I was reading a paper in which a famous quotation appears just after the author name. The paper is: Willems, Jan C. "Paradigms and puzzles in the theory of dynamical systems." Automatic Control, IEEE Transactions on 36.3 (1991): 259-294 [link], and the quotation (in german) is taken from Wittgenstein's "Tractatus".

I found it quite surprising, since it was actually the first time that I saw a famous quotation at the beginning of a technical journal paper.

Out of curiosity, I would like to know if starting with a famous quotation is a reasonably accepted practice in scientific publications. In particular, I'm interested in papers published in technical/mathematical journals.

  • 1
    I've done this at least once. I don't think it's all that uncommon. I'd guess I see a paper with a leading quotation every month or two.
    – Corvus
    Feb 19, 2016 at 20:57
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    Note that Wittgenstein's name is misspelled in the quotation! embarrassing.
    – user10636
    Feb 19, 2016 at 21:27
  • @DavidRicherby I have modified it to be about the practice in general rather than lists of examples, which I think remedies this defect.
    – jakebeal
    Feb 20, 2016 at 5:23
  • I would guess this depends on subject. I've never see that in maths.
    – Jessica B
    Feb 20, 2016 at 12:42
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    @shane Also, it should be "den Anspruch" rather than "die Anspruch". Feb 21, 2016 at 1:32

1 Answer 1


Starting with 'big words' from a quotation of a famous person (or a movie or a song or whatever) is ambivalent. Some might think you show off ('oh I read -- and understood -- Wittgenstein! Look at me!). Others simply skip initial quotations. I myself use them only when they fit to the specific thesis or argument I am trying to make -- and always refer to the quote in the introduction of the article. Only then an initial quote is justified. If it stands there alone with no reference in the text it should be deleted (and from my experiences journal referees do suggest deletion).

So: Quotations are ok. But make sure they fit and add to your point you want to make. And: Write the author's name and the quotation correctly. The mistakes in name and text of the quote you linked to are embarassing.

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