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October 10, 2013

How to Format an Epigraph

Jeffby Jeff Hume-Pratuch

     The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished 
it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and
logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.
                                   —Mark Twain, Notebook, 1902–1903

A quote used to introduce an article, paper, or chapter is called an epigraph. It often serves as a summary or counterpoint to the passage that follows, although it may simply set the stage for it.


The Publication Manual doesn’t specifically address the topic of epigraphs, but we thought it might be helpful for you to know the rules we follow in formatting epigraphs for APA journals.


The text of the epigraph is indented from the left margin in the same way as a block quote. On the line below the end of the epigraph, the author’s name (and only the author’s last name if he or she is well-known) and the source’s title should be given. This credit line should be flush right, preceded by an em dash. An epigraph’s source is not listed in the References section.


Exceptions to this are an epigraph from a scholarly book or journal and a quotation used by permission. In these cases, cite the author, year, and page number at the end of the epigraph, in parentheses with no period—just as you would for a block quote. The source should be listed in the References section.

     Emotion is one of the most complex phenomena known to psychology. 
It is complex because it involves so much of the organism at so
many levels of . . . integration. . . . Perhaps therein lies the
uniqueness, and the major significance, of emotion. (Lindsley,
1951, p. 473)


Molon_labeThe epigraph should not be confused with the similar-sounding epigram (a brief, pointed, and often satirical text or poem) and epitaph (a short text honoring the deceased). Sometimes, however, the three categories coincide in a quotable hat trick:


     Go tell the Spartans, you who pass us by,
     That here obedient to their laws we lie.
        —Simonides, Inscription at Thermopylae

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