What is the difference between a preface, a foreword, and an introduction?

How does each function and in what order do they appear?

What is the difference between a preface, a foreword, and an introduction? There is considerable confusion about the difference between the three, and judging from what the Chicago Style Manual says I mixed the two up myself in my history of the NIH Clinical Center, where an editor changed my Introduction into a Foreword, which I then changed to a Preface. It should have been an Introduction.

(See also
Parts of the Book, below (Acknowledgments page, Sequence of parts of book, More on foreword, preface and introduction , Index.)

Words Into Type succinctly characterizes the differences between a preface and intro: "A preface or foreword deals with the genesis, purpose, limitations, and scope of the book and may include acknowledgments of indebtedness; an introduction deals with the subject of the book, supplementing and introducing the text and indicating a point of view to be adopted by the reader. The introduction usually forms a part of the text [and the text numbering system]; the preface does not." (In other words, the arabic numbering of the book (1,2,3) starts with the introduction, if there is one. The other front matter takes i, ii, iii, etc.)

The foreword, says the Chicago Manual of Style, is usually written by someone other than the author or editor, usually someone eminent (to lend credibility to the book), and although the title page may say "Foreword by X," if the foreword is only one or two pages (which is normal), the name of the foreword writer normally appears at the end of the foreword. (The title or affiliation of the author of the foreword may also appear there.) For details on positioning of these elements, and what kind of type to use, refer to one of those two manuals, if your publisher doesn't handle the formatting.

The typical order of parts, most of which are optional:

Half title page [title only] (page i)
Blank (or Also by the author, Also in the series etc.) (page ii)
Title page (page iii)
Copyright (page iv)
Epigraph (or before main text)
Table of contents
List of illustrations [optional, may be subdivided into types of illustrations, such as illustrations, maps]
List of tables
List of maps

• Foreword (not "forward" or "foreward")
• Editor's preface
• Author's preface, or
• Preface and Acknowledgments (if long or boring, acknowledgments may go in back matter; if there is an old preface and a new preface, the new preface goes first).
The prefaces and foreword are not integral to the book and are numbered separately, along with other front matter, with lower-case roman numerals: i, ii, iii, iv, etc., starting with the book's opening page.
Some of these rules are broken in ebooks, for which there is often much less front matter.

• Introduction (page 1, if integral to text)
• Prologue (common in plays, rare in nonfiction books--see notes below)
• Epigraph (on opening chapter titles and/​or on title or copyright page)
• Text [may include Chapters within Parts]
• Epilogue (common in plays, rare in nonfiction books)
• Afterword (not "afterward")
• Conclusion

BACK MATTER: [these are all optional]
• Appendix, appendices
• Glossary
• Acknowledgments [before or after bibliography; may include extended permissions credits] [note spelling--no "e" before "ments"]
• Bibliography, reference list
• List of contributors
• Index
• Errata
• Colophon, optional (bibliographical note about design, designer, typography, other general info about book production "this was a special printing, etc.")
• Authors' or editors' bio at very back and/​or on back flap copy

What are the purposes of a preface/​intro? Here are some purposes members of the Washington Biography Group mentioned at a meeting on the topic:

•To talk about how you came to write the book, especially if that will help draw the reader into the book. Perhaps best in the preface, which is also where you would talk about why there is a new edition, etc.

•To sell the book to the potential reader/​buyer (lure them, hook them, make them want to read more). In the case of Ruth Selig writing about the death of her twin, providing the personal details up front would be important, for example).

•To answer the question: why this book? why now? why this person? why by this author?

•To talk about how you got the information — what main sources (and how they differ from other books on the subject, if this is book #189 on the Kennedys, for example)

•To provide a framework for what's to follow — the hooks on which to hang the pegs of story details

•To provide, in brief, your main argument or point of view about the subject. The alternative is not to express your position clearly up front and to weave it into the fabric of the biography so that the reader has to read the book to find it. Critics may object to this. My impression is that you want to suggest your conclusions or viewpoint up front but express them more fully and strongly in the concluding chapter, if there are conclusions to be made.

