Every once in a while I stumble upon a scientific book or article with a «motto», that is, a brief aphorism or short humorous stanza at the beginning, usually separated by its layout from the body of the text. In a book, this can also be in front of each chapter.

But is it generally considered appropriate for scientific texts or rather not advisable? In particular, does it come across as pretentious (aphorism) or frivolous (humor)? Clearly, I am unsure how to evaluate it.

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    It's called an epigraph. One of the nicesiest I've ever seen is in Hamming's book The art of probability: the epigraph on the chapter about the law of large numbers is a Keynes' quote: in the long run we are all dead... – Massimo Ortolano Jun 22 '15 at 18:35
  • @ff524 true, i haven't found this because the keyword "epigraph" didn't come to my mind. i have voted to close my question. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 22 '15 at 19:37

In a thesis the appropriateness depends on the style guide of the university in question. This should be posted somewhere (probably on the university library or graduate school website). When I wrote my dissertation, such a thing was allowed. I did not use one, but I knew people who did.

For an article published in a journal, it would depend on their style standards. You should be able to ask an editor if it is allowed.

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