I'm currently reviewing an academic paper written by a non-native English writer. The paper has an introductory section titled "Foundations" which contains definitions of later used terminology as well as short summaries of relevant subjects.

Does "Foundations" appropriately describe such a section? I was under the impression that it's mostly used to mean either a part of a building or the "assumed common" knowledge of a whole science branch ("foundations of mathematics" for example). I've seen such sections being titled for example as "Background". Would that be more appropriate?

  • Note: I'm asking this here instead of on Academia because it's really just about the word choice, not the usefulness of the section. – Daniel Jour Jun 28 '17 at 8:30
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  • In a mathematical document, this might be "Terminology" or "Background", yes. "Foundations" is reasonable except in certain cases: for example, the word "foundations" has a specific mathematical meaning as a field of study. – Patrick Stevens Mar 10 '18 at 15:45

(Native speaker.) I'm not an academic, but "Foundations" seems reasonable.

One of Webster's definitions of "foundation" is:

a basis (such as a tenet, principle, or axiom) upon which something stands or is supported

So, sure, that definitely applies to "foundations of mathematics" - but it could also refer to the principles or ideas that a single paper stands upon. Even a tiny building has a foundation. ;)

I would interpret these two statements as meaning the same thing:

You need a foundation in linear algebra to understand this paper.

You need a background in linear algebra to understand this paper.

Of course, if "Background" is the general standard for such a section, that's probably the better choice. But, absent a standard, "Foundations" doesn't seem wrong to me.

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