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I am submitting a Ph.D. thesis fairly soon and my supervisor has flagged my use of capitalisation in "Section" and "Chapter" as possibly incorrect. I have googled about a bit and I see mixed opinions.

So my question is, when writing a computer science Ph.D. thesis, what is the correct way to capitalise "Section", "Chapter", "Appendix", "Figure", "Table", ... ?

For example, what is the correct capitalisation for the following:

  • "In Chapter 3, it was shown that..."
  • "In the previous Section, a method was presented to..."
  • "The graph in Figure 3 shows..."
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    My flippant comment about this is to go with whatever your advisor tells you to do, assuming that s/he has given you an answer. ;)
    – Irwin
    Apr 18, 2013 at 23:42

3 Answers 3

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"In Chapter 3, it was shown that..."

This seems correct. "Chapter 3" is the name of the third chapter. Names are capitalised.

"In the previous Section, a method was presented to..."

This seems wrong. "Section" is not referring to the previous section by name, therefore no capital.

"The graph in Figure 3 shows..."

Correct. Same as the first example.

So the rule (I use) is, if it is a proper name, then use a capital. This means, if it is of the form "Section $n$", where $n$ is a number, then it needs a capital.

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    Exactly. Section~3 (remember the ~!) is a proper noun, the same rule holds for all words like theorem, lemma, item, equation, section, table, algorithm, etc. The tilde makes sure that the line doesn't break between "Theorem" and "3" (it's a no-break space character).
    – Pål GD
    Apr 17, 2013 at 20:03
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    (assuming the OP is using a TeX system) Apr 18, 2013 at 15:44
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    @Lii: Dave's answer follows standard English rules: proper nouns like "Section 3" are capitalized; common nouns like "the section" are not. This guidance is thus far from useless.
    – aeismail
    Sep 6, 2013 at 11:08
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    My source is "native English speaker". Sep 6, 2013 at 12:11
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    @GregKramida Why would that case be any different? I'd use the first version you propose. Apr 20, 2015 at 19:18
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It is a question of style. The most accepted custom is that given by Dave: you capitalize logical divisions if you refer to them by number.

However, I've never believed that there is any real logic behind that rule, other than emphasis. Identifying things by a number doesn't make them proper nouns: as an example, you don't commonly capitalize “page” as “see Page 10”…

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    Interesting example with "page". I see a small distinction between pages and sections: sections are intentional divisions into conceptual units, while page boundaries are much less meaningful, so it's natural to conceive of a section as more of a "thing" than a page is. However, it's not clear-cut. Apr 19, 2013 at 2:39
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A search on Google Scholar reveals that both the forms

in chapter/section 3

and

in Chapter/Section 3

exist in published scientific articles.

For "chapter" the capitalised version seems to be a little more common. For "section" the capitalised version is much more common.

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    A lot of terrible/incorrect writing gets published and will be thrown up by Google. Doesn't mean it is correct!
    – xadu
    Dec 7, 2021 at 5:07
  • @xadu: Note that this search was in Google Scholar, so it only includes published academic articles. That doesn't necessarily make the practice non-terrible, of course, but it does indicate the current usage.
    – Lii
    Dec 7, 2021 at 6:55
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    fair point about current usage. That said, Google Scholar does include material which has not been peer reviewed, such as arxiv postings etc. I'll argue that even published articles often have incorrect/inconsistent grammar.
    – xadu
    Dec 7, 2021 at 13:19

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