by Pat McNees

What is 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 Style Manual says I mixed the two up myself in my history of the NIH Clinical Center, where an editor changed my Introduction into a Foreword, which I then changed to a Preface. It should have been 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.” (In other words, the arabic numbering of the book (1,2,3) starts with the introduction, if there is one. The other front matter takes i, ii, iii, etc.)

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.)