In many of my course books, the header of each page includes a page number, and the name of the current chapter and section. Only in a few of the books the headers include the chapter and section number.

What are the advantages of using only a section title in page headers? Section numbers are vastly more useful for finding my way around a book (if I'm at 5.4 and looking for 3.8, I know which way to go; if I'm at Classical optimization, A review of methods and I'm looking for Stochastic methods, Limitations I know nothing).

This is really more about typesetting/publishing than writing, but I didn't find a better suited SE for it.

  • There are many books that do give chaper numbers or titles in page headers or footers. There are many books that show sections or chapters by colored "bands" on the fore-edge (the cut side of the text block opposite the spine). There is also a table of contents that allows you to navigate a book, and most readers don't jump around from chapter to chapter often enough to make use of the table of contents unreasonable. And then there are tons of books where the chapter titles and numbers would not mean much, e.g. fiction books.
    – user5645
    Oct 8, 2014 at 10:08
  • 1
    To those voting to close: This seems on-topic here. It's more or less a style question, since it's something that's generally covered by style manuals like Chicago/APA. Oct 11, 2014 at 12:58
  • I think one reason that more books don't have the type of "running headers" you mention is because not many programs can handle it well, and it's not easy to set up. FrameMaker excels at this type of header/footer; Word does not.
    – user8356
    Jun 7, 2021 at 14:11

2 Answers 2


If you know which chapter/section number you need - you know it from table of contents. And that means you know the page number and know which way to go.

OTOH, if you remember "Stochastic methods, Limitations" was roughly 2/3 into the book, you can flip pages quickly, skimming the headers, and find required section easily.

I'd find it really surprising to have readers remember section numbers only. They are quite useful in organizing the book and creating cross-references before the page numbering is fixed, but their usability to end users is marginal.

  • It is quite common the specify that chapters 4, 5 and 6, except for sections 6.2 and 6.3, are part of the course. It is quite common to reference equation 5.3, which is in chapter 5. Going to the ToC to find the corresponding page number is at least one extra step. Most of time, it takes a bit of searching to find the ToC in the first place.
    – gibson
    Oct 8, 2014 at 13:50
  • @gibson: Oh, but that's just sloppy cross-referencing! "[Equation 5.3 on page 261]" which should be filled in automatically once the page layout is frozen.
    – SF.
    Oct 8, 2014 at 14:18
  • If it's references within the book, maybe that works. Not so good for referencing from other places (like a course PM). I still don't see what the drawback is of just adding the chapter and section numbers to the headers, like some books do.
    – gibson
    Oct 8, 2014 at 15:56

The only harm I see in adding numbers is that it takes up more space, and in some cases may make it that the entire heading no longer fits on one line, or a heading on the left runs into a heading on the right.

I don't think it's so much a matter of weighing gain versus harm, as a "why bother". I'm hard pressed to think of cases where I say, "Now I want to flip to section 6.3". If it's something I've already read, I'm more likely to remember the title than the number. If I'm flipping through a book I haven't read before looking for material of interest to me, I might well say, "Stochastic methods, that's something I've always been curious about." I can't imagine saying, "I've always wanted to read a section numbered 6.12 -- so many book end chapter 6 with section 11."

Sure, if a book has cross references that say "see equation 5.3", then it should have chapter numbers in the page headers or footers. But even with that, if chapter 5 is long and has only a few equations, finding equation 5.3 could still be a search. A well-designed book would give the page number.

Sometimes when you ask, "Why don't people do good thing X?", the answer is, "Because they're lazy and or stupid", sometimes it's "because there is this really good reason to NOT do it", and sometimes, as here, it's "because it isn't all that great an idea, it might help sometimes, but most people don't care enough to bother."

  • It's interesting that there's a big difference between how you use books and how it's done at my uni. But beyond that, there is one significant advantage to numbers. They give direction. Not only can you tell that chapter 5 is not chapter 9, but you also know which direction to start flipping through the pages to find it. If I wanted to know the name of a chapter, I'd look at the page where the chapter starts, or the ToC.
    – gibson
    Oct 13, 2014 at 14:31

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