What’s the Difference Between a Preface, Foreword, and Introduction?

woman reading the preface of a book

What is the difference between a preface, foreword, introduction, and prologue? Do you need to include them in your book? Read more to find out.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Whether it’s a preface, an introduction, a foreword, or a prologue, the pages that come before your first chapter are important for setting the stage for your readers. Not every book has these elements in its front matter. Some have a preface or an introduction. Or a book foreword. Or a prologue. And some have several of these.

What is a Preface?

When you go to the movies, the film doesn’t just start. There will be interviews with actors and previews of other films. There are usually credits and maybe an intro. By the time you start watching the movie, you are already excited.

But a book preface doesn’t just get the reader excited. It should also inform the reader and provide context to better understand the book or story.

The author writes a preface as a short introduction to the entire work. We haven’t started the story just yet with the preface; it is essentially the author’s way of explaining what brought them to write the story or giving a bit of historical context and expository information before the story begins. The preface can also serve as a space for the author to dive into why they are qualified to write about the book’s topic.

The preface can come before the contents page (since we haven’t actually started the story yet), unlike an introduction, which is usually placed after the contents page. While having a preface is not necessary, it can be useful if it helps the reader to understand your story better.

To sum it up: A preface typically explains what is in the book. This is ideal for nonfiction books or fiction books if the author wants to explain where they’re coming from with the story idea. It can also let readers know how they will benefit from reading the book. The preface is not part of the main story.

What is a Foreword?

Unlike a preface, a foreword is typically written by someone other than the author, usually someone well-known and credible. This is a great way to help readers accept that a new writer has something worth reading. You’ll commonly find a foreword in a nonfiction book.

Like a preface, you’ve probably seen these in genres such as memoirs or self-improvement books. Forewords help the reader get to know the author before diving into the main content of the book.

For example, you may pick up a personal finance book, written by an unknown finance coach. If you see that the foreword was written by someone you are familiar with, it can boost the author’s credibility. In other words, if a well-known coach trusts them in this subject matter, you can too.

Some content to include a foreword:

  • The writer’s relationship with the author
  • How this particular story has impacted the writer
  • What the writer knows about the author (character, personality, etc.)

Do you need a foreword in your book? No. But, if you feel it adds to your credibility — even if you’re a seasoned author — and book as a whole, it’s worth considering (especially if you have a well-known name in the field or genre willing to contribute).

What is an Introduction?

Finally, we come to the introduction — the first part of the actual story. While many readers might skip the introduction, they are often vital to setting up the rest of the book. The introduction should provide information that’s pertinent to the story and lay the foundation before fully jumping in.

Introductions can be used in any book genre but are typically seen in nonfiction works. You want your introduction to engage the reader — i.e., hook them before they think they can skip ahead to the first chapter. Your introduction could:

  • Give the reader an idea of what the book is about
  • Tell your own story as it relates to the rest of the book
  • Tell the reader how this book relates to them; touch on pain points
  • Show statistics and data about your topic

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Your introduction is part of the story. Remember, when deciding to write one, ask yourself: does this add to the book as a whole? Does the reader need this information? If the answer is yes to either, you’ve got an introduction to write.

And, while your intro should not be a replication of the back cover, it could give your potential readers a glimpse at your writing style. When a potential reader picks up a printed book off a bookstore shelf or clicks the “look inside” feature on an online bookstore, they might read the back cover and skim the first few pages trying to get a sense of what the book is about and taste the author’s writing style. This is where a great book introduction comes into play.

What is a Prologue?

A prologue sets the stage by bringing the reader into the story before it begins. Generally, a prologue is used for fiction — which is the factor that sets it apart from an introduction. The prologue sets the scene and maybe even introduces some of the characters and their backstories, though it’s typically shorter than a chapter.

And if your story’s setting is a crucial element of the work, a prologue can help establish the “where,” “when,” and even the “why” of the events that unfold throughout the plot. This includes the story’s time (clock time and time period), as well as the place (country, landscape, house, etc.).

As mentioned, your book’s prologue, introduction, or preface can be a great way to give your readers the setup — or setting — for your story. As long as it doesn’t take away from the work as a whole, giving your readers this information before chapter one could create a more engaging experience.

Do you need to write a preface, foreword, or introduction?

The short answer is: no, you are not required to write a preface, foreword, or introduction to your book. However, if it can boost your story, provide relevant background information, and/or engage your reader enough to buy your book or keep reading, then it is absolutely worth writing.

Whether you start your book with an introduction, preface, or foreword, your book’s front matter should ultimately be used to create trust in your reader and interest in your work.

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