The Chronicle of Higher Education - April 5, 2012 - By Carol Saller
It’s a rare work that presents itself without preamble, because an academic work is always part of a longer journey through a discipline. Scholars have a lot of baggage, and they like to unpack up front the story of the research: what inspired it, how it was nurtured by mentors, colleagues, and foundations, and where it fits into the history of its discipline.
So where to start? The terms foreword, preface (from Latin praefatio, “speech before”), and introduction (from Latin introducere, “to lead in”) all seem to be saying “Me first.” But each has a particular meaning in book publishing—allowing for a fair bit of overlap—and there is a traditional order for presenting them.
If you want to have all three, start by enlisting a writer for the foreword, in which someone other than you—preferably a professional connection of elevated status—will lend credibility to your work by explaining its importance and legitimacy.
The preface you will write yourself. Its content can include a more personal account than the one in the foreword, along with a section where you acknowledge specific people and institutions for their help and perhaps another section where you cite and credit previously published chapters or versions of the work. This is the place for name-dropping and reminiscing, if you must, in the course of sharing your years-long adventure from dissertation to finished book, including seminars, visiting positions, monetary support, sabbaticals, and everyone who ever cast an eye on your pages or lent an ear over coffee.
An introduction can take various forms. Although it can feature information normally found in a preface, including acknowledgments and publication credits, most often its tone and content are less personal and more akin to those of the chapters that follow. An introduction that leans toward a preface-type quality should be paginated as part of the front matter, with small Roman numerals. An introduction that begins on Page 1, however, is expected to be more essential to the development of the book’s argument.* In the latter case, a writer might do better to title it “Chapter 1: Introduction.”
If three lead-ins to your work aren’t enough, there are plenty more to choose from. You can have separately titled acknowledgments, a note on translations, a list of abbreviations, a chronology, and—what the heck—pages and pages of pithy epigraphs. If things seem to be getting out of hand, you can always shove something to the back of the book. Acknowledgments are a prime candidate for that.
Full piece here.