Preface, Introduction, Foreword, and Prologue: What They Are and How To Use Them
Have you ever wondered why some books have a preface and others don’t? Or what the difference is between an introduction and a foreword? Well, wonder no more! I’m here to lift the veil on these often misunderstood elements of the writers’ craft.
Book front matter
Front matter is the first section of any book. It’s usually short, but the length and number of pages can vary depending on the type of publication. The front matter is usually where you would expect to see a foreword or preface.
Things that are included in the front matter are often some variation of the following:
- Title page; includes the book title, subtitle, author name, editor, translator, publisher information, and edition number
- Half-title page; this is the page you will notice in most traditionally published books that include only the title, and no other information
- Frontispiece; this is an illustration that will often sit opposite the title page to give a book a bit more visual flair
- Copyright page; lists the copyright holder, publishing information, ISBN, and copyright notices
- Dedication; a single page that includes the author’s dedication – usually ranging from a sentence or two to a short paragraph
- Table of Contents; page numbers and chapter titles for easy reference that are a staple of non-fiction but not often used in fiction
- Epigraph; a quotation that precedes the body of a manuscript and sets the tone for what is to come
- Preface; the author’s statement of intention, context, and expertise. Some writers may also include acknowledgements in the preface
- Foreword; a short introductory piece written by someone other than the author
What is a Preface?
A preface is written by the author and appears in a book’s front matter, usually written in the first person. It explains why an author wrote the book, how they came to write it, and what challenges they faced in the process. It can also include biographical information about the author and what qualifications they have to support their expertise in the topic.
Prefaces are often used when an updated edition of a book is published, as it provides context for readers who may not be familiar with previous editions. In non-fiction books, a preface often contains information about changes or additions made to this new edition or provides historical context if certain opinions in the book have become outdated through further research. This can sometimes be useful for fiction titles too, especially if real events have been fictionalised in order to give readers context and help them interpret the text.
Because prefaces are often dry, readers will frequently skip them, so it’s important not to share any critical information in them. They are usually used for context and flavour, rather than to share essential narrative knowledge.
What is an Introduction?
As opposed to a preface, an introduction is a short piece of writing that is the first to be included in the body of the manuscript, and not in the front matter. Because it is part of the main text, readers are less likely to skip it. Like a preface, it is also written by the author, but not always in the first person.
Introductions are also useful when authors want to give context, and if essential information must be included to inform readers’ expectations. For critical information, an introduction is a better choice than a preface. They can include very similar information, but the way a reader will interact with it is different.
The introduction provides a brief primer on a topic that an audience may not be familiar with yet. In non-fiction, introductions often provide summaries of what readers will learn. In fiction, they act similarly but are very rarely used. Fiction writers will usually opt for a preface or prologue instead.
What is a Foreword?
A foreword is an introduction to a book, usually written by someone other than the author. It acts as an endorsement of the work and will often discuss its significance.
In non-fiction, a foreword is often written by an expert in the field to lend legitimacy and prove an author’s expertise. In fiction, other writers will often provide forewords because a work is culturally significant, the work is being published (or reprinted) after the author’s death, or the publisher is releasing new editions.
A foreword will usually include the writer’s relationship with the author, whether that is professional or personal. In the case of a posthumous foreword, it will often be about the effect that the author’s work had on the writer’s life and how it influenced their own work.
In a foreword, the writer will talk about the significance of the genre or subject that the book explores. For reprints or reissues, they will discuss what changes have been made or provide context for interpretation. This is especially important for historical works where social attitudes may have changed from when the book was originally authored.
What is a Prologue?
Prologues are most often used in fiction, and are part of the body of the manuscript, and not the front matter. While non-fiction does not usually include a prologue, popular non-fiction is an exception to this. Prologues will sometimes be used by narrative non-fiction and memoir writers, or in any non-fiction work that uses fiction writing techniques to tell a story.
Many authors use prologues as framing devices that provide dramatic opening scenes that draw readers in and keep them engaged. They can help set up an event that comes later in the book, establish the story setting, introduce the main character or antagonist, or simply be an introductory scene for dramatic effect that sets the story tone moving forward.
A good prologue sets a reader’s expectations and makes them want more. It’s a narrative device, rather than a traditional introduction to your work.
In summary, the preface, introduction, foreword, and prologue are all similar in some ways. They’re all introductory passages; however, each one has its own unique purpose and role in the larger text of which it is part. It’s important to know when and how to use them, and hopefully, this post has helped shed some light on which will be right for your next project.