Numbers can also be used to identify subsections as in the below example. This can make it easier for a reader to navigate the paper and to see where particular sections fit into the overall document. This is especially useful when the paper has many subsections. Note that the abstract is generally not given a section number.
1.2 Literature review
1.3 Aim of this paper
2.1 Parameter setting
The following exercise provides examples of good and unclear numbering of subsections.
Exercise 2 – section numbering:
Choose the options with the most appropriate section numberings.
(a) Abstract, 1 Introduction, 1.1 Literature review, 1.2 Key themes, 1.3 Findings, 1.4 Conclusion
(b) Abstract, 1 Background, 2 Method, 3 Results, 4 Conclusions and next steps
(c) Abstract, 1 Introduction, 1.1 Problem definition, 1.2 Objective of this paper, 2 Method, 2.1 Linear approach A, 2.2 Non-linear Approach B, 3 Results, 4 Discussion, 4.1 Comparison between approaches, 4.2 Benefits of approaches, 4.3 Limitations of approaches, 5 Conclusion, 5.1 Key contribution of this paper, 5.2 Next steps
(d) Abstract, 2 Introduction, 3 Method – setup, 4 Method – process, 5 Method – implementation, 6 Results and discussion, 7 Concluding remarks
Answer to exercise 2: (b) and (c) have good numbering structures. In (b), the chapters of the main text are numbered sequentially with each section receiving its own number. Further, the abstract is not numbered as per convention.
In (c), each chapter has its own number and the subsections are clearly marked. For example, the subsection numbering identifies the structure of the Discussion section, which has three parts (comparison, benefits and limitation). As in (b), the Abstract is not numbered.
Option (a) uses subsection numbering even though it has only sections and no subsections. For a stand-alone article, this would be very unusual, although you may see it if the article is part of a book or a series of papers.
Option (d) has two problems. First, it numbers the abstract, which is very unusual. Second, there are three sections for the method. It may have been better for these to be combined into one section with three subsections.