A book is typically divided into sections, chapters, paragraphs. I'm looking for a noun that can be used to describe all of these - book, sections, chapters, figures, clusters of paragraphs and individual paragraphs - in a way that can be used recursively.

I'm thinking perhaps something around the word "idea", but not sure what exactly and would appreciate other suggestions.

Updated: I'd like a word that applies equally well to books as well.

Updated again: If possible, I'd like also to be able to apply it to diagrams, tables and other such figures.

It does not need to apply to the contents or index in the book.

  • How "fractal"? Can you go beyond paragraphs here, or is that your smallest unit?
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 22:52
  • Actually, I'm more interested in wider groupings: book, library etc. Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 22:58
  • I'd use division for those in your original question, but beyond that one could very vaguely use text, but only vaguely. (This has shades of Jorge Luis Borges' "The Library of Babel").
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 23:07
  • Thanks John, text might work for me actually. Although, maybe it doesn't work so well for diagrams and images in the book. Sorry, my question was not well thought-through! Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 23:14
  • Well, text can cover any media in some uses, but not in others. As used in structuralism and post-structuralism, it may match your needs, or may not. (And I'm beginning to think you should check out that Borges story I mentioned, if you don't already know it).
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 23:18

4 Answers 4


"Part" or "Section" are of such general applicability that I think either would work.

"Idea" is a little too abstract; it doesn't really give a sense of a grouping of text.

  • Thanks Joseph, actually I want to be able to use the word to apply to the book as a whole too. I should have made that clear in the question. Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 22:59

"Part" is the most general term. Other options: "portion", "fragment", "fraction", "division"...

  • Thanks Consuela. Do you have any words that could be applied to the book as a whole too? Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 23:02
  • Part can apply to a book, too – if the book is part of a trilogy.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 23:19
  • Hmm, good point. Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 23:24

I don't know that there is an all-encompassing word to say what you want it to say. The closest things I can think of are "Writings" or "Works".

  • I'm pondering on "an explanation (of an idea)". I think that might be suitably recursive. Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 23:57

It seems you are trying to define a document or part of it, so, why not "document part", "document unit", "document fragment", "document element".

Example. A document element consists of one or more document elements, each can be chosen from: book, chapter, section, paragraph, picture, table, ...

Note that with this recursive definition, a paragraph could consists of chapters of books of tables, etc.

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