• 5-minute read
  • 11th January 2021

What Is the Difference Between a Preface, a Foreword and a Prologue?

There are many ways to introduce a book, including with a preface, a foreword, or a prologue. These are all parts of the front matter in a book (i.e. sections that appear before the main text, usually with a different style of page numbering).

But what exactly are prefaces, forewords, and prologues? This may vary slightly depending on who you ask, as different people use the terms in different ways. Typically, though, these terms refer to the following:

  • Preface – An introduction written by the main author(s) to provide the story behind how they conceived and wrote the book.
  • Foreword – Written by someone other than the author of the book, typically to endorse it or to discuss its relevance to the subject area.
  • Prologue – An introduction that sets the scene for the story to come.

Read on below to find out more about prefaces, forewords, and prologues.

What Is a Preface?

A ‘preface’ is usually written by the author of a book. Typically, it will include:

  • Details on why and how they came to write the work.
  • Challenges faced during the writing process.
  • Biographical information to provide context (e.g. elements of the author’s background or professional experience relevant to the subject matter).
  • Changes or additions made to an updated edition of a book.

While most common in non-fiction, some fiction books will also include a preface to address some aspect of the writing process before the main text.

For example, in a work of historical fiction, the author may want add a preface to discuss their writing in relation to the real historical events mentioned.

What Is a Foreword?

A ‘foreword’ is an introduction or endorsement written by someone other than the author of the book in question. This might be someone with a personal connection to the author. Or it could be a leading name in the same genre or subject area.

Fiction and non-fiction books can both include a foreword as part of the front matter. Typically, it will focus on one (or more) of the following:

  • The writer’s personal or professional relationship with the book’s author.
  • The significance of the book for the genre or subject area.
  • For reissued versions of a book, how it has changed from previous editions, or how its significance and reception have changed since the original version.

In all cases, the foreword writer will use this section to show readers why they think the book is worth reading. If they are a well-known figure, or a respected person in a relevant profession, a good foreword can therefore give a work added credibility.

What Is a Prologue?

A ‘prologue’ is the opening section of a story, designed to set the scene before the main narrative begins. Prologues are thus most common in fiction, but you will also find them in narrative non-fiction (e.g. biographies or memoirs).

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Usually, this will be a few pages where the author:

  • Gives background information about the story’s world, characters, or events.
  • Introduces a framing device for the main story.
  • Grabs reader’s attention with a dramatic opening scene.

Importantly, though, a prologue is part of the story world.

It might not be written from the same perspective as the rest of the story (e.g. a prologue may introduce a narrator, with the main narrative then told from their point of view). It may not even take place in the same time or place (e.g. it could be a scene from the past or future that will tie in to the main narrative somehow).

But it should be part of the overall narrative, not a commentary on the writing or subject matter from the author’s point of view like you would find in a preface.

Other Types of Introduction

‘Introduction’ is a general term that can mean different things in different contexts.

Academic and other non-fiction writing, for example, will often include an ‘Introduction’ as the first chapter in a book, not a separate part of the front matter. This will be where the author sets out the main ideas or arguments the book will discuss, typically in a less personal way than a preface does.

Some books also include introductions written by contributors other than an author, such as an editor or translator. For example, an editor might write an introduction to explain why they chose the pieces they did for a collection. Or, in a translated work, a translator may write an introduction to explain the decisions they made while translating it, or why the work needed a new translation.

Keep in mind, then, that different books will feature different types of introduction (or even multiple introductions by different people). This may include a preface, foreword, or prologue, as these are some of the most common types of introduction. But there is plenty of room for variation here!

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