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Using and Formatting Epigraphs (APA 7th ed.)

An epigraph is a stand-alone quotation that appears before the beginning of a text and serves to "set the stage for what follows or to serve as a summary or counterpoint" (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020, p. 277). Epigraphs are often used as literary devices in fictional writing to engage a reader’s curiosity and imagination regarding the narrative.

Epigraphs are less common in scholarly writing because the goal of the writing is to present the author’s critical thinking on a topic using an evidence-based, analytical approach. Academic writing connects with readers through demonstrating the author’s critical thinking and understanding, rather than connecting through engaging with readers’ imaginations or interpretations of the material. When taking an evidence-based approach to writing, academic authors typically use quotations as research evidence within a paragraph, and the quotations are accompanied by an explanation of the connection between the quotation and the claim it supports. Since epigraphs are stand-alone quotations at the beginning of the text, readers don’t yet have the necessary information to understand why the quotation is important to the larger discussion presented in the text.

If you choose to use an epigraph, please see below for information on sourcing, formatting, and citing epigraphs.

Sourcing the Epigraph

If the text is a well-known phrase by an individual, make sure you're using a reliable source to confirm the wording, such as the published transcript of a speech or something the person in question wrote. There are many websites that provide quotations, but contributors may not have checked if the quotation’s wording or attribution is correct. For example, many people credit Mahatma Gandhi with the phrase “be the change you wish to see in the world”, yet he never actually said the phrase (Morton, 2011). Therefore, please avoid websites that compile quotations; instead, go to a reputable source for the quotation. If you need assistance with finding a source and you're a RRU student, please contact the RRU librarians for assistance.

Formatting and Citing the Epigraph

If the rest of the document is formatted according to the APA Style rules, the epigraph must follow those rules as well: "The epigraph should appear before the first line of text and should be indented 0.5 in. from the left margin, like a block quotation, without quotation marks" (APA, 2020, p. 277).

Citations to epigraphs can take two forms. If the source of the epigraph is not cited elsewhere in the document, the source won't be listed in the references. Accordingly, "on the line below the quotation, provide the credit line--consisting of an em dash and then the author's full name, a comma, and the title of the work in which the quotation appeared--and align it to the right" (APA, 2020, p. 278). For example,

If the source of the epigraph is "from an academic source (e.g., scholarly book or journal) or a quotation used with permission" (APA, 2020, p. 278), cite the source using the typical formatting for an in-text citation and include the source in the list of references (APA, 2020, p. 278). The citation should appear "after the end punctuation of the quotation with no line break" (APA, 2020, p. 278). For example,

Do you have questions about this tip or any other writing matter? Please contact the Writing Centre as we would be pleased to assist you.

Theresa Bell
Manager, Blended Learning Success

(Originally published in Crossroads January 25, 2017; updated with APA Style (7th ed.) information September 17, 2020; reviewed March 3, 2021)


American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).