What Is a Preface, Exactly - and What Is Its Purpose?

, Staff Writer
Updated July 16, 2020
auther’s journey when writing a book
    author’s journey when writing a book
    Westend61 / Getty Images, Matt Anderson Photography / Moment / Getty Images

Have you ever wondered about an author’s journey when writing a book? Sometimes the world they create is so fantastical, you can’t help but wonder where it all came from. Well, that’s where a preface comes in. A preface is an author’s moment at the beginning of the book to tell you their journey and how it began. You'll find prefaces in academic writing, nonfiction, and fiction works. Explore what a preface is, along with the purpose through examples. Get hints for how to write a preface.

What Is a Preface?

A preface isn’t just empty words. It’s the author’s time to shine and sell their book. In the preface, authors have the chance to tell readers their inspiration and experience writing the book including challenges. The preface is also a great place to provide historical context and how long it took to write a book.


Preface Examples

Ready to see a preface in action? Explanations are just words, but examples show you what a preface looks like.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

In the preface for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain tells readers where his characters came from, about the dialect, and why everyone should give it a read.

Most of the adventures recorded in this book really occurred; one or two were experiences of my own, the rest those of boys who were schoolmates of mine. Huck Finn is drawn from life; Tom Sawyer also, but not form an individual--he is a combination of the characteristics of three boys whom I knew, and therefore belongs to the composite order of architecture.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde gets a bit creative. In his preface, he speaks to the importance of beauty and works to set the tone for the novel.

The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault...


Picturesque New Guinea by J.W. Lindt

In this non-fiction, Lindt provides readers with a brief overview of the importance photography can play in science, along with the need that the book is filling.

For years past, when perusing the account of exploring expeditions setting out for some country comparatively unknown, I always noticed with a pang of disappointment that, however, carefully the scientific staff was chosen, it was, as a rule, to be considered sufficient to supply one of the members…

Tips for Writing a Preface

When it comes to writing a preface, you aren’t working with a bunch of space, only a couple pages. Therefore, be as concise as possible when detailing your journey. Explore other tips to make your preface perfect.

  • Share your passion. Your book wasn’t created in a day; therefore, it’s important to inspire your readers and keep it interesting.
  • Share your purpose. Tell the readers what they should expect and the point you were trying to make.
  • Chronicle your journey. The preface is like a ‘making of’ you watch after the movie. Use it to share with your readers how you assembled the story including research, specialized terms, historical facts, etc.
  • Explore challenges. Was there a specific area that was hard to write or research? For example, you can discuss challenges that made the book take 12 years to write.
  • Acknowledge others. Discuss the people that inspired or helped you along the way.

Preface vs. Introduction vs. Prologue vs. Foreword

A preface isn’t the only thing you can find at the beginning of the book. It’s settled right in there with a prologue, introduction, and forward. Oh goodness! Rather than getting confused, you can break them down into clear definitions.

  • Preface - making of the book in author’s own words
  • Foreword - introduction to the book written by someone other than the author
  • Prologue - backstory of a novel
  • Introduction - provides a brief summary of the main content of a book

The Perfect Preface

The journey is just as important as the story. And that’s where a preface comes into play. Explore an epilogue to learn even more about the parts of a story. No one ever wants a good story to end.