I am often asked about the pages in a book that precede the main content, and their characteristics. With the most recent request – to explain the difference between a Foreword and an Introduction in a non-fiction book – I decided it was time to tackle the subject of Front Matter in this blog.
Sections that make up the Front Matter include:
- Half Title Page – the main title, without the subtitle or the author’s name.
- Title Page – full title, including subtitle and author’s name/illustrator’s name.
- Publication Page – Publisher’s details, copyright information, date of publication, ISBN, and so on.
- Contents Page.
There may also be a Dedication Page, a page with a relevant Quotation, Illustrations/Photographs, Tables of Figures or Abbreviations… however, the latter may be in the End Matter at the back of the book, with the Appendices, Bibliography and the author’s photo and details.
These parts of the Front Matter are relatively self-explanatory. I laid them out first for clarification before moving on to the big three headings that tend to cause the most confusion – Foreword, Preface, and Introduction.
The Foreword of a book is written by someone other than the author. This is usually someone well-known in the field of the subject matter, or at least more recognisable than the author. At the very least, the person writing the Foreword needs to know the author and be well-acquainted with their work. This is so they can proclaim the suitability of the author to have written that particular book, citing specific credentials where appropriate.
It is not unusual for the Foreword-writer to begin by establishing their own credibility to gain the reader’s confidence in what they write about the author and their work. They may also explain the connection between themselves and the book author, or the content of the book.
The main purpose of the Foreword is to introduce the author to the reader and endorse the value of the work the author has crafted.
The premise to be explored, the question to be answered, or the problem that the author is attempting to solve, may be outlined in the Foreword. This highlights what the reader will gain from reading the book. The addition of short anecdotes, and examples that illustrate the theme of the book, aim to ensure a connection to readers’ everyday lives.
The Foreword should entice readers – to purchase the book if they haven’t already, or to read on if they have. It offers supportive information relevant to the book content, without giving too much away.
Like the book’s content, the Foreword is written to the target audience, in conversational and personal tones. The use of simple, tight writing, which brings the piece full-circle, will ensure cohesiveness and keep the reader engaged to the end.
The length of a Foreword is usually between 750 and 1500 words. It is always signed by the person who wrote it, with their title (where applicable) and the date added.
The Preface is written by the author. It is like a letter from the author to the readers who traverse the pages laid out before them.
The purpose of the Preface is largely to share with readers how the book came about and the author’s experience of writing it… and to connect with them on a personal level.
Typically, the author will write of the reason they wrote that particular book… why it is important, where the idea came from, what their motivation was, why they wrote it from the perspective they have taken, and what themes are explored in the book.
The author may tell of the journey of writing the book… what they learned, how they felt, what insights they may have had, and how they improved as a writer and personally as a result of the research and writing.
Practical information may be included. For example, any problems encountered while researching/writing the book, could be discussed along with how the author overcame these difficulties.
The length of time taken from idea to publication is sometimes shared in the Preface.
The author signs and dates the Preface.
The Introduction to a book is written by the author. It is more business-like and has more depth than either the Foreword or Preface.
The role of the Introduction is to introduce the content of the book and put forward any details that may enhance the reader’s experience of reading the book. It may give some background information, describe the author’s goals, and the purpose and scope of the book.
This is where the author is apt to present any information essential to the main text, that doesn’t belong in the text itself and is not contained in either the Foreword or the Premise. For example, in order to understand the content, the reader may need to know specifics about the ethos of the time period the author is exploring in the work… or to be able to appreciate the challenges of sailing solo around the world, the author would benefit by first understanding something about sailing paraphernalia and how to read nautical charts.
The Introduction may include what the reader can expect from the book. There may be brief explanatory notes, the author’s thoughts on the benefits the reader will gain, and how to get the most out of the following pages.
A well-written Introduction is succinct and interesting. It will leave the reader wanting more and feeling ready to delve into the body of the text.
Not every book has all three of these sections – Foreword, Preface and Introduction. I have based the above on what I understand of traditional conventions. These generally remain in place, however the content of the book and individual circumstances sometimes lead to some variation. For example, there may not be an Introduction and a small amount of information that would otherwise be in the Introduction may be infused into the Preface, or the reverse may be the choice of the author.
Whatever you’re writing, consider carefully what to include in the Front Matter and don’t overload it with information that either belongs in the main text or doesn’t belong in your book at all.
I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section on this page.