Pat McNees

Writer, editor, ghostwriter, personal historian

SPELLING ALERT: Many people misspell foreword, as foreward or even forward! It is a "word" be"fore" the book itself. Remember: The foreword is usually written by someone other than the author.

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The difference between a preface, foreword, and introduction
Order of front and back matter

Should the parts of a book be in a certain order? Yes, and there's a reason: so readers, librarians, teachers, and booksellers can easily turn to the page in the book to find a particular type of information. Understanding the order in which they should appear may help you remember 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 Manual of Style says, I mixed the two up myself in my history of the NIH Clinical Center, where an editor made my Introduction a Foreword, which I then changed to a Preface. It should have remained an Introduction.

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." Go here for a fuller discussion of how a memoir differs from an autobiography (or memoirs). .

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 normal order of parts of the book:
Half title, or "bastard title" (title only, on otherwise blank page)
Book card (or card page, listing previous works by author, or books in same series)
Title page
Copyright notice (with other publishing notices)
Table of contents (labeled "Contents")
(List of) illustrations
(List of) tables
Foreword (by another person)
Editor's preface
Author's preface
Acknowledgments (if not part of preface, or if not at back of book)
[list of abbreviations, timeline]
Second half title (optional)

Page numbers for the front matter, up to the introduction, are small Roman numerals (x, xi, xii, etc.). Some include the introduction in that numbering system, if it is prefatory in nature (about the writing of the book). If it is more like part of the text (essentially Chapter 1), start the regular page numbering with the introduction.

ORDER OF BACK MATTER (not all of these are required!)
Appendix(es)or Addendum
(List of) Contributors (perhaps with brief biographical sketches)
Colophon (optional, including facts of production, font, etc.--rarely used now)

The epigraph (brief quotation or saying), according to Words into Type, may appear on the title page or on the back of the dedication or may replace the second half-title or be on the back of it, facing the text. To me it makes sense that it be near the text.

The dedication usually comes right after the copyright page, which is on the back of the title page. Sometimes publishers squeeze it onto the top of the copyright page, when space is tight.

What are the purposes of a preface/​intro? Here are some purposes members mentioned at a meeting of the Washington Biography Group:
• 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.
• 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 your main sources were (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 to not express your position clearly up front but instead 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 clearly up front but express them more fully and strongly in the concluding chapter, if there are conclusions to be made. What you want to draw your reader in with is the story -- tell them just enough to hook them, make them curious, and keep them reading.

What about prologues? Linda Lear wrote a prologue (a term from dramaturgy) to start her biography of Rachel Carson. A prologue starts the action and is PART of the action, though it could take place in the middle of the action — it often focuses on a pivotal moment. If you have a prologue, you must also have an epilogue, says WBG's guru, Marc Pachter.

Some people feel nobody reads the introduction; some people believe it's important because 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 do 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. With ebooks, Google scans the first 500 words or so, and to the extent that that's what captures readers, you want to put material upfront that will help "market" your book and catch reader's attention. I tend to put acknowledgments at the back but try to make them interesting, to give them content. I am sometimes overruled, because others feel the acknowledgments should be up front, where you are making it clear who helped you, and to show your gratitude.

Forewords, Prefaces, and Introductions: Where to Begin? (Carol Saller, Lingua Franca, Chronicle of Higher Education 4-5-12) offers further insights. Academic writers: check out helpful tips in the comments section!

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.

Forewords, Prefaces, and Introductions: Where to Begin? (Carol Saller, Lingua Franca, Chronicle of Higher Education 4-5-12) offers further insights. Academic writers: check out helpful tips in the comments section!

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).

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)

How to number the pages of the front matter (SPAN's answers to self-publishers' frequently asked questions (FAQ)

How to Make a Book: The Interior and Body of a Book (Creative Minds Press)

Linchpindex: The missing index for Seth Godin's "Linchpin" (a quirky online index for Seth Godin's book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

• On Wikipedia see preface, foreword, and introduction.

The importance of good introductions and conclusions

"Even when they have found the right story, some writers simply fail to make its relevance clear from the beginning. Unused to writing introductory chapters, journalists often neglect them, plunging into the narrative in a hurry to get on with it or out of a fear of being boring. But a good introduction whets readers’ appetites partly by showing us both why this story is going to entertain us, and why it’s meaningful. Likewise, I sometimes receive manuscripts that end abruptly without a proper conclusion. A dramatic climax, even an epilogue, is not the same as a conclusion that helps the reader look back at how far he has come and reminds him of the importance of that journey. It’s not obligatory, but it’s a terrific tool for sending your reader off charged with excitement about your book – and eager to tell other readers about it."
~ Peter Ginna, from When journalists become authors: a few cautionary tips (Nieman Storyboard 12-15-11)

Question: A family tragedy involving a man who helped a healthy wife die. The man, my brother in law, helped my sister, who was in good physical health, die. He now denies it. I want to write a book about it.
In order of front materials, where would one place a Dedication?

Response: The dedication usually comes right after the copyright page, which is on the back of the title page. Occasionally people squeeze it onto the top of the copyright page, when space is tight. See Order of Front Matter

Question I am in process of writing my memoirs and after reading your explanation of preface versus introduction.... I find my intro includes both. It would seem awkward to separate my short half-page intro into two parts. What do you suggest?
Pat's response What matters is what makes sense to the reader. It doesn't have to be labeled preface or intro -- it could be A Note from the Author.

Question Hi Pat - just found you by google search for difference between preface and introduction. You were about the third down but most likely to help me as I start writing a book about my Mother. Your web page was immediately bookmarked. I'm sure you'll be a helpful resource. Thanks for being "there". Bob
Pat's response Hey--thanks, Bob. Good luck with your book about your mother!

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