro chapters of a thesis) with their content.

Another solution I also saw was use of epigraphs (quotes, jokes etc.) to fill this gaps between headlines. This makes the glue paragraphs less repetitive, but I would be careful with this and (if that) only spread them very rarely.

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I think there is no black and white answer here. I think in books it is uncommon to have no text below chapters and start directly with sections/subsections. Typically you will find this:

1. Book chapter

Here goes some introductory text. [...]

1.1 Section

This is a section blabla [...]

1.1.1 Subsection

More text here

I believe a thesis should roughly keep to that structure, too. While I initially preferred to start with the text in the hierarchically lowest section, I became accustomed with the above layout and prefer it over my old habit now.

Regarding articles and similar publications you should keep to the journal’s style guide, which usually prescribes the layout very strictly.

TL;DR: I don’t think it is considered bad style, it depends on the type of text and the place you publish it.

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