Some people feel nobody reads the introduction; some people have said that it's important — it’s the first thing people look at. Obviously it should be done well, if the latter is true even some of the time, but some people skip it. Personally, I think it's important that everything in the book be interesting, because you never know where the reader will start, and you even want the ending to be good, so they leave feeling satisfied and you get good word of mouth. I tend to put acknowledgments at the back but try to make them interesting, to give them content.

When does one use a prologue or epilogue?
Linda Lear wrote a prologue (a term from dramaturgy) to start her biography of Rachel Carson. A prologue is an act, scene, event, or development that precedes the main action of the book. It may start the action and be PART of the action, though it could take place in the middle of the action — may be a pivotal moment. If you have a prologue, you must also have an epilogue, says Marc Pachter -- as in classical drama.

An epilogue provides comments outside the main action that give insight into what happened. The main actions in the book may take place in one period and the reader will want to know what happened afterward. That kind of follow-up could appear in an epilogue.

NOTE ON SPELLING: A lot of people misspell foreword as foreward or even forward! It is a "word" be"fore" the book itself. The foreword is usually written by someone other than the author.

Acknowledgments page
Sequence of parts of book
More on foreword, preface and introduction

Acknowledgments page

• Thank You to the Author's Many, Many Important Friends--or, How the acknowledgments page became the place to drop names--not! (Noreen Malone, New Republic, 3-7-13). Overdone “Acknowledgments” can be viewed in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, a 172-page book for which she thanks 140 people.
• Authors, like Oscar winners, should keep their acknowledgements short ( Stuart Evers, Guardian blog, 9-2-10). Why do writers whose prose is clean and clear turn into gushing Kate Winslets in the thank-you pages of their books?

More on sequence of parts of book

• Joel Friedlander's Unabridged List of the Parts of a Book, one of many great resources on a wonderful page of articles by The Book Designer (he's clearly far more than that).
The Order of Things (Jack Lyon, An American Editor, 3-16-15) "Is the way books are put together merely a matter of convention? Or is the convention a result of the underlying principle of reading order?"
• Anatomy of a Book: The Contents (e.g., title page, copyright page -- Barbara Doyen, literary agent, 2010). See also Anatomy of a Book: The Physical Parts (e.g., dust jacket, spine).
• Anachronisms and Dysfunctions of eBook Front and Back Matter (Eric Hellman, Go to Hellman, 2-8-13)
• What do readers really want from e-book frontmatter and endmatter? (Suw Charman-Anderson, Futurebook blog, The Bookseller)
• How to number the pages of the front matter (SPAN's answers to self-publishers' frequently asked questions (FAQ)
• Parts of a Book How many of these elements does your book design have? (Jacci Howard Bear, About.com)
• The Title Page (Joel Friedlander, 2-1-10)
• ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers (Joel Friedlander, 11-19-10)
• Deciphering the Bookland EAN Bar Code (Joel Friedlander, 10-22-09)
• How to Make a Book: The Interior and Body of a Book (Creative Minds Press)

More on foreword, preface and introduction

See main entry above
• What’s the Difference Between a Foreword, Preface, and Introduction? (Donald Bastian, BPS Books)
• Forewords, Prefaces, and Introductions: Where to Begin? (Carol Saller, Lingua Franca, The Chronicle of Higher Education 4-5-12)
• Flattery and Whining (William Gass's provocative essay on how prefaces are different from other forematter--such as prologues and forewords--as part of his review of The Book of Prefaces , edited by Alasdair Gray.
• Grammar Girl on Forward vs. Foreword (plus Geoff Pope's concise explanations of Foreword, Preface, Introduction, and Prologue, plus Afterword and Epilogue)
• On Wikipedia see preface, foreword, and introduction.

The Index

• Every non-fiction book needs an index: Here’s why (Alan Rinzler's blog, The Book Deal: An Inside View of Publishing)
• Editors, How Much Is an Index Worth to You? (American Society of Indexers)
• Authors, How Much Is an Index Worth to You? (American Society of Indexers)
• Linchpindex: The missing index for Seth Godin's "Linchpin" (a quirky online index for Seth Godin's book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
[Back to Top]