I'm in trouble with long section titles in my thesis. For example:

I have defined the following abbreviations in a special section before the table of content, i.e., all abbreviations have been already defined before their usage in the table of content:

  • CRS: Centralized Reconfiguration Supervisor
  • DRS: Decentralized Reconfiguration Supervisor
  • FP: Forcible Path

A section's title is supposed to be something like:

expanded form: Functional commutativity of centralized reconfiguration supervisor, decentralized reconfiguration supervisor, and forcible path

abbreviated form: Functional commutativity of CRS, DRS, and FP

Obviously, the expanded form is so clumsy, however, these abbreviations are not frequently used in the text as @aeismail noted here:

In general, the only abbreviations that should be used in "headlines" and titles are "standard" ones that are normally (or at least very frequently) written in their abbreviated form.

Put differently, these abbreviations are parts of my contribution, with which research community are not familiar.

Which option is the best practice?

  • 1
    Would simply "Functional Commutativity" not be an acceptable section title? (This isn't meant to be a criticism, but a question meant to probe parameters of possible options.) Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 18:23
  • Is there anything stopping you from using something like: "Functional commutativity of centralized reconfiguration supervisor (CRS), decentralized reconfiguration supervisor (DRS), and forcible path (FP)", which would allow people to both read the entirety (when they are not yet familiar your abbreviations) and easily scan for the terms in the section titles (once they are familiar with your abbreviations)? In other words, what is your usage issue that makes you feel the long section titles are "so clumsy"?
    – Makyen
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 18:25
  • 1
    @BenHocking brings up a very good point. Would the context of just "Functional Commutativity" be understood? Is this a sub-section of a larger CRS, DRS, and FP discussion? Would it be better to have a "Functional Commutativity" section and then sub-sections for each of "Centralized reconfiguration supervisor (CRS)", "Decentralized reconfiguration supervisor (DRS)" and "Forcible path (FP)"? Long section titles are often an indicator of a lack of sufficient structure.
    – Makyen
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 18:30
  • @BenHocking: I don't think so, because "Functional Commutativity" is by itself an abstract mathematical tool, and what I need to say is how this tool makes some bridge between CRS, DRS, and FP. Thus, If I say only "Functional Commutativity", it is not only vague but also imprecise in some sense.
    – user41207
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 19:08
  • @Makyen: Many titles of my thesis are like this one, and if I use all expanded forms, the result is pretty clumsy. In our ECE department, faculty members and thesis committee like brevity, and as I attended some other defense sessions, they have a criticizing viewpoint about such things. This section is a subsection, however, as I explained in the previous comment, "Functional Commutativity" does not reflect the relationship that I should illustrate in this context.
    – user41207
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 19:14

2 Answers 2


As the author of the comment you cited, let me offer the following distinction: a thesis generally has a much smaller "reach" than a journal. I would let a graduate student get away with some things in a thesis that I wouldn't normally do in a journal article.

If you need to use the abbreviations to prevent things from getting unwieldy (many multiple-line section titles is getting unwieldy, in my opinion), then I would go ahead and do so. If any of the reviewers of your thesis has a philosophical objection to such a practice, you'll be sure to hear about it.


If you have a choice, my advice would be to use the whole title and don't abbreviate. A typical reader would have to look it up anyway since they are likely to see it for the first time in the title. Even if they know what it means, they would probably want to make sure it means what they think it means. This adds extra work for the reader. It would probably take the reader 10 seconds to do so. Maybe even longer if it is not on the same page and they have to look for it. That is still 10 seconds of their productive time. 10 seconds of their life that you can save, even if only one reader reads your work. Generally, I have more respect for any reader who actually reads the content of my work than bureaucrats who want it to look tidy (from their perspective) and conform to their specifications.

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