John Larrysson Column: Parts of a Book (2 of 3)

We are examining the different parts of a pretend book called The Ming Pao Book of Examples. This week we will be covering those parts at the front that introduce the book. Last week we covered reference material from the front. Next week I'll cover the back of the book.










In the front of The Ming Pao Book of Examples is a decorative picture used for marketing. It's called the frontispiece. To have at least one picture like this in a book was important during the early days of mass printing when pictures were great expense.

Then we find a dedication. It is a personal expression of the author thanking or honouring someone. In The Ming Pao Book of Examples the dedication is, "I dedicate this book to the person I admire the most..."

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The next two parts take several pages. The foreword (Not forward, which is a direction.) was not written by the author, but by someone else telling the reader about the book and/or the author.

The preface, is often called the introduction. Unlike the foreword, the preface is written by the author. It explains the purpose of the book and what the reader can expect from it. Different editions over time may have different prefaces explaining how current events are related to the book.

Also we find the acknowledgements. (The Ming Pao Book of Examples does not use the US spelling acknowledgments.) It mentions people who have helped with the writing of the book. People may have edited, made suggestions, provided inspiration, made coffee or anything else. These people are thanked at the writer’s whim. Sometimes people allowed their own copyrighted writing to be included in the book and must be mentioned.

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Immediately before the main text is a quotation called an epigraph. It is on the same topic as the book or chapter. It is usually from some famous person. It suggests the writer's mood. For example, the epigraph in Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein:


Come on you apes! You wanta live forever?



Platoon Sergeant, 1918


Starship Troopers glorified the role of the poor people fighting on the battlefield and dying in the mud. The quotation sets the mood and situation the hero will face in the story.

Finally we get to the main text, the central part of a book. In a novel it is the story, in a textbook it is the lesson. One legal point needs to be mentioned here. There is a trick some unethical publishers use to claim copyrights they don’t own. Take a main text that is not under copyright by age, such as Robinson Crusoe. Then add a new forward or introduction. The publisher can now legally put a copyright notice on the book without specifying that their rights are only for the new part. This sneakiness can be combated by having a copy of the title page and verso from the original book. Alternatively you can check with an organisation that keeps such references, such as Project Gutenberg. (

Next week we will look at the back of The Ming Pao Book of Examples.

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Related Article: Parts of a Book (1 of 3)

Parts of a Book (3 of 3)

by John Larrysson

[email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.