For my forthcoming project, Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook, I thought it would be a good idea to enlist an academic who could speak to the history between women and tattoos. After reading this article in the Lawrence Journal-World, I knew I had found my academic in Women’s Studies professor Dr. Marta Vicente, and I asked her (and happily enough, she agreed) to write me a foreword.

But did I mean introduction? Or preface? No doubt you’ve seen all three in books you’ve read, but what makes a preface a preface, a foreword a foreword, or an introduction an introduction? I wasn’t really sure I knew the difference, since it wasn’t exactly something they covered in my undergraduate creative writing studies.

Besides, who needs book learnin’ when there’s Wikipedia? So I looked it up.

  • Foreword: Typically written by someone other than the primary author of the work, it often tells of some interaction between the writer of the foreword and the book’s primary author or the story the book tells.
  • Preface: Generally covers the story of how the book came into beginning, or how the idea for the book was developed; this is often followed by thanks and acknowledgments to people who were helpful to the author during the time of writing.
  • Introduction: Typically describes the scope of the document and gives the brief explanation or summary of the document. It may also explain certain elements that are important to the essay if explanations are not part of the main text.

Since the piece she wrote summarizes some of the book, but also goes into some of the historical significance of women and tattoos, I’m not really sure which of these it falls into. The summary part of it screams introduction, but the academic references indicate foreword. I could even argue for preface, since you might say women throughout history set the stage for the women in the book to tell their stories through body art.

Or maybe I should just call it a unicorn and be done with it. What do y’all think?